Residents were divided Monday night on the environmental impacts of the Stanford Medical Center Facilities Renewal and Replacement project during the City Council meeting. More than 20 Palo Altans stepped up to the podium to praise and criticize the hefty Draft Environmental Impact Report's assessments of the huge project.
Long-time Palo Alto sustainable-living advocate Walt Hays praised the Draft EIR for its commitment to sustainability.
"This is one of the strongest statements of self-sustainability I have ever seen," Hays said. "It goes way beyond government standards."
Representatives from Stanford said that, with mitigation, the project on average will have a 25 percent smaller carbon footprint than other local businesses. The new buildings will have more efficient ventilation, green landscaping using drought-tolerant plants and water-conservation fixtures in the restrooms.
Mayor Pat Burt also praised the project for its sustainability features, but, like many Palo Altans, criticized it for neglecting important traffic issues.
Each resident who spoke on transportation and traffic cited a lack of research on methods to alleviate traffic -- some heatedly.
The heated discussion led Councilman Greg Schmid to ask the projects team to come back with "a traffic model that is clear and concise."
Burt specifically criticized the Draft EIR's plan for off-site parking for construction workers, saying it is "not very progressive." He called for more public transportation and bicycle-rental programs to reduce traffic.
With 66 intersections affected by the construction, the projects team plans to use "traffic-adaptive" technology (such as street-light monitors) and pedestrian overpasses and underpasses to alleviate traffic problems.
Most of the intersections' congestion will be less than significant due to these methods, but five intersections near the hospital will experience significant traffic problems no matter how much help is given, the projects team reported.
Steven Turner, Advance Planning Manager for Stanford Projects, said the five intersections could be mitigated through widening the roadways, as Menlo Park is doing to some of its streets. But Turner cited a provision in the EIR that states roads should not be widened merely to accommodate the construction.
The Draft EIR also outlines a Caltrain plan that will provide all hospital workers with free GO passes, or free rides to and from the hospital. The projects team researched the ridership of the trains, now only at around 50 percent capacity, and is confident that the trains will not overflow.
However, the council and residents felt that research conducted by Stanford was not extensive enough. One resident faulted the plan as not being financial viable because the plan is contingent Caltrain's decision to allow the GO passes.
Council Member Yiaway Yeh questioned the Caltrain decision and asked Stanford to look into chartered buses, which he said have grown in popularity lately.
After more than two hours reviewing and discussing the Draft EIR, Burt summed up the discourse: "Our task tonight is to make the EIR better and more complete, and we have helped do that."
Turner said Stanford will be "using the next three months to discuss the comments" and that "traffic will be the most important issue."