In CNU's final Pizzeria Town Hall developer, Sacramento City Councilmember Allen Warren brought in for pacification

Sacramento City Councilmember Allen Warren during the last
Pizzeria Town Hall in Elk Grove. | 

The fourth and final California Northstate University's Pizzeria Town Hall meeting was held in Elk Grove last night. In a new wrinkle, a different CNU affiliate conducted much of the meeting while CNU executives were silent.

The meeting was held at the Round Table Pizza on Bruceville Road in District 4 and much of the proceedings were directed by Allen Warren of Sacramento-based New Faze Development. Warren, the principal of New Faze, is also a current member of the Sacramento City Council representing District 2 who has also been affiliated with CNU for over one year.

After introductory comments by Elk Grove District 4 City Councilmember Stephanie Nguyen, Warren took over the meeting. In each of the past three town halls, Paolo Diaz, CNU's architect, who did speak at this meeting, conducted the majority of the proceedings on the controversial $900 million project proposed for an existing shopping center in Elk Grove's Stonelake neighborhood. 

While Diaz answered several questions about the project, little new territory was covered from the three previous meetings during his portion of the meeting. Taking negative feedback directed at him and the other CNU representatives like CNU president and chief executive officer Alvin Cheung and Dr. Gordon Wong, during this meeting Diaz avoided using declarative statements like CNU would be the first hospital in Elk Grove and that it would be a level II trauma facility and substituting it with comments like "we are trying to be the first hospital in Elk Grove" and "we are designing it to be level two."  

Interestingly, neither Cheung nor Wong, who both were in attendance, spoke or appeared in front of the audience of about two dozen participants. At previous meetings, the two CNU executives' reactions to audience comments and questions ranged from dismissive to evasive, and they were criticized for their attitude.

In each of the first three meetings, which were organized by Joshua Wood of Sacramento-based Region Business, Diaz, who is not familiar with the Elk Grove community, along with Cheung and Wong, increasingly antagonized the audience during each subsequent session. Perhaps sensing this growing public relations fiasco, Warren appeared instead for pacification purposes.

During his 30-plus minute presentation, Warren discussed his 30-plus years of development experience, and when asked, acknowledged his tenure since 2012 on the Sacramento City Council. Unlike previous meetings, Warren admitted CNU's community relations, which were initially conducted by former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, were poorly handled.

"This project has had missteps," Warren said. "This has not been a smoothly communicated project, and there have been missteps. You have people doing things that are not normally their position." 

Warren responded to many of the audience's questions and comments by saying the environmental impact report, which he said a draft version could be completed as early as four weeks from now, will answer all their questions. Once the draft EIR is released, the public will have ample time to review and respond, Warren told the audience.

"The EIR will be the driving force for the process," he said. "The EIR is going to be the road map."

Warren noted the EIR could find the project is not appropriate for the site, which is on the existing Stonelake Landing shopping center site, which CNU owns and is seeking to demolish. The audience was also told by Warren that Cheung and others had invested "tens of millions of dollars in the project" already, and they are taking a substantial risk.  

When challenged on the amount of money invested, Warren said at a future meeting he would try to provide more financial information. When asked about his financial interests in the development, Warren said he was not an investor but would welcome the opportunity. 

Another topic addressed near the end of the meeting was the status of business owners at the Stonelake Landing shopping center. There have been conflicting reports on how CNU's dealing with their tenants.

Warren said CNU has been working to help the business tenants with relocation. Conversely, many business owners and leasing agents have repeatedly claimed CNU has been dishonest in their dealing and trying to force them out of business to void leases and avoid playing relocation costs.

"Hopefully, the parties can get together and agree," he said.

The appearance of Warren at the meeting signaled a new strategy that could be likened to American pacification efforts during the Vietnam War. Whether CNU's pacification efforts to win the hearts and minds of voters are successful, especially in the Stonelake neighborhood, where the proposed project is located, will be tested this November when Elk Grove District 1 City Councilmember Darren Suen, an early supporter of the project, will seek reelection with a visibly hostile electorate.    

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