The Elk Grove Planning Commission on Feb. 18 voted, 3-0, to reject California Northstate University (CNU)’s plan to have a 13-story teaching hospital built adjacent to its current campus in the Stonelake neighborhood.
This $750 million to $800 million proposed project, which will next be heard by the Elk Grove City Council for final approval or denial, would include the hospital with its helicopter landing pad, a medical office building, outpatient clinic, a 150-unit dormitory, and three parking structures.
This proposed site drew opposition from neighbors, business owners and environmentalists since the project was announced in 2018.
Prior to hearing details on the proposed hospital project on Feb. 18, the commission denied CNU’s request to delay the hearing by two weeks. University officials desired more time to review comments on the project, while the commission felt that sufficient review time had been given to the matter.
Although the commission’s vote was unanimous, Commission Chair Andrew Shuck and Commissioner Tony Lin recused themselves from this agenda item due to conflicts of interest.
The commissioners’ recommendation to the council was based on their refusal to support CNU’s request for General Plan land-use designation changes where the hospital would be built.
Vice Chair George Murphey said that his denial of that request – and thus the proposed project’s location as a whole – was based on its existence within a 200-year floodplain.
“I don’t accept the changes to the General Plan text allowing essential facilities to be built in the flood zone,” he said. “To allow an essential facility to be placed in a flood zone or any situation where the facility may be endangered of not being able to perform its mission is contrary to the purpose of an essential facility.”
During this more than six-hour hearing, which ended shortly after midnight, many public speakers spoke in opposition of the proposed project.
Murphey explained that the commission is obligated to consider the impacts a project can have on a community.
“Like the folks we heard from tonight, I treasure my neighborhood as much as they treasure theirs,” he said. “I live there for a reason, and to have this project or a similar project attempted to be placed in my neighborhood or my community would be just as concerning, if not more.”
As a controversial project, the proposed hospital has consistently received strong opposition since the university announced its plan two years ago.
That opposition includes a large group of Stonelake residents and others who formed a coalition to oppose the construction of the hospital at its proposed site. The group is known by the name, Neighbors Ensuring Sincere Transparency (NEST).
Concerns have also been voiced by business owners who would be forced to leave the Stonelake Landing shopping center, south of Elk Grove Boulevard, near Interstate 5, and environmental groups opposed to having a large structure built near the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Stonelake resident Leticia Abdel shared her desire to not have a hospital built in her neighborhood.
“This is a great project; just in the wrong location,” she said. “Twenty years ago, when we were looking for our forever home, we chose Elk Grove, we chose Stonelake – for the preserve, for the nature that was around, the serenity that was here.”
Commissioner Mackenzie Wieser referred to the proposed hospital site as “poorly located.”
She said that she is troubled by the many unavoidable impacts described in the project’s environmental impact report, such as the degrading of the existing visual character, a new source of substantial light or glare, ambulance siren noise, and contributions to air pollutants, and groundwater impacts.
“(It would be) to say to the community that I would be OK with the height and the materials and the light and the traffic,” she said.
Weiser also focused on her concern for how a hospital in that area would affect the wildlife that rely on the Stone Lakes refuge.
“It’s got 180 degrees of surrounding wildlife refuge and preserve space to which these animals count on that space for safe haven and respite,” she said. “They come here. Twenty-eight million birds come here to rest and take time here annually.
“And as a decision maker who is dedicated to educating youth on the importance of protecting and serving our natural environment, I cannot lean in here on this location for this project.”
Wieser added that the project does not align with the city’s General Plan.
Allen Warren, one of the project’s consultants, announced in the meeting that the university’s plan to have a hospital built in the Stonelake neighborhood by November 2022 could not be met.
“Obviously, we’re not going to make that date,” he said. “But what I will say is we’re doing everything we can to be as efficient as possible, and know that until we get approval, the clock really doesn’t start for our grand opening.”
He added that the hospital would be completed 30 months from the time of its approval. However, the hospital would not begin its operations for another six months, according to CNU.
Warren also addressed the issue of financing for the proposed hospital.
“We have received already financial letters of intent to provide the interim financing for the hospital from several financial sources of approximately $1 billion,” he said.
“CNU is committed to making sure that all of the financing needed to complete the project is in place prior to construction starting.”
Warren stressed that the project would not become another “Ghost Mall,” like the partially-built outlet mall that was abandoned for more than a decade at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road before ultimately being demolished.
In support of the proposed CNU hospital, Dr. Michael Wong, the university’s associate dean of academic and career advising, stressed a need for more hospital beds to be available in the Elk Grove area.
“Kaiser South can be used by Elk Grove; that’s true but clearly not all those beds at Kaiser South will be used by Elk Grove,” he said. “Dignity (Health, which plans to build their own hospital in Elk Grove), again to remind, is replacing, not (adding) new, additional beds.
“So, that unfortunately still leaves a deficit of hospital beds in the Elk Grove area. So, certainly CNU will be fulfilling a need that has been recognized by many of the callers tonight.”
Wong also noted that, if built, CNU’s hospital would create a triangle of hospital coverage between the Interstate 5 and Highway 99 corridor.
With the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny CNU’s proposed hospital project, CNU will await the Elk Grove City Council’s ultimate decision on this matter in an upcoming meeting. That hearing was not scheduled as of press time.
CNU spokesperson Brian Holloway said that CNU is looking forward to that meeting.
“We respectfully disagree with the Planning Commission’s decision to reject its own staff recommendation, but appreciated the robust public discussion and look forward to the upcoming hearing before the City Council,” he said.