Residents Raise Concerns
Elk Grove residents shared their concerns at a public information session over plans from California Northstate University (CNU) to build a new hospital. Plans detail expansion to California Northstate University on Taron Drive in the Stonelake community. The hospital would be the first in the area and first on the I-5 corridor.
Currently, the nearest hospital for Elk Grove residents is the Kaiser Permanente South, 9.5 miles away from the Stonelake area and about a 20-minute drive out. As a result, the distance could mean life or death in an emergency situation. There are both supporters for the new medical facility and others adamant that the hospital belongs elsewhere.
District One Information Session
Councilman Darren Suen held a public information session to discuss the newly proposed hospital near the Stonelake Community this past Friday, February 22nd. Over a hundred Elk Grove community members filled the Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation building to hear about the city process and status of the California Northstate University hospital.
City representatives in the information session were Council Member Darren Suen, Development Services Director Darren Wilson, and Economic Development Director Darrel Doan.
Representatives from California Northstate University present at the information session were Dr. Alvin Cheung, former Mayor Gary Davis, Frank Cable, and Paul Wagstaffe. Dr. Alvin Cheung is CNU’s President and Chief Executive Officer. Frank Cable is a pharmacy owner, founder, and board member of CNU. Paul Wagstaff is CNU’s legal counsel.
Elk Grove City Planning Staff
The submitted application for the new hospital is currently in active status and under review. The Elk Grove Development Services is responsible for the project’s adherence to laws and regulations before its approval. During the discussion, city planners detailed the timeline of the stages of the application process.
The city analyst will, through the application process, analyze the effects of traffic, environment, and impact of a hospital in the Stonelake area. The outcome of this study will determine recommendations for the city, as well as a direct impact on the community. The city does not enforce the location of a specific business. They can only specify areas for commercial businesses.
After the city detailed the application process, Gary Davis, who represents California Northstate University as the Community Relations Director, presented information about the project. According to Davis, the timeline of the project is expected to begin sometime in 2020. Additionally, the hospital is expected to be completed in 2022. The hospital is the first phase of three majors phases that will transform the area into a full medical learning facility.
The presentation detailed the following three phases:
- Initially, phase 1 is the construction of the main 450,000 square-foot hospital building is detailed.
- After, phase 2 is the construction of an outpatient clinic, two parking structures, and a medical office building.
- Finally, phase 3 is the construction of the medical school and dormitory for students.
After the presentation, the President and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, Barry Broome, spoke about the advantages of the hospital before the discussion. The audience, however, did not appreciate the words spoken by Broome, as they felt it was a pitch to persuade the community to buy into the new hospital.
Q & A
After introductions were made and overviews of the city process and CNU plans presented, the information session transitioned over to public questions and answers. To participate, attendees submitted questions to NEST (Neighbors Ensuring Stone Transparency) members, who then ordered the questions appropriately.
NEST is an opposition group comprised of Stonelake residents who oppose the hospital project. One primary objection of NEST is that the hospital would be built on an existing shopping center owned by the school, which would then be demolished. Another reason they disapprove of the hospital is because of its proposed location in a neighborhood, which they deemed as inappropriate.
To start the questions and answers portion of the session, the community voiced that they felt the questions were unfairly filtered. Suen ensured residents that the questions were given to him by NEST members and not filtered by him. Additionally, Suen noted that he did not read parts of a question that were personal attacks to anyone.
The audience openly expressed frustration with City Council Member Suen, former Mayor Gary Davis, and CNU President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Alvin Cheung. Some members of the audience accused them of not directly answering their inquiries. It was clear many members of the audience did not trust the Elk Grove City Council, as well as the representatives from CNU.
“Was the intersection of West Taron and Elk Grove Blvd. designed to handle the increase in traffic?” as Suen read the question. A city planner responds with “Analyzed in a technical study through the EIR.” For clarification, the city will go through an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine the impact of the proposed project. The city planners follow specific processes for any application that is submitted. For this project, the city planners refer to the EIR for any impact it will cause to the area.
One specific question an audience asked was, “What will happen to the existing businesses like the Dreaming Dog Brewery and those other businesses there?” According to the CNU representatives, “they will work with the businesses” to ensure that they can continue on and work them into another area. The specific details were not shared and the CNU mentioned that the plaza sat half empty most of it’s service time.
During one question, it was revealed that a vacant parcel on Maritime Drive was also purchased by CNU. When questioned, Paul Wagstaffe stated, “At this point in time, we do not have a plan for it.” This caused some anger and frustration from NEST members. Additionally, a member of the audience asked, “Are you in the process of acquiring other property in the area?” Wagstaffe replied, “We don’t have any comment on that right now.”
Dr. Cheung was questioned about the different insurance plans that might be accessible to the hospital. Dr. Cheung indicated that the hospital was not aimed at people of a particular socio-economic status. However, he declined to answer the question. Similarly, when asked about financing plans for the $750 million dollar project, Dr. Cheung did not give a clear response. “That is not a question, at this time, that we can address. At this time we have no preference if it is domestic or international.”
Ugly tensions, reminiscent of last year’s election, surfaced during the meeting. One participant asked City Council Member Darren Suen and Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly if they had accepted campaign donations from the CNU or Dr. Cheung. In response, Mayor Ly indicated that he had received a campaign donation from Dr. Cheung. City Council Member Suen noted that he couldn’t recall. “Yes, he has to both of us, and it is all public information,” said Mayor Ly. “I don’t think Dr. Cheung donated to my campaign,” said City Council Member Suen. A review of Suen’s financial disclosure for his 2018 mayoral campaign showed that, on October 17, 2018, Cheung donated $2,000. Mayor Ly’s recollection was correct.
One community member was increasingly concerned about the development of the hospital. Furthermore, the “ghost mall” ordeal in Elk Grove lasted years. Concerned citizens adamantly made this a point for the city to consider in an attempt to help the community avoid another development fiasco. Suen stated, “it is a private project, we do not have the recourse over that project.” Davis added, “it is a sizable project.” An audience member interrupts with “Ghost Mall!” Davis responds with “Fair enough.”
Another key concern for the community is the hospital’s environmental impact on the area. The Cosumnes River Preserve sits just over 10 miles out of the proposed hospital location. The preserve is home to more than 250 bird species, 40 fish species, and 230 plant species. It is also one of the largest preserves in the nation. Regarding the preserve, the proposed hospital has plans to use a helipad and helicopter, which may have a direct impact on the area and wildlife.
Commentary from NEST
Afterward, NEST members indicated that they were unsatisfied with the answers that were given.
“I still think that there are a lot of questions that haven’t been answered,” stated Daisy Hughes. Daisy serves as the Spokeswoman for NEST.
Kathy Engle remarked, “I think there were a lot of questions that were dodged, particularly about financing, and I am leaving here having the exact same impression regarding financing, which I had before, is that it is non-existent, or it’s secret.”
City Council Thoughts
Suen stated that he “stands as a neutral member to both the city and the CNU.” He said, “My responsibility sits between the city and entities who are interested in building in Elk Grove. It could create a lot of jobs. It could spur a lot of economic development, bringing in other types of industries that could set up here: biotech- and medical-type professions.”
Mayor Steve Ly indicated that he wanted to hear all viewpoints, including those opposed to the hospital project. “Any new developments considered in the City of Elk Grove, regardless of the location, needs to be properly vetted by all stakeholders and the community. It is important that we take all viewpoints into consideration before deciding to proceed. I encourage and support all stakeholders and community members to participate throughout the public hearing process to track any development. The community’s input is important and I appreciate your patience throughout this extended process.”
During the information session break, some Stonelake community members commented on the hospital’s location. “The location is bad for a hospital of that size, this will impact the one street in and out of our neighborhood. This area is not a good fit for a 13-14 story building with the expectation of people driving around here. The tallest building around this location is around 4 stories, this hospital is a giant!” stated the Warricks.
“Why build a hospital here? They could build around Delta Shores, as it is wide open space. They could build around that as well,” said a resident, who did not wish to be named.
“Why are the city council members not protecting the citizens? Seems like they are on the side of California Northstate University,” said another anonymous resident. “I don’t feel like they care about the people of Elk Grove,” they added.
Dr. Cheung’s final statement was, “We appreciate the efforts of the City Council and City Staff and thank them for organizing this informational community meeting. We are in the beginning stages of reaching out to the community and will continue to seek positive discussion and feedback.” Dr. Cheung emphasized that it was a positive discussion and feedback — not just a discussion and feedback.
The numbers of questions answered exceeded the expectation of a two-hour discussion. As a result, the discussion ended around 8:30 PM on a Friday evening, with more questions in queue. Though much was discussed, unanswered questions left the community frustrated.
How do you feel about the hospital project? Are you for it or against it? We want to hear from you! We are seeking individuals to write Op-Ed articles with their opinions about the new hospital project.