Inopportune timing for Councilmember Suen - Elk Grove taking environmental comments on controversial CNU project

During the  December 2018 announcement of California Northstate University's controversial $900 million hospital project, Elk Grove City Councilmember Darren Suen  (in front of the microphone) said he was excited about the proposed hospital in Elk Grove's Stonelake neighborhood. | 

It's not quite the same as an October surprise, but the month of September 2020 could present politically difficult moments for Elk Grove District 1 City Councilmember Darren Suen. During this month, the City of Elk Grove has opened the comment period for a controversial project in District 1  supported by Suen. 

That project, the proposed 400-bed $900 million hospital by California Northstate University that Suen has supported since it's December 2018 unveiling, is a thorny political issue in District 1. As the District 1 representative, Suen was caught flat-footed when constituents, particularly in the Stonelake neighborhood strongly opposed the project upon its debut.

While the project generated considerable controversy throughout 2019 and into 2020 when CNU held four town hall meetings throughout the city, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project's visibility has diminished. However, in recent weeks, the project has been brought back into public discussion with the opening of the comment period of the draft environmental impact report.

For Suen, the comment period brings the issue back into the public's consciousness. Appeals for people to submit comments have been circulating on social media from neighborhood advocacy groups and environmental interest groups like the Environmental Council of Sacramento, also known as ECOS.    

In a post on their website, ECOS said "Oral comments may be provided at the September 16, 2020 City Council meeting and the City will provide responses to those comments in the Final EIR as well."

The opening of the comment period for the draft environmental impact report could not come at a more inopportune time for Suen - in the weeks leading to election day. Unlike 2016 when Suen was challenged by what some political observers characterized as a phantom candidate, this year he has a legitimate challenge from  Mr. Ali Moua.

When Suen came out strong for the hospital project, he was subjected to quick backlash from District 1 constituents who said it was inappropriate for him and Mayor Steve Ly to support a massive hospital in an established neighborhood before any hearings were conducted. Complicating that situation for Suen, with city council elections no longer being held on a citywide basis because of the switch to by-district representation, he no longer has the opportunity to offset negative sentiment towards him with voters in other parts of the city.

Some of the comments posted to the environment document already reflect opposition in District 1. Most of them are against the project.

The following is typical of the sentiments of many District 1 voters as expressed during numerous public meetings since late 2019. Only identifying themselves as a District 1 resident, this comment is demonstrative of voters attitudes toward Suen and the project:

Residents and business owners who live in the area of the Northstate University Medical Center Project have all been very clear that WE DO NOT WANT THIS, and that it will impact our lives, and values of our homes negatively. Those elected to run our city seem to not care and are only concerned with power and money. Stop this project and look for another site!    

Suen, for his part, understood the political corner he had painted himself into and sought a remedy. When the city voluntarily switched to by-district voting and representation after being threatened with a costly civil rights lawsuit, Suen sought to have the Stonelake neighborhood drawn out of his district.

After being mocked by constituents for what they nicknamed "Darren-mandering," Suen backed-off and District 1 boundaries remained unchanged for the 2020 elections. Since that time, Suen has been largely silent during city council meetings.

While Suen has created his political troubles by his early support of CNU's project, his opponent has remained silent on the controversy. Aside from his appearance at a protest rally last week at the Elk Grove Unified School District's administrative office (see video below), Moua has yet to kick-off his fall campaign and has not taken a public position on the project. 

Given Moua's silence on the controversy, and Suen's attempts to backpedal from his early support, he may have found a sweet spot with the electorate. If Moua says he supports the project or fails to offer a clear position, voters may decide to vote for the devil they know instead of the devil they don't.  

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Randy Bekker said...

Mr.Moua has not denounced the Mayor’s abusive behavior an lack of leadership. Since Mr.Moua is the author of a threatening letter to the school board about Bobbie Singh-Allen. This aligns Mr. Moua with Mayor Ly. Since the Mayor has taken loads of cash from CNU, their school, Dr.’s associated an Dr.Cheung. Mr. Moua is new to Elk Grove an new to District 1 but not new to Ly or Craft. If he is successful in winning his district seat I believe he will be a vote the Mayor can count on to move the Mayor’s agenda if Ly is really-elected. I think Suen taking the time to listen to the project an the citizens of District 1 to make sure voices are heard an the best project can move forward or must be denied. It is clear Suen is not aligned with Ly. Suen success for District 1 is also things he has done throughout our city. Even though CNU is a huge project for the district an the city with by District voting Council member is only one vote. However the bigger picture if they are successful if Ly is re-elected an Craft an Moua are successful you would surely see the building of CNU. Be careful what you change it’s the alignment of those you may not know about that will cause you more problems.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

"...If he is successful [Moua] in winning his district seat I believe he will be a vote the Mayor can count on to move the Mayor’s agenda if Ly is really-elected".

Just what is the Mayor's agenda? Enquiring minds want to know! Is he counting on Moua and Craft to vote him a full-time City salary? Whatever his "agenda" is, you can bet it is all about what will serve him personally best--not the City's!

As for Suen...some people are destined to be political leaders, and others are destined to be technocrats who can explain things to us!

Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

Mr Bekker, with all respect, you state that Mr. Suen has "things he has done throughout our city." Can you name one thing Mr. Suen, or any council member for that matter, has single-highhandedly done for the city?

You my good friend you will be hard-pressed to list even one substantial thing that has improved the lives of his constituents.

In fact, when there are controversial votes such as the multi-million dollar Costco incentive or during CNU's TEFRA hearing, Mr Suen was either absent or recused for a wobbly reason.

That my good sir, is a failure of leadership, and worse, cowardice.

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