Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 10, 2011

News Digest

Palo Alto approves Stanford Hospital expansion

Stanford University Medical Center's four-year quest to get Palo Alto's permission for a massive expansion of its facilities glided past the finish line Monday night when an enthusiastic City Council voted to approve what members routinely say is the largest development project in the city's history.

In a series of 8-0 votes (Councilman Larry Klein recused himself) that several members called the most important the council will make in many years, the council paved the way for Project Renewal — a dramatic expansion of Stanford's hospital facilities that will add 1.3 million square feet of new development to the city.

The $5 billion project includes building a new Stanford Hospital & Clinics building, expanding the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and making various upgrades and renovations to Stanford School of Medicine buildings and clinics.

The tortuous approval process kicked off in 2007 and included 97 public hearings and more than two years of tense negotiations between the city and Stanford over a development agreement that would allow the hospitals for far exceed local zoning regulations. Though the city and Stanford initially clashed on a number of issues, including revenue guarantees, new housing and transportation impacts, the expansion project picked up momentum, along with the council's support, over the past year.

Councilman Greg Scharff said he was amazed by the way Stanford, the city and the greater community pulled together on the project. He praised the health care benefits Project Renewal will bring to the city. His colleagues agreed and backed Scharff's motion to grant the project environmental clearance.

"It's probably going to be the most important that we'll make as a City Council in a long time," Scharff said shortly before the 8-0 vote to approve the environmental-impact report. "I think this will benefit the community for generations."

Palo Alto struggles to reach decision on arbitration

Palo Alto's debate over whether to strike the binding-arbitration requirement for police and firefighters from the City Charter could drag on at least until next year because of deadlock on the City Council committee charged with examining the issue.

The council's Policy and Services Committee split on Tuesday night over whether a repeal of the binding-arbitration provision should be brought to the voters in November. The provision empowers a three-member panel of arbitrators to settle labor disputes between the city's management and its public-safety unions.

The council barely avoided putting the repeal on the November 2010 ballot after several members said they need more time to study the issue. The council voted 4-5 last August to defer putting the item on the ballot until they explored the subject further.

Ten months and a stack of staff reports later, little has changed. Committee Chair Gail Price on Tuesday said she would be open to some changes in the city's binding-arbitration process but said she would oppose a repeal of the provision.

"People act as if there's been an abuse of this particular option," Price said. "I personally don't believe there has.

"I feel it would be inappropriate for us to take a ballot measure to the voters to repeal binding arbitration from our charter."

Given the split, the council committee opted not to issue any recommendations and to refer the issue back to the full council.

Eshoo recovering from successful appendectomy

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, underwent an appendectomy Tuesday and will spend the week recuperating from the successful operation.

Eshoo had to cancel her scheduled speech Wednesday night at Gunn High School's graduation.

Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos said Eshoo's office had been "extremely helpful" in scrambling to arrange a substitute speaker — U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D- San Jose, who was a member of Gunn's first graduating class in 1966.

Eshoo was scheduled to hold her annual meeting Wednesday with the Palo Alto City Council, at which time the council was planning to discuss with her the latest developments with California's controversial high-speed rail project. Eshoo joined state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, in April in calling for a blending of high-speed rail and Caltrain on the Peninsula segment of the rail line.

Palo Alto officials said the joint meeting would be postponed to a later date, which has not yet been set.

Eshoo's laparoscopic appendectomy took place at Stanford Hospital and was performed by Dr. Karen Whang. Eshoo's office reported that were no complications and that Eshoo will be working from home for the rest of the week.

— Gennady Sheyner

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