The proposed expansion of the Stanford Medical Center is beginning to get discussed in Palo Alto and I do mean "beginning to." There already have been a couple of community forums, there will be a Planning Commission discussion of the expansion proposal next Wednesday, the council will give preliminary input at a July meeting (it already had some initial comments), and then this fall there will be a series of meetings sponsored by the city to go over various elements of the proposal land use, traffic impact, configuration and height of the buildings, parking, a no new net trips transportation policy, developing housing near the Intermodal Transit Center (the train and bus station), et cetera.
All this discussion is part of the Palo Alto Process that we have been so famous for and infamous.
"We have to do this," Planning Director Steve Emslie said. "The community wants to discuss the project and the council wants that discussion to happen."
Of course there has to be public discussion of one of the biggest projects to come before the city. But do we need endless discussion? Do we have to have community meetings during the fall to analyze all the components of the project? Will we ever agree?
I went to one of the forums June 21, and already there are two sides to many of the issues. Some questioned the two 130-foot patient towers that are being proposed, saying they are too high. One man said he didn't want to look out from his Crescent Park home and see the towers in the distance. Another insisted we maintain our low height Palo Alto environment. But several said the towers were preferable to expanding out, better for patients and their privacy, and would allow more open space near the complex.
Some residents said their main concern was good patient care in the community. One woman poignantly talked about her 10-year old who has an illness that requires rush trips by ambulance to the hospital, only to be turned away from the Emergency Room because it was filled up. Her son also had a critical surgery postponed because of a shortage of operating rooms and another surgery was delayed because there was no post-surgery bed for her child.
Others said they were concerned about additional traffic particularly in Downtown North and the number of new employees that would result because of the Med Center expansion.
Accompanying the Med Center proposal is a desire by Stanford to expand the shopping center and to build a new hotel. Some residents thought the hotel should be near El Camino, others thought it should be in the back, near Nordstrum's. Some wondered why the two projects had to be done and the same time.
We can debate all the details of the proposal for months, and we simply won't all agree. We each have different and valid concerns and interests,
The Palo Alto Process has resulted in eight years of discussion about Rickey's Hyatt Hotel, a similar amount of time for Alma Shopping Plaza, a once-endless debate about the expansion of Sand Hill Road, an eight-year process for an eruv (a fishing line) to be strung around town, et cetera.
Stanford has a Jan. 1, 2013 deadline to complete the state-mandated seismic upkeep of the hospital, which has necessitated its plan to completely redo the hospital and expand Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.
Do we want to keep this Palo Alto Process going on and on in town? Or can we just agree to get something done for a change.