The Elk Grove City Council, for more than an hour on Feb. 27, listened to comments by local residents who do not want California Northstate University’s (CNU) proposed teaching hospital built in their neighborhood.
The university is currently targeting a late 2022 opening of the hospital. But the hospital plans would still need to be approved by the city, and the project site must be rezoned before construction could begin on that project.
For much of the public comment period at the council meeting, people spoke in opposition to the plan for a $750 million, 250-bed facility to be constructed adjacent to CNU’s current campus in the Stonelake neighborhood.
Leading up to that meeting, members of a group, who refer to themselves as Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency (NEST), were well-represented at an informational meeting on the proposed hospital that was hosted on Feb. 22 by City Council Member Darren Suen. He represents Council District 1, which includes the Stonelake neighborhood.
A day later, NEST members protested the hospital by holding signs in front of the CNU campus, where Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly was hosting a party for community members and election campaign volunteers.
While Ly was participating in that gathering, Ty Sorci, who was then serving as the city’s external affairs liaison and Ly’s assistant, approached the protestors and began taking photographs of them.
Some of the protestors told the Citizen that they were upset that Sorci was taking photographs of children in their group and would not initially identify himself.
Shortly after that encounter, Ly told the Citizen that he was unaware of the incident.
The mayor would later make an official statement in response to a video of the encounter that was posted on YouTube on Feb. 25.
In that statement, which was released by Ly on Feb. 26, he wrote: “Any conduct by employees, consultants, volunteers or interns affiliated with my office or me interfering with the exercise of these freedoms will not be tolerated and will be met with a swift action.”
At the following evening’s City Council meeting, the video of Sorci’s interaction with the protestors was played.
Comments made by speakers at the meeting included requests for Sorci to be dismissed from his job.
One speaker referred to Sorci’s actions as “bullying behavior.”
Melinda Robinson said that those actions were a reflection of the city’s leaders and CNU.
“The actions of Mr. Sorci that day accurately and perfectly echo the actions of our city leaders and CNU: You have all blazed your way into our peaceful lives with full disregard for your disrespect and your disruption,” she said.
“You have all done this with an air of entitlement and an assumed dismissal of our rights.”
Daisy Hughes, who has been designated by NEST as the group’s main speaker, expressed her loss of faith in the mayor in regard to the proposed hospital.
“I voted for you because you were the first Hmong American mayor in our nation and I thought you would be rooting for the underdog,” she said. “But you don’t. You roote for the large businesses who are coming after and destroying our small businesses, and not acting in the interests of the residents.”
Part of the proposed hospital project calls for the elimination of the sites of about six or seven existing businesses in the Stonelake Landing Shopping Center.
Hughes added that she believes that the mayor “will do whatever it takes” to have the hospital project become a reality.
Barbara Patterson stated her belief that the council does not care what the hospital would do to the housing community and small businesses in the shopping center.
She additionally alleged that CNU CEO and President Alvin Cheung’s campaign contributions to Ly assured that he “had the mayor in his pocket no matter who won.”
Patterson also mentioned Suen’s acceptance of campaign contributions from Cheung.
NEST member Kathy Engle expressed her displeasure that Ly held his Feb. 23 event on the CNU campus.
“The arrogance of having the party at CNU and then pretending that you are impartial,” she said.
“It was further evidence that you don’t even care about the optics of it.”
Engle added that NEST supporters were exercising their rights as Americans to protest against the hospital project on Feb. 23.
“We are blessed to have a Constitution that protects our right to disagree, and protest in front of a mayor’s party,” she said.
In response to comments by public speakers regarding the Feb. 23 incident involving Sorci, Vice Mayor Pat Hume mentioned that he had spoken to Ly to express that the matter was “his problem that he has to deal with.”
Council Member Steve Detrick added that he had also spoken to the mayor and city staff about the situation and was “not pleased with it.”
Ly acknowledged that Sorci was then working for him and he mentioned that he was sorry that the incident occurred.
“In this capacity on this particular day, (Sorci) was not working for me as a city employee,” he said. “Nonetheless, that doesn’t really excuse that particular behavior. And as you’ve seen my statements that I’ve sent to all the news venues within the city of Elk Grove, this is something I take very seriously.”
The mayor noted that he had been in contact with the city attorney and the city manager on “an appropriate action” regarding that matter. However, Sorci resigned the next day.
Ly also acknowledged receiving campaign contributions from Cheung.
“You’re more than welcome to criticize me on that (point), and I welcome that,” he said. “In terms of the location and why we had the celebration (at CNU), it was a place in which they offered. The intent of it was not to discuss the hospital.”
The mayor added that it is important to have a transparent dialogue about the hospital proposal.
“For each and every one of you who have concerns over (that proposal), I encourage you to continue (voicing those concerns),” he said.