California Northstate granted streamlined CEQA process on Elk Grove hospital project without public notice

Jan Smutney-Jones of NEST telling the Elk Grove City Council that
the public wasn't notified about CNU's expedited CEQ process application. |  

UPDATED 5:30 p.m. |

This week it was disclosed that a controversial hospital project in Elk Grove was granted a streamlined environmental review process by the state of California Governors Office of Planning and Research.

The easier process was granted to California Northstate University for their proposed $900 million 400-bed acute care hospital in Elk Grove's Stonelake neighborhood on the city's far southwestern corner. Elk Grove residents and the public at large was first notified of the submission of the September 24, 2019 application on January 8, 2020, after it was approved. 

The program was created by Assembly Bill 900 and allowed projects that meet specific economic development and environmental standards to use an expedited environmental review under the state's California Environment Quality Act Review (CEQA). The same process was used for Sacramento's Golden 1 arena.

Interestingly, Elk Grove residents first learned of the expedited review process on the same day San Franciso-based Dignity Health unveiled plans for their 100-bed acute care hospital near the city's District56 area. Dignity, whose plan was approved by the city seven years ago, anticipates after receiving state approval their facility could be open by 2026.

During the Wednesday, January 8 meeting of the Elk Grove City Council, two members of Neighbor Ensuring Stonelake Transparency - NEST - expressed disappointment that they were not notified of the application and allowed to submit comments. NEST has organized Elk Grove residents in opposition to the location of the hospital at an existing shopping center in the Stonelake neighborhood (see video below).

After the meeting, NEST member Staci Anderson (in the video below) expressed disappointment with the process. In particular, she said the city should have been more open about CNU's application.

"Granted, it appears the City was not legally obligated to notify the public of the application," Anderson said. "However, considering how controversial and impactful CNU's proposal is, the City should have sent notice out of a moral and ethical obligation to the citizens it serves."

According to a spokesperson for the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Research, their office nor the city is under any statutory requirement to provide public notice of an application.

The City of Elk Grove was invited to respond to a question on why they did not voluntarily disclose the information to the public notwithstanding no statutory requirement to do so. Their entire response from city manager Jason Behrmann can be viewed here.   

While AB 900 was meant to speed up the CEQA process, according to Monterey, Calif.-based public and labor policy analyst Kevin Dayton, the CNU agreement also added a sweetener for building trade unions.

"In 2011, construction trade unions lobbied for language ultimately inserted in the AB 900 criteria that pushes private developers to use union labor in construction," Dayton said. "Looks like California Northstate University is on its way. In fact, the MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the Carpenters Union requires them to 'support the Project at all public forums.'"

On the same day that the MOU was signed with the Carpenter's Union, August 21, 2019, the City of Elk Grove held the so-called TEFRA meeting wherein the city granted CNU the opportunity to seek financing as a non-profit entity that could issue tax-exempt bonds. At that meeting, among several speakers testifying on behalf of CNU was Kevin Ferreira, executive director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building & Construction Trades Council.

Additionally, members of the Elk Grove city council, including Mayor Steve Ly, and Councilmember Darren Suen, both supporters of the CNU hospital, have accepted significant campaign contributions from a variety of building trade unions.

Of note, the CNU project was the last approved under AB 900 as the legislation expired on December 31, 2019.

UPDATED This story was updated to include the city's response from city manager Jason Behrmann. Their entire response can be viewed here. 

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.

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1 comment

Ly Lie CNU said...

Shame on Ly , the entire council and the ousted mayor Davis

I’d drive any number of miles to avoid an organization with the integrity of CNU

If this is the “integrity” they work with ...

No thanks on being a healthcare provider

They should clear their administrative defects within their misleading marketing tactics in their school before bamboozling Elk Grove

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