Mission Hospital President Speaks Out on CHEC Lease Denial in San Juan Capistrano

I had an interesting conversation recently with President and Chief Executive Peter Bastone of Mission Hospital regarding the battle over whether the city of San Juan Capistrano should grant a month-by-month lease extension to a local social services agency.

As my story in June detailed, the agency, Community Health Enrichment Collaborative, has become a target of the anti-illegal-immigration group SJC Americans. The group says CHEC, as the agency is known, serves illegal immigrants and fosters what it calls sanctuary city conditions.

Bastone and others involved in the organization vehemently deny that the organization knowingly serves illegal immigrants.

Bastone, who I could not reach when I wrote the story in June, said last week that the San Juan Capistrano City Council bowed to pressure from SJC Americans and broke verbal commitments to grant the month-by-month lease extension to the organization.

The request for the lease extension was denied without discussion when it came before the City Council in June. Bastone did not, nor did any other of the organization’s partners, show up to lobby for the lease request.

The reason for the denial given by city a staff report at the time was a plan to turn the city-owned old fire station complex into a kindergarten recreation center.

Reached Monday, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Londres Uso and Councilwoman Laura Freese denied ever making such a verbal commitment. Uso added that it wasn’t worth it for the council to be “giving this non-issue valuable time.”

“I’m really sorry to hear my fellow council members were making promises,” Uso said.

Councilmen Tom Hribar and Sam Allevato said they couldn’t recall ever making such a promise. Though Allevato acknowledged that SJC Americans’ lobbying efforts successfully quashed a two-year lease extension for CHEC.

Bastone took issue with council members’ denying such an agreement. “Anyone who says it didn’t happen is telling an untruth — plain and simple,” he said.

Hribar and Allevato said they can’t recall making any sort of promise to CHEC. Nonetheless, Allevato said he is not proud of the vote.

“I think CHEC was trying to help people in need, regardless of the color of their skin,” Allevato said. “It’s unfortunate — I don’t think they were catering to illegal immigration, signing illegals up to vote, or any of that stuff they were accused of doing.”

Bastone said CHEC was providing social services, like parenting classes and psychological services, to all members of the community and “not just Hispanic people.” He said CHEC was barred from asking people who sought their services for proof of legal residency.

CHEC’s office has since broken into three or four locations around the city, Bastone said. And, he said, the separation has made it difficult for people who need the services to find them, and coordination between CHEC staffers has become less efficient.