http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2007/11/21/editorial-new-phase-begins-on-stanford-med-center


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 21, 2007

Editorial: New phase begins on Stanford med center

Huge expansion and rebuilding project needs a thorough and complete review of its impacts and full recognition of its value to Palo Alto

Some development projects are so big that they defy the public's ability to grasp, and overwhelm even public officials with a sheer volume of detail.

The impending redevelopment of the Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford Hospital and Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital is such a project. It is the single most complex development proposal ever to come before the city. It will set the stage for a new generation of medical care as well as create significant community impacts, primarily traffic and housing. In a nutshell, Stanford proposes 1.3 million square feet of new construction for the medical center, including building a new 600-bed Stanford Hospital (up from 456 beds) and expanding Children's Hospital from 257 to 361 beds for an overall bed increase of 248. The project includes rebuilding the Stanford Medical School and relocating community physicians along Welch Road to make room for the new hospital.

Monday's meeting marks the end of an initial phase: presentation of the plan and getting community input on the state-required environmental impact report (EIR).

The project now enters a quiet phase while independent EIR consultants do their work, and city and Stanford officials discuss a preliminary "development agreement" a binding contract that defines the project and protects both Stanford and the city.

A key transitional meeting comes up next Monday night, when the City Council reviews details of the project and what needs to be included in the EIR, including a list of 59 specific issues.

Including expansion of the Stanford Shopping Center makes the overall package even more confusing, particularly as impacts of both will be wrapped into a single EIR. Both will add significantly to traffic and the jobs base, including many new jobs in the lower end of the income range that will worsen the Palo Alto area's longstanding jobs/housing imbalance one of the highest anywhere.

There are two sources of urgency:

First, Stanford faces an inflexible state mandate of 2013 to bring its 1950s-era hospital up to new seismic standards. A new hospital is needed because the existing hospital must continue to function, making heavy reconstruction impossible.

Second, the aging of a large segment of our local population the literal "coming of age" of so-called baby-boomers (born in the decade after World War II) will create a huge need for additional health care. As boomers, now entering their 60s, move into their 70s and 80s they are projected to utilize up to four times the medical care as younger age groups.

Last week, consultant Marlene J. Berkoff of San Rafael (an architect/economist familiar with hospital planning, hired by the city to double-check Stanford's assumptions) reported that the plans are consistent with new-hospital standards common today. She said she has not found any "wants" or un-needed add-ons.

Dozens of meetings have been held in the past year to present the plan to community officials, residents and business leaders and garner feedback. Both the council and Planning and Transportation Commission have held "scoping" sessions to define the EIR, and early discussions have begun between the city and Stanford on a "development agreement" to establish binding contractual guarantees and responsibilities for both the city and Stanford.

Clearly, the city and Stanford negotiating teams must await completion of the EIR, due in April or May in draft form, before finalizing any agreement.

But all sides know that two hugely important issues loom, both wrapped up in the question: In what ways and to what degree should Stanford be required to address the housing and transportation impacts of these enormous projects?

Should Stanford provide housing equivalent to new jobs created? If so, should it be required to contribute to schools and community facilities to offset a big jump in population? And how can transportation impacts be minimized?

Such questions must be balanced against the increasing health-care needs of our region and aging population.

Welcome to what promises to be a rough-and-tumble 2008 as these issues are sorted out in the second phase of this immense and immensely important project.

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