Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 10, 2011

On Deadline: A long, often bumpy road to a new Stanford medical complex

by Jay Thorwaldson

Monday night's approval of the massive rebuilding of the Stanford Hospital/Medical Center complex concludes the first chapter of the biggest single development in Palo Alto's history.

Winning city approval took only about four years — long enough for a college education. And important lessons seem to have been learned, by both the city and Stanford, enough to graduate with honors, perhaps.

For those of us who have witnessed or been part of the decades-long history relating to Stanford Hospital and the School of Medicine, the council's approval of this new plan is truly momentous. It is the culmination of an interweaving of Stanford and community that dates back into early 1900s, when the "first hospital" in Palo Alto was a building just off Lytton Avenue that was converted to a hospital by Stanford students. It closed in summers.

But to me the most significant element of the council approval this week is a huge change in the tone of the relationship between Palo Alto and Stanford. For years, a pattern has existed that when Stanford proposed something — such as its long-term General Use Permit from Santa Clara County in the late 1990s — community critics would attack the proposal as too big with too many traffic, housing and other impacts.

Stanford would retaliate by activating Stanford loyalists who would weigh in with letters to the editor, presentations at meetings. It was like calling out the "my Stanford right or wrong" rooting section. There was name-calling and contentiousness, some of which left scars that have been slow to heal.

That pattern seemed to be kicking in when the big new medical complex surfaced as an official proposal in 2007. It had all the earmarks of a head-to-head struggle, with both sides warming to the fray. Former City Manager Frank Benest was pulling together a list of things Stanford would need to address, and the list was approaching 100. Stanford was digging in.

But something changed along the way. Then-Mayor Pat Burt recalls one meeting in particular last year when bristling gave way to a realization that the project was really too big for old patterns. A new city manager, James Keene, brought a softer tone to the discussions, and Stanford made substantial concessions.

Offers included $23.2 million for "infrastructure, sustainable communities and housing" — only about $2 million of which would be required. Stanford offered to spend $90 million over the years on Caltrain GO passes or other transportation measures, plus $25 million to expand its Marguerite shuttle operation.

More recently it agreed to contribute $12 million to a "climate change fund."

So history has shifted, again.

Following the student hospital came a series of small hospitals located on Embarcadero Road, the site of the current lawn-bowling park. They kept burning down, retired surgeon Hewlett Lee recalls of the days when his father, the late Russel V.A. Lee, was co-founding the Palo Alto Medical Clinic.

Then the solid Palo Alto Hospital, now the Hoover Pavilion, was built on Stanford land.

The Stanford School of Medicine, meanwhile, was based in San Francisco. Under prompting from Russ Lee and other community physicians, Stanford and Palo Alto in the 1950s agreed to build a jointly owned hospital at Stanford and combine it with the medical school.

In 1959 both moved into the rambling edifice designed by Edward Durell Stone, marked by a square-block design on the outside that some felt resembled swastikas. To be contrary I once commented that they reminded me of benevolent symbols of some American Indian and Eastern religions.

Almost immediately the hospital proved to be too small — a problem that has plagued health care in Palo Alto just about forever, it seems. There was a constant push and pull for bed space and operating rooms between Stanford and community physicians in the early 1960s. At one heated meeting a doctor reportedly waved a shoe in angry emulation of Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev's famous shoe-banging episode.

By the mid-1960s Stanford had enough and offered to buy out the city's share. It took three years of talk to conclude a deal, based on a cash payment and 40-year guarantee of access to community physicians.

OK, back to the present, or perhaps that should be back to the future.

The scale of the current plans is staggering, physically, organizationally and financially.

With formal city approval, the next phase is Stanford's massive challenge of raising funds for what ultimately will be a $5 billion project, give or take some chump change of a few hundred thousand. The first $3 billion phase of rebuilding the Stanford Hospital and Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital is targeted to get underway late next year, 2012.

There is a time urgency for Stanford Hospital in that it doesn't meet state earthquake-resistance standards. It is under state mandate to shore up or rebuild.

A second, $2 billion phase of rebuilding the School of Medicine, laboratories and physician offices will come later.

The development agreement allows 30 years to complete everything — perhaps reasonable for something that should last at least 100 years.

The new complex will house most of the next century's health care, complementing the non-Stanford medical services in the community and serving as the community hospital for Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and other Midpeninsula cities, towns and unincorporated areas.

The new complex will be constructed on a specially zoned site northwest of the existing facilities, extending to Welch Road. Existing buildings will eventually be torn down.

The Hoover Pavilion, once Palo Alto's hospital, will be refurbished for medical offices. There's life left in the old place yet.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm

"Stanford would retaliate by activating Stanford loyalists who would weigh in with letters to the editor, presentations at meetings"
What a stupid, ridiculous comment, Jay. Do you really believe that the people who are speaking in favor of the hospital are controlled by Stanford and told when to come forward and speak. Ridiculous. Do you think, for example, that Gary fazzino's recent comments were not his own? Do you think that Stanford gave him a script and told him what to say.
This is an issue of truth vs fantasy--we have the people who have been helped by Stanford coming forward to speak from their hearts, telling the truth vs the fantasies pushed by certain unsuccessful former council members, who either whine about too much traffic, with a sour expression on their face or publish their anti-Stanford screeds in pamphlet form and send it to the citizens.
Really, Jay, I find it hard to believe that an intelligent newspaperman would write something like that


Posted by CHinCider, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm

To "svatoid" -

I think you need to read the story a little more carefully. The comments you are concerned about refer to past situations, not the recent dynamic. While the article is admittedly a little difficult to follow as it repeatedly switches from present tense to historical anticdotes, it seems clear that the reference to "activating Stanford loyalists" was in the context of prior issues, and certainly was not directed at Gary Fazinno.

Try reading it again.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm

CHinCider--then at best it is a poor piece of journalism. Anyway, I think the comment about Stanford "activating their loyalists" is a stupid, ignorant comment, regardless of how things have changed on the council and how they relate to Stanford.


Posted by It was a done-deal, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I agree with Jay about Stanford loyalists - long time loyal employees, including a few doctors and weepy people with stories about how they or their relatives were patients at the hospital. As though we don't all share that experience, but they are willing to whine and shed a tear at the microphone.
Stanford hired a former mayor of Palo Alto, a lawyer who knows the inside of the city administration and how to manipulate it. She has a lot of experience with big development both in the city government and subsequently.
Then Stanford almost succeeded in getting their PR chief hired as a Manager in our Planning Department. He is not a planner and has no planning education. Frank Benest apparently was OK with that corrupt plan, as was Mr Emslie, head of Planning at the time. Alert citizens shone public sunlight on to it and it was stopped.
So there is plenty of ugliness to remember. It was a done-deal from the start.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 15, 2011 at 6:35 am

"I agree with Jay about Stanford loyalists - long time loyal employees, including a few doctors and weepy people with stories about how they or their relatives were patients at the hospital. As though we don't all share that experience, but they are willing to whine and shed a tear at the microphone."
Attacking those that were helped by Stanford and come to support them. The people that were busy whining, instead of trying to deal with Stanford in an adult manner, were the anti-Stanford NIMBYists, constantly whining about too much traffic and "negative" effects of anything that Stanford does.
We have discussed the positives of having the hospital here. Some people do not consider that a benefit--you included. As others mentioned Palo Alto has brought nothing to the table and instead extorts money from Stanford, while making outrageous demands for Stanford to give them the moon.
Or perhaps you would have preferred for the Stanford medical center to close down?? Palo Alto without Stanford is Gary, Indiana.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 15, 2011 at 8:07 am

Bill--you edited my first sentence, above, so that it is grammatically incorrect by removing my point that the comments by Its-a-done deal were jack Morton-style comments.

Please note the following links, some from your paper, that show Morton's attitudes and why my analysis should not be edited:

Web Link:
"Former Vice Mayor Jack Morton accused Stanford of "playing dirty" in its stance that, because improved local health care would benefit the community, the city could exempt the project from various development requirements. He compared the university to a "medieval Duchy" in a pamphlet he wrote in his final months on the council."

Web Link:
"AS reported in the Daily News, Morton was particularly harsh in comments he made regarding patients who have spoken on Stanford's behalf in the past (... you can bring a parade of former patients" to recount how Stanford's hospitals saved their lives, Morton continued, alluding to some of the people who have spoken on the university's behalf in public comment sessions). Taken in context of his entire diatribe I find his comments to be callous and entirely lacking in empathy. (unfortunately you have to be a member now of the PA Daily News website to view the story, so I cannot post a link)
He claims that Stanford plays dirty--does he provide any proof for this? What does he consider "dirty"? He provides no proof."


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Fiber to the home will be obsoleted when AT&T moves into Palo Alto with their 80 wireless antennas. The new technologies are going all wireless.


Posted by It was a done-deal, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Apparently svatoid doesn't consider this evidence of playing dirty:
Quoting myself here: Then Stanford almost succeeded in getting their PR chief hired as a Manager in our Planning Department. He is not a planner and has no planning education. Frank Benest apparently was OK with that corrupt plan, as was Mr Emslie, head of Planning at the time. Alert citizens shone public sunlight on to it and it was stopped.
svatoid, stop calling names, you are way out of line. I have no connection to Morton. Anyone who pays close attention would recall this incredibly corrupt episode. By the way, the guy went back to heading up the hospital PR and that's what he is doing now.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

"Apparently svatoid doesn't consider this evidence of playing dirty:
Quoting myself here: Then Stanford almost succeeded in getting their PR chief hired as a Manager in our Planning Department. He is not a planner and has no planning education. Frank Benest apparently was OK with that corrupt plan, as was Mr Emslie, head of Planning at the time. Alert citizens shone public sunlight on to it and it was stopped."

But what is the evidence that they were playing dirty. Why is it considered to be playing dirty if you get people sympathetic to your cause involved in the process.
perhaps your problem is with Benest and Emslie, who had no problem with the matter. Did Stanford offer any payoffs? In that case it would be dirty. Please, provide proof.

"svatoid, stop calling names, you are way out of line. I have no connection to Morton. Anyone who pays close attention would recall this incredibly corrupt episode. By the way, the guy went back to heading up the hospital PR and that's what he is doing now."
You consider the fact that I stated that your comments were Jack Morton-like as being name calling? What name did I call you? Or is comparing you to Jack Morton, name-calling?i just pointed out that your comments regarding people who spoke in favor of Stanford were similar to his. BTW, your comments about doctors and former patients show an incredible lack of empathy or sympathy for these people. People who live in glass houses.....

"Anyone who pays close attention would recall this incredibly corrupt episode."
Please provide proof that there was corruption involved. You seem to be hurling quite a few accusations at Stanford.


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