Public shares feedback on proposed hospital’s environmental report

An illustration of California Northstate University’s proposed Elk Grove hospital.

Update: The city extended the public comment period on the draft EIR to Oct. 13. Click here for more information: https://rb.gy/v5yvbt

The city of Elk Grove on Sept. 16 hosted a teleconferenced meeting to provide the public an opportunity to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for California Northstate University’s (CNU) proposed teaching hospital.

CNU plans to build a $750 million to $800 million, 13-story hospital in the Stonelake neighborhood, adjacent to its current campus, by November 2022.

As a controversial project, CNU’s proposed hospital site has drawn both support and criticism from Elk Grove residents since its announcement by the university’s administration in December 2018.

To better express their opposition to the location of the proposed, 261-foot-tall hospital, some Stonelake neighborhood residents and others formed a community group, which is known as Neighbors Ensuring Sincere Transparency (NEST).

Also expressing disapproval of the project’s location are some Stonelake Landing business owners, who expressed their concerns about losing their places of business.

The draft EIR mentions an alternative site to the current proposed, 24-acre site on West Taron Drive, just south of Elk Grove Boulevard.

Under that alternative, this medical facility could be constructed on the southern portion of the 58-acre, former “Ghost Mall” property near Grant Line Road and Highway 99.

The partially completed structures for that mall sat vacant for more than a decade before being demolished last year. This location neighbors the potential site for the Wilton Rancheria’s casino-resort.

For the hospital to be constructed at the former “Ghost Mall” site, the General Plan land-use designation would need to be changed from “regional commercial” to “employment center.”

Additionally, amendments would need to be made to the Lent Ranch Marketplace Special Planning Area for hospital and medical uses to be permitted in that district.

“To best service the community and provide the top level of care, a teaching hospital, like the CNU Medical Center, needs to be located as close as possible to the medical school, not located miles away," CNU spokesperson Brian Holloway said about moving the hospital's location. 

At the beginning of the Sept. 16 meeting, Antonio Ablog, the city’s planning manager, stressed that the purpose of the meeting was to receive public comments on the adequacy of the draft EIR for CNU’s proposed hospital project.

“Tonight’s intent is not to answer any questions on the project this evening,” he said. “We are here to listen to your comments as they relate to that Environmental Impact Report.”

Ablog added that as a public comment gathering session, the meeting would not include any official action to approve or disapprove the draft EIR.

To assist with the EIR process as the city’s consultants on the California Environmental Quality Act review, the Sacramento-based environmental planning and consulting firm, Ascent Environmental, was hired by the city.

Patrick Angell, project manager with Ascent Environmental and the lead on the environmental review, noted that EIRs do not address purely economic or social issues.

“Sometimes there are concerns about property values,” he said. “Certainly a significant and important issue to be considered by the decision makers, but it is not considered something that the environmental process addresses.”

According to the document, the current proposed hospital site, near Interstate 5, is located on a 200-year floodplain.

The project is proposed to be developed in three phases, with the hospital and the central plant being built in the first phase. An outpatient clinic, a medical office, two parking garages, with retail and office uses, and a dormitory and student garage facility would be built in latter phases.

The proposed project would also include pedestrian and bicycles areas, which would connect to existing facilities in the area.

Various improvements to nearby roads, including Elk Grove Boulevard and West Taron Drive, are required as part of the project.

Angell noted that if built, this medical center could employ as many as 4,000 people.

For the hospital to be constructed in the Stonelake neighborhood, six parcels within that site would need to be rezoned.

Included in the draft EIR are significant and unavoidable impacts, including a change to aesthetics in the area due to the proposed hospital’s height and massing.

Mentioned in the document is an alternative to reduce the hospital’s height from 261 feet to 165 feet and eliminate its helicopter landing site.

However, this alternative would introduce new lighting from the site that according to the document, “could adversely affect nearby residents.”

It is also noted in the draft EIR that the project would create significant and unavoidable noise impacts, including ambulance sirens resulting in sleep disturbance. Helicopter noise is not mentioned in the document as a significant impact.

Under the category of air quality, it is noted that the project would result in significant and unavoidable impacts associated with operation-related emissions.

The draft EIR refers to the nearby Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which was established 26 years ago to preserve remnants of the area’s floodplain habitat.

Project construction activities “may produce levels of noise, nighttime lighting and novel visual stimulus that may result in disturbance to wildlife species in the vicinity of the project site,” notes the draft EIR. However, the same document describes the project’s potential impact on wildlife or habitat as not accumulatively considerable.

Robert Burness, of Friends of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, shared his belief that the project would significantly impact wildlife of the refuge.

Burness referred to the document’s evaluation of listed species as “deficient,” and he noted a lack of bird survey data to establish the significance of impact from the project.

Amar Shergill, a Stonelake resident and civil rights attorney, spoke in support of those who expressed concern that the project would have a greater negative impact on the area’s wildlife.

“This refuge is the jewel for our community and for the entire region,” he said. “We shouldn’t be taking actions now that are going to destroy this environment for generations to come. As we see around the country and across California, these short-sided decisions regarding our environment have repercussions that future generations have to pay for.”

Stonelake resident Amrit Sandhu, who works as a health care provider in the Sacramento region, mentioned that she is concerned with the aesthetics and shadowing that the hospital would create, and the overall project’s effect on the refuge’s wildlife.

She was also worried about the high number of trucks that would be involved in excavation work, as well as increased traffic and crime that would result from the existence of this medical facility.

“Many of us moved to the west side for the peace and the quiet and not to be in the middle of a 10-year construction,” she said. “The impact on this community is going to be large. The impact on the wildlife refuge is going to be significant.

“No one is saying no hospital, CNU. What we’re all asking is put it in the right place, and the west side of Elk Grove is not the right place.”

Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock, former tribal chair of the Wilton Rancheria, called into the meeting in support of CNU’s proposal.

“I support the CNU Medical Center, because it will support highways, jobs and unique educational partnership opportunities for the city of Elk Grove and the region,” he said.

Also speaking favorably about the project was Vince Bernacchi, president of Schetter Electric, who said that the project would create potential construction jobs for his company.

Bernacchi also spoke about the benefits that the hospital would bring to the community.

“It’s going to bring on high-wage jobs and guaranteed great services to the community,” he said.

Ablog noted that written responses to the draft EIR-related public comments made at the Sept. 16 meeting, will be completed in the “coming weeks.”

The deadline to submit written public comments for the draft EIR and receive a response in that document ends on Sept. 28.