Guest Opinion: Stanford's proposed hospitals expansion is worth supporting
I have been a resident of Palo Alto for more than 30 years, and although I have both a B.A. and law degree from Stanford I have not always supported the university's positions in relation to the city.
In my experience, large institutions, including Stanford, have many departments, some of which do good things and others bad.
An example of what I thought was bad: When the commercial arm of the university decided to tie extension of Sand Hill Road to expansion of the shopping center years ago, I supported Measure M, which would have imposed conditions. Those conditions included the requirement that Stanford adopt a transportation-demand-management (TDM) plan comparable to what the campus already had done.
Another example is Stanford's obstinate stance on trail links to the foothills.
On the other hand, when I was on the board of the environmental group Acterra, we gave Stanford awards for two outstanding initiatives: working with the nonprofit Magic to plant oak trees on its lands and making San Francisquito Creek more accessible for steelhead.
What that background leads to is this: While I am definitely not one who thinks that Stanford can do no wrong, I think its current proposal to modernize and expand its hospitals and medical facilities is one of the best things Stanford has ever done and should be strongly supported.
Let me explain why.
The Stanford University Medical Center, which includes Stanford Hospital & Clinics, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine, performs an invaluable service to our community by offering the finest quality medical services at our doorstep. We are truly fortunate to have these facilities in Palo Alto.
Now the medical center is faced with the demand to modernize its facilities and address state-mandated seismic safety laws, a critical shortage of beds, increasing patient needs, undersized facilities and the space requirements of advances in medical care.
The proposed expansion will dramatically enhance the medical center's service to the community. Among other things, it will improve patient safety, privacy and comfort through individual patient rooms; create space for families to be with their child during treatment and recovery; provide new surgical, diagnostic and treatment rooms; and facilitate discoveries of new treatments.
The project will also expand the size of the Emergency Department, which is greatly needed.
The expanded facilities will, of course, have impacts. The city will require impacts to be mitigated (i.e., eliminated or reduced) and the hospitals have said they are committed to provide reasonable mitigation. I believe that commitment, and I am personally determined to ensure that Stanford fulfills it. The City of Palo Alto is conducting a comprehensive review of the project's impacts, including preparation of a draft environmental impact report (EIR).
On the issue of sustainability, the hospitals have already undertaken many initiatives on their own, such as recycling an average of 371 tons of material annually, converting to Green Seal-certified cleaning chemicals, and taking other significant actions to reduce the use of energy and water and cut hazardous waste.
The proposed expanded facilities will do even better, being designed to attain the highest levels of the guidelines for sustainable hospitals.
There are some impacts, such as housing and greenhouse-gas emissions, the extent of which are not yet known. Those will be studied in the EIR.
While no decisions have been made, I am concerned that some people are talking about imposing conditions on the hospitals that go far beyond what may be reasonable. For example, some have suggested the hospitals need to provide housing for all new employees, which is certainly more than is ever asked of other projects. Others have suggested that the hospitals need to guarantee a zero increase in greenhouse-gas emissions, which seems a bit extreme.
Since the project was first announced, I have been discussing it with friends and colleagues. There is strong and growing support for it. A group called Friends of the Hospitals has formed, and I am co-chairing it along with Bern Beecham, former mayor of Palo Alto.
The purpose of the friends group is to inform the community and government leaders about the need and importance for the project and to encourage reasonable approaches to minimize the impacts of the project.
I urge you to go to www.FriendsoftheHospitals.org for more information and to learn how you can join us. Working together, we can maintain and improve the world-class medical facility we have in Palo Alto.
Walt Hays is a longtime Palo Alto resident active in environmental and "sustainability" efforts. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.