Third CNU-Elk Grove Pizzeria Town Hall meeting draws larger, more vocal audience

Elk Grove resident Dennis O'Connor asking California Northstate University about how they are addressing flood concerns for their $90...

Elk Grove resident Dennis O'Connor asking California Northstate University about how they are addressing flood concerns for their $900-million 400-bed hospital that is proposed in a 200-year flood zone in Elk Grove. |  

The third in a series of four Pizzeria Town Hall meetings was held last night by California Northstate University regarding their proposed $900 million hospital project in Elk Grove's Stonelake neighborhood. This meeting, which, as held at the Pins n Stikes Bowling center in District 1, drew a larger and increasingly more vocal audience that the first two meetings.

Like the two other meetings held in districts 2 and 3, yesterday's was facilitated by CNU's architect Paulo Diaz with San Franciso-based Fong and Chan. Introducing the meeting was Elk Grove District 1 City Councilmember Darren Suen, who stressed the event was not city-sponsored.

"This is CNU's event, and some might know other councilmembers hosting as well," Suen said. "It is something I have been asking for and I am pleased they are holding these meetings now to engage all of us residents, especially those that are closest to the project."

Suen, who has been criticized for voicing his support of the project when it was unveiled in December 2018, said he has not decided on its fate.

"I haven't made a position for or against this project," Suen told the audience of almost 100 people. (See video of Suen's remarks below). 

Over the sometimes distracting noise of bowling balls falling pins, as he did in the two previous meetings, Diaz discussed the general plans for what the say will be a Level II trauma hospital that will eventually have 400 beds. Contrary to other regional health care providers who claim the current inventory of hospital beds has a 60-percent occupancy rate, Diaz claimed, according to their data is a critical shortage of beds in the nine-county area of Sacramento and CNU will help fill the void.

From the audience, Suen noted that Sacramento is part of the six-county area (El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, Yuba) included in the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. When asked by the audience CNU representative Brian Holloway said it included Solano and San Joaquin counties. 

Diaz was also challenged on the claim that the hospital would open as a Level II trauma hospital by Elk Grove and Stonelake resident Amrit Sandhu, who is a registered nurse practitioner. Sandhu noted that trauma designation is not automatically granted, instead it has to be earned through a rigorous review process and approved by the county and that the Kaiser South facility in south Sacramento is the area's designated Level II trauma facility.

"It's an overreach to say you are going to be a Level II trauma center," Sandhu said. "You are aspiring to be a Level II trauma center." 

Singh went on to say they are misleading non-medical people about their plans. Diaz acknowledged they are designing the facility to those standards, and they hope to attain the designation. 

As he was during the first two meetings, Diaz fielded numerous questions ranging from the appropriateness of the site, the effects on traffic, its location near the Stonelake National Wildlife Refuge. As he at previous meetings, Diaz said these and other concerns would be addressed in the environmental impact report.

Unlike other meetings, there was one Stonelake resident who spoke in favor of the hospital. Sean Atha, who works in the health insurance industry, said the CNU would be competing with the four dominant health care providers in the region and implied it could lower medical costs. 

"The reality is our market is one of the most expensive markets in the entire state," Atha said. "The reality is that the market structure and the reality of why it is expensive is quite frankly is due to concentration in the hands of very few, high quality, but still expensive health care organizations."

Atha added, "the model of the CNU hospital, I've actually been having discussions with health plans about it, actually comes in at a lower price point than all the others."  

Diaz and the CNU representatives, which included president and chief executive officer Alvin Cheung and Dr. Gordon Wong, also heard comments and questions about building the hospital in a designated flood zone. One person addressing flood issues was Elk Grove resident Dennis O'Connor, who is the Chief Consultant for the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, 

Speaking as a private citizen said there is a 14-percent chance in 30 years for a 200-year flood event. O'Connor added he recently rewrote the state flood codes.

Citing a policy paper on critical facilities from the Association of State Floodplain managers, reading from the study O'Connor said "critical facilities should never be flooded, critical actions should never be conducted in flood plain zones" and "if there are no practical alternatives to locating a facility in a flood plain, federal guidelines should be followed requiring protection from a 500-year flood event.

O'Connor then asked Diaz, if the facility will be flood-proof from a 500 event. Diaz said that the site is being raised seven feet to comply with the 200-year flood zone, and claimed that it would not add to the cost of construction but did not address O'Connor's question.

Among the several people attending the meeting were members of NEST - Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency, which was formed in opposition to the proposed hospital. Members of NEST distributed information a four-page information sheet refuting claims by CNU (see the document below).

At one point in the meeting, when a question from Elk Grove resident Kathy Lee about accessing hospital during a flood event, Diaz appeared hesitant to answer and Dr. Reggie Low, who is affiliated with CNU interjected and said, "I want to change the subject."

Low was met with jeers, and the audience members insisted they wanted the question answered. Low finally acknowledged they did not have an answer.

"Then that is the right answer," Lee said. "Don't double talk us, please just be honest with us."

The mood for the majority of the audience in the room was perhaps best summarized by Stonelake resident Gary Sibner who characterized CNU's intentions as misleading.  

"Why can't you just be honest," Sibner said. "How can we trust you when you continue to put out information that you know is not true."

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