At its meeting on June 23, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to certify the final environmental impact report for the Rancho Los Amigos South Campus Project, potentially setting the stage for the redevelopment of much of the historic hospital.
Rancho Los Amigos, which dates to the late 19th century, spans approximately 74 acres at 7601 East Imperial Highway in Downey. Originally known as the "Los Angeles County Poor Farm," it was developed as "an agricultural facility that provided work, housing, and medical care for the indigent," according to the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
In the decades that followed, the campus gradually evolved into a full-fledged hospital, eventually becoming known for its polio care. However, by the mid-1950s, much of the older South Campus was abandoned in favor of the more modern facilities of the Rancho Los Amigos North Campus.
Today, the South Campus is unused, with most of its buildings vacant and boarded up since the 1980s, according to a staff report from the County's Department of Public Works.
Plans to redevelop the South Campus date to 2016, when the Board of Supervisors authorized the Public Works Department to begin predevelopment activities for a project which would bring a new sports center, as well as County offices and lab facilities to the property. The first phase of the redevelopment plan - the sports center - is already funded.
The remaining components of the project, as approved in the environmental study, calls for the construction of approximately 650,000 square feet of construction, including the new headquarters of the County's Probation Department and Internal Services Department (ISD), as well as other ancillary offices and two parking structures. Plans also call for new landscaped open space, described as a "park-like setting," featuring specimen trees and fitness trails.
Plans call for five existing buildings - all of which are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places - to be retained and reused as part of the project. They include the Casa Consuelo, the Rancho Los Amigos Power Plant, a Water Tower, a Shop and Laundry facility, and the campus's Administration Building - which is currently occupied by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The remaining structures of the Rancho Los Amigos South Campus - 103 buildings in total - would be demolished under this plan. A staff report acknowledges that this action would eliminate the Rancho Los Amigos South Campus as a historic resource, but states that doing so is necessary to achieve the County's objectives, including the replacement of the current 1950s headquarters of the ISD and Probation department.
The staff report also cites safety concerns relating to the existing buildings, which are described as having deteriorated due to weather damage, vandalism, and arson. The Public Works Department estimates that the cost of restoring the buildings is greater than $300 million, but states that the "there is no compatible County use that can be identified to occupy the buildings."
The estimated price tag of the County's proposed project, in comparison, is approximately $612 million - a figure which includes the cost of preservation, demolition, and new construction.
The cost estimate was based on a 36-month construction timeline, starting in January 2021. However, a precise groundbreaking date is not stated in the environmental study.
Redevelopment of the Rancho Los Amigos Campus has drawn the opposition of the Los Angeles Conservancy, which advocates for the preservation of historic properties.
"We strongly believe there is a 'win-win' scenario available to the County where both preservation and new construction is possible," reads a statement posted to the Conservancy's website. "Now more than ever, we question why the County is investing funding in a massive expansion of County operations, including a Probation Headquarters and administrative offices, during this time when other pressing community needs are great and resources are scarce."
The Conservancy's position also questions the need for wholesale demolition of the Rancho Los Amigos campus, as only 35 acres of the 74-acre campus are slated for new construction.
While plans for the older portion of Rancho Los Amigos remain in the planning stages, the younger North Campus is currently in the midst of a more than $400-million renovation.