It's been a long and winding road for Stanford University Medical Center and its plan to greatly expand its hospital facilities in Palo Alto, but the finish line is now just around the corner.
On Monday night, the expansion project is expected to hit its most significant milestone when the City Council reviews and votes on what officials routinely call the "largest project in the city's history." If the council approves the project, it would signal the end of a four-year review process that involved 100 public hearings and contentious negotiations over terms of approval -- negotiations that finally resolved last month.
For some in Palo Alto, the agreement on the table falls short of ideal. Several residents of Crescent Park, an affluent neighborhood next to the flood-prone San Francisquito Creek, had lobbied city officials to require Stanford to provide a retention basin on its property -- a proposal that didn't make it into the development agreement between Stanford and the City of Palo Alto. At a recent review of the agreement, Councilwoman Karen Holman criticized the city for not requiring Stanford to provide a free right-of-way easement to the city at Bol Park and redundant power supply to the city in case of a power outage.
The council's Policy and Services Committee on April 20 approved the development agreement by a 2-1 vote, with Gail Price and Pat Burt in favor and Holman dissenting.
Neighboring cities have their own concerns about the colossal expansion, which would bring about 1.3 million square feet of new development to Palo Alto. Menlo Park officials complained about the projected traffic impacts on already heavily traveled thoroughfares such as Sand Hill Road and Willow Road. Stanford ultimately soothed their concerns by agreeing to pay Menlo Park $3.7 million for traffic improvements.
East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero called for Palo Alto to be more thorough in its environmental assessment of the Stanford project. In a May 12 letter, Romero wrote that his city is particularly concerned about the project's impacts on "non-motorized mobility," including walking, biking, skateboarding and using a wheelchair -- impacts that he claimed the Environmental Impact Report for the project had failed to fully analyze.
In Palo Alto, however, the Stanford project has been steadily gathering momentum over the past year. Mayor Sid Espinosa said in his State of the City Speech in January that the city would approve the project this year, and City Manager James Keene cited the new hospitals in a recent presentation as one of several signs of the city's bright future.
The city's Architectural Review Board approved the designs for every aspect of the complex project, and its notoriously thorough Planning and Transportation Commission followed suit and unanimously (with Samir Tuma abstaining) endorsed the zoning changes Stanford is requesting. These include creating a new "Hospital District" in the city's zoning code and annexing a small parcel from Santa Clara County.
The hospital project includes construction of a new Stanford Hospital and Clinics facility, an expansion of the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and reconstruction of various Stanford School of Medicine buildings and clinics. Stanford's goals include expanding the hospitals' capacity, improving patients' rooms and making the buildings seismically safe. In a letter to the city, Stanford Hospital CEO Amir Rubin, Children's Hospital CEO Christopher Dawes and Stanford School of Medicine Dean Philip Pizzo wrote that Stanford is making "an historic investment of $5 billion" in the new facilities.
"Stanford University Medical Center will play a transformative role in the future of health care, and we are proud that this investment will enable us to offer the most advanced treatments and breakthroughs to our community first," the letter stated. "The recent earthquakes across the globe have underscored the urgency of seismic safety, adequate emergency department capacity and sufficient hospital beds for children and adults in need of care."
To obtain the city's permission for the expansion, Stanford has offered a package of community benefits that includes $23.2 million for infrastructure and affordable housing projects; $12 million for climate-change programs; $5.6 million in health-care services for low-income residents; $4 million for community-health programs; $3.4 million for improved pedestrian and bicycle connections; and $8.1 million in construction-use-tax revenue. Stanford will also pay about $91 million to purchase Caltrain Go Passes for all hospital employees.
While Stanford values the "community benefits" package at about $173 million, the city says it's closer to $43 million. Palo Alto officials argue that many of the benefits in the Stanford proposal, including the Caltrain passes, are mitigations that hospitals are required to provide to get environmental clearance for the project.
In a new report, Advance Planning Manager Steven Turner wrote that despite disagreements between the city and Stanford over the cost of the benefits, "staff agrees that the package responds to immediate needs and contributes to the overall health of our communities.
"Although the value of these proposed benefits is understood, the focus of the negotiating team centered on cost-neutrality, health care benefits, development of pedestrian linkages from SUMC to the transit center, automobile trip reductions and an infrastructure fund," Turner wrote. "These benefits are recognized to be directly related to the objectives of the SUMC project."
The council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.