CNU project environmental report suggests alternate site at demolished mall for controversial hospital project




Although California Northstate University's proposed hospital has been less visible for several months, the release of the draft environmental impact report (EIR) document has resurrected interest in the controversial $900 million project just in time for Elk Grove's District 1 City Council and mayoral races.

The project's draft EIR which was recently released for public comment was preceded by almost two years of controversy since its December 2018 unveiling. The project has generated intense opposition from residents in the far southwest corner of Elk Grove city limits where the proposed project would be built.

The EIR document outlines the effects the project would have on the proposed site and adjacent areas that currently is the location of the Stonelake Landing Shopping center on Elk Grove Boulevard and Interstate 5. To facilitate the construction of the hospital would necessitate the demolition of the Stonelake Landing shopping center that is owned by CNU.  

As part of the EIR document, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires examining alternate sites. For those purposes, the study looked at a site that many in the community have argued would be a better location for the 13-story project - the now-demolished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove shopping center located near Grant Line Road and Highway 99. 

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Until early 2019 when it was demolished by its owner, that was the site of the partially-built shopping center originally called the Elk Grove Promenade. Construction on that site stopped in July 2008, and the unfinished structures sat abandoned for over 10 years, while various plans to restart construction floundered. 

Directly adjacent to the alternate site, the Wilton Rancheria is planning their $500 million resort casino. Construction on that project has been stalled by pending litigation in federal court in Washington D.C.
 
In the draft EIR, the site, which the study calls the Lent Ranch Marketplace Alternative site (the shopping center's original name), suggests the 58-acre parcel would provide a suitable and perhaps superior alternative to the Stonelake Landing shopping center. There are several reasons why the study makes that suggestion. 

Among the most important from an environmental perspective, this site, unlike the Stonelake Landing shopping center, is not directly adjacent to the Stone Lake National Wild Life Refuge. As noted in the report, "this off-site alternative location was identified because of its proximity and access to State Route 99 and to address biological resource impacts associated with the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge."

Another advantage this location has over the Stonelake Landing site is that it is not in the floodplain. The report notes, "the water quality and flooding impact under the Lent Ranch Marketplace Alternative would be less than under the Project."

The question of building a hospital in the flood plain was addressed at an Elk Grove city council meeting last year, where it was suggested improvements would be needed to levees near the Stonelake Landing location. Questions of how those improvements would be financed were left unanswered. 

Political implications 

While the Lent Ranch Marketplace Alternative location would have many environmental advantages over the Stonelake Landing project site, there are also political implications. These implications are most significant for the November elections for Elk Grove Mayor and District 1 city council races.

Mayor Steve Ly has been an unabashed proponent of the project at the Stonelake Landing location since it debuted even though he has been criticized and subjected to protests at two of his political events in 2019. Ly has also received large campaign donations from Alvin Cheung, president, and chief executive officer of the for-profit medical school.  

Ly, who has been besieged by other political challenges as he seeks his third two-year term as mayor, is being challenged by Elk Grove Unified School District Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen and Brian Pastor. Responding to an inquiry on the possible relocation of the hospital to the Lent Ranch Marketplace Alternative, Singh-Allen blamed the ongoing CNU controversy on Ly but avoided saying if she would support moving the project.  

"The CNU project is mired in controversy because the Mayor failed to lead," Singh-Allen said. "The Mayor was more interested in political contributions and attacking women and children when they protested his fundraiser at CNU than guiding the hospital through a process that includes transparency and stakeholder engagement." 

Singh-Allen added that she listened to last week's EIR presentation by the City of Elk Grove and said she was confident as mayor she could bridge the differences between the various stakeholders. 

"As Mayor, I will work with all applicants through the stakeholder engagement process without conflicting it with politics and the appearance of backroom deals," Singh-Allen said. "This is not the way to gain public trust and confidence."

Ly did not respond to a request seeking comment if they would support moving the project.

Pastor issues an unambiguous message on the project

While he has not had the visibility or name recognition of his two competitors, mayoral candidate Brian Past provided clear policy positions on the CNU project.

Regarding the possible relocation of the project, Pastor issued the following policy statement:

"The former mall site provides many advantages over the current plan. First, the site does not negatively impact pre-existing businesses. Secondly, there's an opportunity for the hospital to help the local community reduce its mello-roos fees by partially funding local infrastructure costs. Lastly, adding another medical building in the area could encourage more medical offices and job opportunities in that area. For these reasons, I support the relocation of the hospital to the former mall site."

For some of the reasons he cited in his support of relocating the project, Pastor made the following statement on the project's Stonelake Landing site that CNU is pursing:

"The current site fails to truly consider the traffic, business and environmental impact. First, this site will create traffic congestion in an area that already suffers from poor traffic management. Secondly,  no building of that size and technology should be placed near the Stone Lake National Wildlife Preserve. Lastly, the businesses in the existing area would risk losing their current lease agreements and be forced to become their tenants. Current business owners would lose a large portion, if not all, of their investments. We have to take care of existing local and small businesses and communities--this site plan falls very short of that. For these reasons, I don't support the project at its current location." 

District 1 

While the Mayoral election is held citywide, the political stakes in the District 1 race are higher given that is the location of the CNU project, and the councilmember representing the area is elected only by those in-district voters. Incumbent Darren Suen, who is seeking his second four-year term after being appointed in 2015, is being challenged by Ali Moua.

Suen, who initially spoke in favor of the project, has now backed-away from full-fledged support and has taken a more conciliatory approach as it involves District 1 constituents who had criticized him. While he cited the high-skills jobs the facility could bring to the city, Suen added the determination of moving the project is the decision of CNU.

"Yes, I would support moving the proposed CNU hospital to a location that already has healthcare offices and is also easily accessible to the freeway," Suen said. "However, the applicant chose the current site, and by law, the city is required to process the application submitted."

He added, "After listening to residents, I have concerns about it."

Conceivable when the project at the Stonelake Landing site comes before the city council, should Suen be reelected, he could vote against the project, which would endear him with District 1 voters. However, Suen, like Ly, has received large contributions from construction labor unions who are savoring jobs for their members the project would bring, and a rejection vote of the Stonelake Landing site could put Suen in a politically tricky situation if he were to seek higher office as a Democratic candidate.

While both Ly and Suen continue to received labor union money, in the past, Suen had received contributions from Cheung but did not in the six-month reporting period ending June 30. Ly has continued to receive donations from Cheung, with the most recent being $6,000 in the first half of this year.

Suen's District 1 opponent, Moua, did not respond to a request to comment about moving the project or if he supports the proposed Stonelake Landing shopping center site. 

Moving the project would also benefit the City of Elk Grove and avoid likely litigation from environmental groups who have signaled they would sue if the project at the Stonelake Landing project is approved. Additionally, the location of the hospital near the city's Southeast Policy Area business-centered planning area could help jump-start economic development, which has been non-existent, and it would mean the city could avoid approving the construction of the hospital in a designated flood plain and the negative publicity that would follow. 

As for CNU's position on the Lent Ranch Market Place Alternative site, spokesperson Brian Holloway said they intend to pursue the Stonelake Landing shopping center location, citing its proximity to the existing medical school.

“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," Holloway said.     

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3 comments

Neo Elk Grove said...

I suppose a candidate like Brian Pastor who is not expected to win gives him the freedom to give an answer free of double-talk. What a concept - giving a straight answer.

The fact Bobbie Singh-Allen is afraid to commit tells me all I need to know about her.

Josie said...

As usual Bobbie Singh-Allen goes into attack mode...nothing new there!

Steve L said...

This community needs to hear from Moua. This is his district and it’s a huge issue.
Now he’s afraid to make a stand. He is no leader, he just stirs up controversy related to others while he is either not informed enough to make a comment or too scared he might say the wrong thing.
Elk Grove needs neither of these qualities on the council.

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