Supervisors approve new site for Valley Children’s clinic
Larger specialty care center is part of 126-acre visitor and retail center on Highway 99 at Caldwell Ave.
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – A larger, Valley Children’s clinic in Tulare County is closer than ever.
On Dec. 4, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to build a visitor and commerce center at Highway 99. Called the Sequoia Gateway Commerce Center, the project would be located on 126 acres at the southeast corner of Highway 99 and Avenue 280. Proposed by partners Fred Ruiz and Bill Travis, the highway commercial center would be built in phases over the next eight to 10 years and will include a Valley Children’s Medical Group Specialty Care Center.
Phase 1 of the project will total just under 13 acres and include a 60,000-square foot clinic for Valley Children’s Hospital and 22,950 square feet for two gas stations and four fast food restaurants. Phase 1 would also include nine electric vehicle charging stations. Phase 2 will include a total of 97 acres including 986,000 square feet in two additional fast food establishments as well as three hotels, three offices, two sit-down restaurants, a visitor center, and a 725,000-square foot regional retailer, such as Ikea, Bass Pro Shop, or even an online fulfillment center. Phase 2 would likely be built out in four sub-phases between 2021 and 2028. The remaining 12.9 acres would be used for a storm water basin and a potential waste water treatment plant along with roadway rights-of-way.
The Supervisors were unanimous in their approval of the project, primarily for its association with the Valley’s premier pediatric specialists, as were business leaders, but there were a few who saw the project differently.
Besides the Kern-Kaweah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the only person to speak out against the project was Visalia City Councilman Greg Collins. Both Collins and Richard Garcia of the Sierra Club described the project as “leap frog development” with Garcia lambasting the loss of farm land and Collins criticizing the project from being “contrary” to Visalia’s General Plan, which outlines future growth for the city.
“Folks in Visalia have to extend their drive to take advantage of these services so it’s not a greater benefit to Visalia, Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay or Dinuba,” said Collins who is a city planner for several cities up and down the Valley. “If the needs of Valley Children’s are growing, then why don’t they locate in one of these communities?”
Darlene Mata, who also works as a professional planner in Visalia, said she was part of the committee that drafted Visalia’s General Plan as well. She said Visalia made a mistake by not including property along Highway 99 into its plan and urged the county not to make the same mistake.
“This is not really a facility just for Visalia,” Mata said.
Supervisor Steve Worthley extolled the economic opportunities the highway commercial center offered but said the real winners were those living in poverty within the county.
“Nothing has been said about the people who don’t go to receive services because they can’t get to Madera,” Worthley said. “The ability to travel is a major issue. If more of our indigent population can access health care that are not currently accessing it, I think that’s a tremendous benefit.”
The Akers Specialty Care Center currently offers seven pediatric specialties (Pediatric Cardiology, Pediatric Endocrinology, Pediatric Gastroenterology, Pediatric Nephrology, Pediatric Neurology, Pediatric Otolaryngology, and Pediatric Plastic Surgery) and one prenatal specialty (Maternal Fetal Medicine). The opening of the center was the first step in Valley Children’s increasing its presence in Visalia and Tulare County. More than two years ago, Kaweah Delta’s Board of Directors finalized an exclusive contract with Valley Children’s to provide medical staffing in the Visalia hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The “closed contract” means that only Valley Children’s doctors work in the specialized unit of the hospital and that Kaweah Delta could expand its capabilities to treat more acute child cases without having to transport patients to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, Calif.
Valley Children’s has become more involved in other Tulare County-specific programs such as the Tulare County Diabetes Workgroup and Tulare County Mobilizing for Action through Partnerships and Programs Committee, according to its annual report. In all, Valley Children’s had 12,372 inpatient cases, 120,016 Emergency Department visits, and a combined 254,059 outpatient center, regional specialty care center and day surgery visits in 2017.
Gail Zurek, executive director of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce, applauded the regional commercial and tourism aspects of the project by giving Tulare County “a flag in the ground to show our community pride.” More importantly, Zurek said, the project will provide a larger clinic for Valley Children’s, which outgrew its space on Akers shortly after opening in 2016.
“As a mother of a chronically ill child, to think I can receive services much closer than driving to Fresno is exciting for me,” Zurek said.
Valley Children’s Hospital and its outpatient clinics saw 17,853 patients from Tulare County for a total of nearly 45,000 patient visits, a 13% increase last year over 2016. The current center at 220 N. Akers, Suite A in Visalia is one of five specialty care centers operated by Valley Children’s with the others located in Bakersfield, Modesto, Merced and Fresno. In April, Valley Children’s said the location on Highway 99 is strategically located to meet the needs of both Tulare and Kings Counties as well as northern Kern and southern Fresno Counties. Longterm, Valley Children’s will be opening two larger centers in Modesto and Bakersfield, between 50,000 and 60,000 square feet, and another center in Fowler, Calif. to better meet the 30 minute goal. The Bakersfield Specialty Care Center opened on Oct. 1, 2018 while the Modesto facility is slated for early 2019.
Supervisor Amy Shuklian, who sat on the Visalia City Council when it approved its General Plan, motioned for approval of the entire project, primarily because of Valley Children’s need for a larger facility that is more centrally located.
“I was not for developing this area at first,” Shuklian said. “But Valley Children’s is a game-changer and a no-brainer. No it’s not in the heart of Visalia but it’s not in Madera either. It made it much more palatable to me.”
Supervisor Pete Vander Poel applauded the project for putting in an ag easement and addressing the issues raised by numerous entities before seconding the motion. “Any concern in the seven years this project has been going on have been addressed,” he said confidently.
The motion passed 5-0.