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PIH gets approval to add workers in Uptown Whittier

WHITTIER – PIH Health received the go-ahead last week to expand its administrative presence in Uptown Whittier but only after threatening to take its nearly 300 workers to nearby Downey.

Council members voted 4-0 to allow PIH to house up to 297 employees at its Uptown offices with the stipulation that PIH hire security personnel to escort its workers to and from the Uptown parking structure.

PIH took over the former Meyers Department store at 6557 Greenleaf Ave. in 2009 and had operated with a permit limiting its number of on-site employees to 225.

After acquiring Cerritos-based Pioneer Medical Group earlier this year, PIH sought to bring its 72 new employees to Uptown Whittier to consolidate operations.

The move was opposed by the Whittier Uptown Association, however, which voiced concerns that the increased number of workers would take up coveted parking on Greenleaf Avenue.
Council members said they shared the same concerns, especially since PIH workers were bypassing the existing parking structure located a half-block away out of safety concerns.

James West, CEO of PIH Health, said his employees spend an average of $15 per day in Uptown Whittier, pumping nearly $1 million into the local economy on an annual basis.

“What [Whittier] was missing nine years ago was a daytime group of people who were consistently here to spend money in the morning and through the day,” West said. “You can’t keep a restaurant open if there’s nobody to go to it in the daytime.”

West said he was being courted by Downey officials to move his administrative operations to its downtown. PIH operates a hospital in Downey.

“The city manager of Downey, who lives in Whittier, is begging us not to move the employees up here. They want us to move employees to Downey,” West said. “They want employees in their downtown area in Downey to help them revive their economy.”

City officials acknowledged that enforcement of existing traffic laws could help alleviate some of the parking troubles plaguing Uptown. In a recent enforcement operation targeting parked vehicles in Uptown, officers issued “about 140” citations in one week for various parking violations.

“We issued that many citations because we do not do consistent enforcement in that area,” said Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper. “The fact is we’re not up there because we can’t be because I don’t have enough staff to do that.”

Under an agreement reached last week, PIH workers will begin parking in this structure and receive a security escort in the mornings and afternoons. Photo by Eric Pierce

Council members eventually voted in support of PIH’s request but acknowledged that the parking situation in Uptown Whittier requires a long-term fix.

“I don’t like that we are effectively holding PIH responsible for something that is not really under their control,” said Councilman Henry Bouchot. “We can manage our parking better. That’s our responsibility, not PIH’s…Uptown is a very mom-and-pop shop place and don’t think we should be the bad guys for trying to protect that.”

Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Dutra said what Uptown ultimately needs is more parking.

“Somebody can say, ‘Well, you gotta manage it better. It’s about the management.’ Once again, that is very weak and it doesn’t have any substance behind it,” said Dutra. “Because really what the issue is, it’s the number of parking stalls. That’s what it comes down to. We need parking stalls to accommodate what we want to happen in Uptown Whitter. And we don’t have it.

“The science supports providing more parking stalls so that we can increase business in Uptown Whittier.”

Before the vote, Councilwoman Cathy Warner warned that denying PIH’s request for more employees would be a “grave mistake.”

“It saddens me to think that if we don’t have at least three members voting for this that your decision might be to pull everybody out and move them to Downey, and that saddens me greatly,” Warner said, directing her comments to James West. “If for any reason we do not have three votes to affirm this action tonight, I think we are making a grave mistake and we are not being supportive of probably the largest employer in our area.”

Earlier in the same meeting, the city council delayed a decision on a proposed $13.3 million tri-level parking structure in Uptown, partly over concerns that it would primarily be used by PIH employees.

“You can easily see 200-plus employees filling up that parking structure,” said Bouchot. “I am not for a big public gift to PIH, to real estate developers, or to anybody else, especially not one that comes at this tremendous cost.”

Mayor Joe Vinatieri disagreed.

“I don’t see this as a public gift to PIH and I don’t think that’s appropriate to characterize this as a public gift to anyone,” he said. “Because this is Uptown and this is a public parking lot and we own all the public parking uptown.”

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