Editorial: Consensus over new hospitalsAfter a long review process warranted by the massive size of the largest and most complex development project ever considered by the city of Palo Alto, the time has come for the City Council to enthusiastically embrace these critically-important expansions.
Stanford Hospital, Packard Children's Hospital projects should win final approval
Doing so will ensure the community has adult and children's hospitals able to withstand and continue operating after a devastating earthquake, provide exceptional, state-of-the-art care in facilities designed for patient comfort, and continue to attract the best clinicians and researchers in their fields from around the world.
Anyone who has been a patient or had a relative treated at Stanford is all too familiar with the need for these projects. From the cramped emergency room to the chronic shortage of available beds, the infrastructure is no longer able to meet the technology needs of today's medical practice or the desires of patients for a more comfortable environment.
These needs shouldn't, nor have they, trumped legitimate environmental and other concerns. But through a process that has remained remarkably focused and productive for more than five years, Stanford has agreed to a strong package of financial and other measures that strike the right balance for this enormous $3.5 billion project.
The Planning and Transportation Commission approved a substantial revision to the city's Comprehensive Plan last week that will permit Stanford to exceed some zoning regulations in return for about $45 million in payments to the city. Stanford's estimate of its community benefits payments is substantially higher — $175 million — because it includes the cost of purchasing Caltrain Go Passes for hospital staff over the next 51 years, which the city considers to be mitigations required by state law.
When the development agreement is approved by the City Council it will be the culmination of about 100 meetings and hearings in front of various city commissions.
At times, there were big disagreements over the severity of the anticipated impacts and value of the community benefits being offered and concerns that the city might overreach in its demands for concessions unrelated to the actual hospital projects.
But in the end, even the Planning Commission, some of whose members were openly hostile during earlier hearings, voted unanimously (Chair Samir Tuma recused himself because his wife works at Stanford) for the necessary zoning amendments.
The agreement guarantees that the city will receive a major infusion of cash from Stanford related to various aspects of the project, including $7 million for health care programs and services; $23 million for housing programs and $12 million for climate change initiatives. In addition to buying Go Passes, Stanford will give the city $3.4 million to improve bicycle and pedestrian paths near the hospital buildings.
Construction would begin next year and portions of the buildings occupied in 2013 or 2014. The project was launched in part to meet the state's seismic codes, and would add about 1.3 million square feet to of total new development to Palo Alto.
According to the development agreement, the project would: rebuild Stanford Hospital and Clinics, replacing 456 hospital beds, adding 144 beds for a total of 600 beds; expand Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, adding 104 beds for a total of 361 beds; reconstruct various buildings at the University School of Medicine and renovate Hoover Pavilion and build new medical office buildings.
The agreement would allow Stanford to exceed the city's 50-foot building height limit by 80 feet, permitting the main hospital buildings to reach 130 feet. The revised Comprehensive Plan would create a new "hospital district" that is designed to accommodate Stanford's hospital, medical office and research facilities "with the need to minimize impacts to surrounding areas and neighborhoods."
Both Stanford and city officials deserve accolades for persevering through the long and arduous negotiations which culminated in the agreement that the council will vote on June 6. In almost every respect, starting points in the bargaining over impacts and mitigations changed over the last two years, but as in any good negotiation, both sides now support the finished product. For example, Stanford did not start off agreeing to pay $23 million into the city's housing fund, but the final document specifies that such payments will be made, which was a significant win for the city.
Transportation was a huge issue, which the university agreed to address through substantial expenditures, including purchase of Go Passes valued at $90 million over 51 years (an average of about $1.8 million a year) so any hospital employee may use Caltrain service at no personal expense. More directly, Stanford will spend $25 million over 51 years (about $500,000 a year) to purchase and operate four new Marguerite shuttles that will run to and from the Caltrain station and hire a transportation demand coordinator at $98,000 a year to oversee the plan.
To encourage biking and walking, the agreement will provide $3.3 million for better routes between the transit center and Quarry Road to link it to Welch Road. There also will be improvements to enhance pedestrian connections between the Medical Center and the Stanford Shopping Center near the Barn.
The largest cash outlay — $23 million — will go to the city's housing fund in three installments timed to the project's phases of construction. The payment will include the city's $2 million housing fee and the remainder will be used for sustainable neighborhood and community development and affordable housing programs.
The city will receive an additional $12 million timed to the construction phases for use in projects and programs supporting a "sustainable community."
Only time will tell if the agreements reached to lessen the impacts of this project will do the job. But Palo Altans have every reason to be enthusiastic and grateful that in a few years it will have medical facilities in its back yard that will rival any in the world.