With backlash growing in Elk Grove over a proposed 13-story hospital, California Northstate University officials sought to allay concerns about transparency and the project’s potential impacts at a heated community forum Friday.
The 250-bed hospital at 9700 W. Taron Drive has generated controversy over its size and location, potential traffic impacts, its planned helistop and the potential for job loss, as the construction would require demolishing the Stonelake Landing shopping center.
In particular, residents at the meeting, hosted by Elk Grove City Councilman Darren Suen, stressed that the hospital’s development process has lacked transparency.
“I don’t think (CNU) gave us any information that we didn’t already know. Where is the money coming from, foreign or domestic? Who is your developer?” said Daisy Hughes, a spokeswoman for a grassroots organization formed by local residents called Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency, or NEST.
“All we have is a picture of this hospital,” she said.
California Northstate University is a private, for-profit medical school that opened its college of medicine in Elk Grove for enrollment in 2015. The university announced plans in December to build Elk Grove’s first hospital, a teaching facility spanning 475,000 square feet on an 11-acre site.
During the meeting Friday, city officials explained that plans for the CNU Medical Center were still in the early stages – the school submitted an application Dec. 19 to the city, but staff deemed it incomplete.
“We gave it back to the applicant and right now it’s in their hands and currently we have nothing in our department to analyze,” said Elk Grove Development Services Director Darren Wilson.
It’s not uncommon for the application review process of a project of this size to take between 12 and 18 months, city Planning Manager Antonio Ablog told residents during the meeting. That review process would include an environmental impact report, which will analyze the project’s effects on traffic, noise and the surrounding environment, among other factors.
CNU officials hope the hospital will be built within two years after city approval, or about 2022, said former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, who now serves as a consultant for the university.
The full project would be completed in three phases, according to Davis. After the hospital is built in phase 1, phase 2 will include the creation of an outpatient clinic and parking structures, and phase three will include a dormitory, he said. Though Davis said CNU intends to finish the hospital by 2022, a timeline for phases 2 and 3 has not been determined.
“We’re a medical school, we care about the people in our environment, we see that there’s a lack of medical facilities in our analysis,” CNU President and CEO Alvin Cheung said during the meeting. “I hope you see this as an opportunity to live up to our institutional responsibility to society, that’s all I can tell you, OK?”
The university bought properties just north of its campus in January 2018, including the Stonelake Landing shopping center and an ALLDATA location. Business owners have since raised concerns about the planned construction, which would require about 15 businesses to close or relocate to accommodate the planned structures.
“We’re attempting to have conversations with the business owners about who wants to stay,” Davis said at the meeting. “They will make the ultimate decision about what they do.”
Several businesses, such as Dreaming Dog Brewery and Stonelake Vine & Spirits, still have several years left on their leases with the school.
“They have hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans that they need to pay off – are you in negotiation with them? Because I’m assuming that these businesses are probably not going to want to stay in Elk Grove,” city resident Winnie Tsang said during the meeting. “They trusted you and found a home (at the shopping center). These are people’s American dreams and their livelihoods.”
When initially announced, CNU officials stated the hospital would create 24,000 jobs over 10 years. Cheung said at the meeting the number of jobs once the hospital was built would be closer to between 1,500 and 1,800.
The school recently purchased another piece of land near the campus, just north of Elk Grove Boulevard, a vacant lot at 2410 Maritime Drive. CNU counsel Paul Wagstaff said there were no plans for the land at this point. Financing for the hospital development has not been finalized, and Cheung said the university is still selecting a developer from a pool of applicants.
Residents repeatedly questioned the ability of local officials to remain neutral during the hospital’s review process. All of Elk Grove’s City Council members attended the initial announcement event by CNU officials of the project in December. With former mayor Davis now serving as the university’s community liaison, residents “saw the city on both sides” at Friday’s meeting, Hughes said.
Suen received $2,000 on Oct. 17 toward his mayoral campaign from Cheung, according to campaign filings. Mayor Steve Ly, who also attended the meeting, received $3,000 toward his 2018 re-election campaign from Cheung in September, campaign filings show. Suen said during the meeting that campaign donations do not sway his opinion.
On Saturday, Ly held a community and volunteer appreciation event related to his successful mayoral campaign at CNU. At the same time, NEST members held a peaceful protest outside the school. Elk Grove external affairs liaison Ty Sorci came to the protest, taking photos of the event.
“I’m taking pictures of everybody around here,” Sorci said in a video taken by a NEST member when asked why he was taking photos that included the children of protest attendees. “Just keeping track.”
Hughes said she and other members of NEST worry the university doesn’t have the experience or know-how to complete a major project such as the one proposed.
“I can say for sure that no one in Elk Grove wants another failed project,” she said, referring to Elk Grove’s so-called “ghost mall,” the retail project along Highway 99 that was abandoned in 2008 and is scheduled to be demolished by the end of this month.
CNU has not announced plans for when it will host a community outreach event on the hospital as required by the city. “We’re in a listening phase,” Davis said during the meeting Friday.