California Northstate University holds Pizzeria Town Hall I, rural residents warned 'they'll do it to you'

Aside from opening comments, California Northstate University president
and CEO Alvin Cheung did not participate in the Pizzeria Town Hall meeting. |

The first of four Pizzeria town hall meetings organized for the benefit of California Northstate University (CNU) was held last night in Elk Grove City Council District 2. The meetings, which were organized by Sacramento-based business advocacy group Region Business, are meant to convey information about CNUs controversial proposed $900 million hospital in the Stonelake neighborhood.

This meeting held at Fat Mike's pizzeria on Grant Line Road drew about two dozen participants. Attending the meeting on behalf of CNU was its president and chief executive officer Alvin Cheung, spokesperson Brian Holloway, former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, and about a half dozen other representatives.

After introductory remarks by Elk Grove District 2 City Councilmember Pat Hume, the meeting was conducted by hospital project manager Paolo Diaz of San Francisco-based Fong and Chan. 

In his PowerPoint presentation, Diaz offered an overview of the project, which calls for the construction of the 400-bed facility with 250 beds in the first phase. Diaz also outlined studies showing the economic benefit of the hospital to Elk Grove and produced studies suggesting the city has inadequate access to hospital beds.

After his presentation, Diaz took questions and comments from the participants. The participants expressed skepticism about some of the CNU claims as well as how the City of Elk Grove handle this and other projects that it supports. 

Typical was Elk Grove District 2 resident Kathy Lee who said she understood the frustration experienced by residents in the Lakeside and Stonelake neighborhoods. Lee noted the project would require demolition of an existing shopping center and that homeowners bought their residences in a master-planned community and were not unreasonable in thinking there should not be changes in their neighborhood.

"Those folks bought into a master-planned community where they bought their homes knowing exactly what was going to be on every corner," Lee said.  

Lee also told participants, many of whom are residents of Elk Grove east side rural area, they should beware of how easily the city can change things. Specifically, as Grant Line Road is transformed into the Southeast Connector highway, Lee said the city which she said repeatedly changes the general plan will open rural area to further development.  

"These folks thought they bought in a master-planned community and thought they were going to be set, the rest of us should be concerned that with a little money from the builders, the rural community could end up with apartments all along the [Southeast Connector] JPA," Lee said. 

Answering a question on why CNU wants to locate their proposed facility in the Stonelake neighborhood and not the city's Southeast Policy Area (SEPA), which the city hopes to be an employment center. The 1,200-acre SEPA planning area is undeveloped, although the city is pre-building infrastructure facilities like sewer lines to jump-start development.

"I'm the designer, so I kind of design the hospital, I may not know all the reasons why," Diaz said. "That said, two main things why I think it is in that location is the proximity to the medical school, that's the biggest one, and the desire to expand that to create a campus with the hospital at the heart of it. The other is they are putting up a lot of money they brought their numbers, and they think there is an economic justification for having a hospital at that site."   

Addressing a question on the proposed location of the hospital in a flood zone, Diaz said levee improvement would be required, and the hospital has been modified to elevate the structure. Diaz suggested since levee improvements would benefit the city, it should be taxpayer-funded. 

"The federal government is looking at doing some additional things to address the flood area," Diaz said."

Diaz's statement was met with immediate criticism by Elk Grove resident Ranky Bekker who said "Trump isn't giving California any money." Bekker followed-up and asked how much would CNU be willing to pay for levee improvements but there was no response.

Expressing his doubts about the project was Elk Grove resident Michael Monasky who said asking questions of Diaz was meaningless saying "If I had brain cancer I wouldn't go to my barber." Monasky outlined what he said were lies about the project which included his assertion the project has no funding source; they do not have permission from California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development; there is no need for a 400-bed hospital, especially given Dignity has scaled back their plans; and they have no plan for charity care.

One participant, who stressed they did not believe them, aksed Holloway about persistent rumors that CNUs ulterior motive for the hospital to operate a so-called birthing hospital for foreign nationals, and that funding for the facility was being provided by the Chinese government.

Holloway acknowledged the rumors and denied that it is the intent of the plan. As for financing, Holloway said they expect to get their funding from sources in the United States from a variety of sources, including private investors, labor unions, and pension funds.   

Peppering Diaz with questions and comments throughout the meeting was Stonelake resident Jan Smutney-Jones. Although Smutney-Jones is a member of Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency - NEST - he did not pose his questions necessarily as a representative of the group, which is actively opposing the CNU project.  

Smutney-Jones pushed back on CNU claims that they will be Elk Grove's first hospital noting Dignity Health's city approved-plans. He also said CNU has not been transparent in dealing with residents as promised, and residents are not adequately informed about the processes underway.  

"We are kind of done with surprises," Smutney-Jones said.

Near the end of the meeting, Smutney-Jones said community members were surprised when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a so-called AB900 order that could assist CNU with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuits. Smutney-Jones criticized the mayor and Elk Grove City Council for not informing the public of the action.  

"There was zero notice that was going into the Governor's office," he said.  

In response, Holloway said AB900 allows for an expedited legal process if a CEQA lawsuit is filed. Holloway then confronted Smutney-Jones.

 "That's why I am interested in your concern about AB900," Holloway said. "Are you planning to sue?"

Responding, Smutney-Jones said, "we'll see what comes out of the EIR, won't we Brian." 

Following-up, Smutney-Jones said the AB900 application submitted for approval did not contain vital information about the project. He said CNU's claims in the document submitted to Newsom that the hospital project would produce less fewer greenhouse gas effects than the current retail businesses in the Stonelake Landing shopping center was "laughable." 

Additionally, Smutney-Jones said, "the fix is in, and it is going to be jammed through" with the Elk Grove City Council to approve the environmental impact report. He issued a warning to rural residents about the process.

"If they do it to us, they'll do it to you," Smutney-Jones added.  

Below is a video of Hume's and Cheung's opening comments. An audio recording of the meeting is available here.   

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Connie said...

Bravo to Kathy Lee and the other District 2 residents for attending this meeting and supporting our neighbors over in Stonelake and the Stonelake Landing businesses. So much for the NIMBY excuse! We, in the rural area, couldn't be further away from the proposed hospital.

It should come to no surprise to Pat Hume that D2 active residents wouldn’t buy what CNU is selling. We have come to learn, the hard way, that the General “exception” Plan and all the rezones can hit anytime, anywhere, in the dead of night when you least expect it. See Bell South and Vintara Park, just to name two!

Residents beware! We, in the rural area, know we are not immune. That is why for the past 20 years, D2 residents have banded together, support each other's causes, and have been ever vigilant.

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