California Northstate University's second pizzeria town hall meeting draws larger crowd, increased criticism

California Northstate University president Alvin Cheung answering questions at the pizzeria town hall meeting.| 

The second in a series of four meetings nick-named the pizzeria town hall meetings was conducted last night by California Northstate University as part of its community outreach on its controversial $900 million hospital project proposed for the Elk Grove's Stonelake neighborhood.

The meeting, held at Steve's Pizza on West Stockton Boulevard in Elk Grove City Council District 3, was hosted by Vice Mayor Steve Detrick. While introducing the CNU staff and representative, Detrick noted the purposes of the meetings. 

"When they put in their [development] application, they agreed at our request to be able to go out in each district and host a meeting," Detrick said to the audience of about three dozen. "What this is, this is a meeting by CNU; this is not a city of Elk Grove meeting, I'm just part of the host committee as this is the district I represent."

As with February 11 meeting at Fat Mike's Pizza, hospital project manager Paolo Diaz of San Francisco-based Fong and Chan conducted the session. Unlike last week's meeting where CNU's president and chief executive officer Alvin Cheung's participation was minimal, this session saw his, and other CNU's executives increased engagement.

Unfortunately for Cheung, CNU personnel, and Detrick, most of the audience questioning and engagement toward them was unfavorable.

Following Diaz's presentation, he, along with Cheung and CNU's Dr. Gordon Wong, fielded a wide array of questions about the project ranging from their construction time table to levee improvements needed to build the hospital in a 200-year flood plain. 

Wong told the audience when the CNU team announced their goal to establish their medical school, skepticism abounded. He seemingly implied their determination and success in starting the medical school would translate to building the medical complex in breakneck time.

"No one thought we could build a medical school, and guess what, we built it in five years," Wong said. "UC Riverside took 10 years to get accredited. We have experts, we retained experts in the area."

Wong then told the audience their claims were untrue and "what you need to do, all of you is to verify your sources of information."

One of the sources mentioned by participants was a recent Sacramento Business Journal panel discussion with executives from the four main health care providers in the region who casts doubt on CNU assertion that 400 additional hospital beds were needed.   

"We did our research," Wong said. 

Several participants expressed displeasure with the answers from the CNU representatives saying they were vague and condescending.

Typical of those was Stacie Anderson, a Stonelake resident who is involved in Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency - NEST - an advocacy group opposing the project. Anderson said directing people to the school's website for information instead of answering them in the town hall format was inappropriate.

"If you are going to have a town hall meeting and you say are going to give information to people, don't send them to your website and make them search for it," Anderson said. "Second of all, some, many of these comments from everybody referring to us as 'lay people' - and I have to tell you there are some really intelligent people here - are so condescending. Trying to give us a lesson is disturbing."

After addressing Cheung, Anderson faced Detrick and directed her displeasure with CNU toward him.

"Vice mayor I hope you see this, I hope you see this is how they talk down to us, this is how they treat us," Anderson said. "They just threw you under the bus just now by saying you, and it is you and the rest of the council's fault that we don't have information." 

Several of the questions centered on CNU's expedited construction time table for the project. According to information presented at both town hall meetings and earlier, CNU said they expect to have the project approved by the city, financing secured, state approvals granted, and construction completed of the first phase, a 250-bed hospital, by the end of 2022, which is 1,046 days from today.

Audience members expressed doubt it could be accomplished so quickly given Dignity Health estimates it will take two to three years alone to get their Elk Grove hospital approved with the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. When responding to direct questions, Cheung, Diaz, and Wong offered vague answers suggesting that among other things, Dignity Health's bureaucracy was a self-induced impediment to quick approval and that CNU is working on several of the items like securing financing and obtaining local and state approval concurrently. 

The Elk Grove city government and council members were also criticized during the session. When the project was unveiled in December 2018, city executive staff and city council members fully embraced the project and were led by Elk Grove City Councilmember Darren Suen, who said he was excited about the project for the Stonelake neighborhood.  

Directing his comments at Detrick Stonelake neighborhood resident Steve Vaczovsky said when the city incorporated in 2000, part of the reason was to allow for more self-determination in things like land planning. Vaczovsky also expressed concern that parcels owned by CNU near the proposed site were going to be used for industrial pharmaceutical production.  

"Mr. Detrick, I'm sorry, I don't have a great deal of faith with the city, Elk Grove was created to get control of our land use," Vaczovsky said. "I moved here in 1990 and Sacramento County just put stuff where any developer wanted to build something. People voted here to get a city to control. I'm hoping the city government at this point has a small piece of that concern left to address these peripheral issues."

To build the medical facility, CNU needs city approval to demolish the Stonelake Landing shopping center, which they own. The demolition of the shopping center has been one of the focal points for not only nearby residents, but for many business owners operating there.

One of those business owners, Elizabeth Brown, co-owner of the Dreaming Dog Brewery, spoke during the meeting. Brown complained about the dealings she and husband and co-owner David Brown have had with Cheung, CNU, and their representatives like former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis about a possible buyout and relocation of their business, which they have said cost about $1 million to launch.

"We have been on a roller coaster of lies, and if you look at the shopping center now, it's like you decided 'we have all these empty suites we can put whatever junk we want to make it look like blight,'" Brown said.  

The next pizzeria town hall is on Thursday, February 27, starting at 6 p.m. at Pins and Strike Bowling alley on Laguna Boulevard. District 1 City Councilmember Darren Suen will host the meeting.

An audio of the meeting is available here for paid subscribers. The audio will be available for general use in 24 hours.  

UPDATE 4 p.m. - In the quote from Ms. Anderson, the word important was changed to intelligent.

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







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D.J. Blutarsky said...

Referenda.

While most of rules regarding circulation of an initiative petition will also apply to a referendum petition, there are four major exceptions to the above:

First, proponents have only 30 days from the date the ordinance is adopted to circulate the petition.

Second, there is no title and summary or publication requirement. Proponents may commence circulating the petition as soon as the ordinance is adopted.

Third, the referendum must contain the full text of the ordinance or legislative act the proponents are challenging.

Fourth, the number of signatures required to qualify a referendum petition is equal to not less than 10% of the registered voters of the city according to the last report of registration issued by the County, or in a city with 1,000 or less registered voters, by 25%
of voters or 100 voters, whichever is less.

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