Winners, Losers & Others - California Northstate University hits the pause button on controversial hospital project

The recent announcement by California Northstate University that they would be hitting the pause button on their massive project caught many by surprise. The for-profit medical school has been pursuing a $1 billion, 13-floor, 400-bed hospital on the site of a shopping center on Elk Grove's far west side Stonelake neighborhood.

The pause comes following what could be called a no-confidence vote by the Elk Grove Planning Commission to deny a rezone request for their plan. The planning commission voted 3-0, with two former commissioners recused from deliberations on Thursday, February 18 denying the requests.   

Although CNU and their project proponents are suspending activity, for now, it is not gone. CNU said they would consider scaling the project back at the current site and suggested they might explore other locations in Elk Grove. 

While the CNU saga is far from over, with this recent development there have been some clear winners, losers, and others.  

Early collateral damage

Stonelake Landing shopping center small business owners

The announcement that CNU, the owner of the Stonelake Landing shopping center, would demolish the structures to make way for their proposed hospital caught almost every small business owner in the space by surprise. Since then, some businesses have voluntarily closed shop while others are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

For all the happy talk coming from Elk Grove City Hall and economic development director Darrell Doan about the importance of supporting small businesses, the city's de facto advocacy of the project is a humiliating kick in the crotch. The message to small business owners seems to be supporting you is a great sound bite, but when a fat cat rolls into town, you are expendable. 

Ty Sorci  

The one-time aid to former Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly was the first casualty of the CNU project. In February 2019, as Mayor Steve Ly held a reelection celebration in the CNUs ballroom, Stonelake neighborhood residents protested at the event.

When Sorci approached the protesters, let's just say it wasn't a fruitful encounter. Sorci, who was also a part-time city employee for the mayor at the time, was separated from that job.

Since then, Sorci has fallen off the political map.  


NEST Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency 

Formed immediately following CNU's December 2018 announcement, this neighborhood group is undoubtedly happy that their dedication in part forced the medical school to pause its efforts. NEST effectively and consistently communicated their concerns about the project and gained, as Elk Grove Councilmember Pat Hume would say, political capital.

That political capital was one of several reasons former Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly lost his reelection bid for a third term last year. Even though Elk Grove members are elected on a by-district basis, don't think other councilmembers have not considered the political capital they could lose with their constituents. 

Elk Grove Mayor, City Council

Hitting the pause button by CNU on their big project was the equivalent of receiving a french kiss from a forbidden love for the Elk Grove City Council. The project presents unique political problems for the mayor and two council members who would be voting on the project. 

First, who, and for the sake of argument, assume CNU can follow through on their promises, wants to reject a $1 billion project for a hospital? Rejecting a massive hospital is almost as bad as forgetting your mom's birthday or saying you don't like puppies.

Conversely, what would an affirmative decision shoehorning this massive hospital on a site in an established neighborhood sitting in a flood plain say to other voters? Mainly, it tells voters if it can happen to them, it can happen to me. 

Yes, pausing the project was a big fat wet kiss for the city council. Nevertheless, if CNU plows through with the project at the Stonelake Landing site, the city council will have a day of reckoning. 

Environmental Groups

Since the hospital plans were revealed in December 2018, environmental groups opposed the massive structure located close to the Stone Lake Wildlife Refuge. Among their concerns are the possibility of bird strikes on the 13-floor hospital and its location on the flyway.  

Had the project been approved by the Elk Grove City Council, environmental lawsuits would have been filed. The groups, at least for now, are sparred the legal expenses associated with litigating the California Environment Quality Act. 

Undamaged but not enhanced

Darren Suen

As the Elk Grove District 1 Councilmember, Darren Suen was an early supporter of the CNU hospital project. After Suen heard from Stonelake Landing small business owners, residents and with the advent of by-district elections, Suen has backslid his CNU commitment, which was derived after receiving cold, hard campaign cash from CNU President Alvin Cheung for his failed 2018 mayoral candidacy.  

After walking-back his CNU support, Suen easily won his 2020 reelection bid against a candidate tied to Mayor Steve Ly, and thus in a guilt-by-association link, the CNU project. While Suen came out relatively unscathed, he has not enhanced his political reputation for his expected 2022 run for California Assembly. 

Gary Davis

The former two-term Elk Grove mayor, or mayor emeritus as he likes to call himself, was the initial community relations for Alvin Cheung and the CNU project, which included insulting opponents of the project on social media, calling them, among other things, childish. After his ham-handed approach was ridiculed, Davis remained a part of the CNU team but shuttled to the background in favor of another politician.

While his lack of visibility stopped the bleeding on his already diminished stature, Davis, like Suen, didn't help his prospects as he vies for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in 2022. No doubt those social media attacks he launched against CNU opponents, who vote, will resurface in about a year.  

If Davis handles his Board of Supervisors campaign as well as his community outreach for CNU, he always has this fallback


Elk Grove city staff

Never forget that the city of Elk Grove professional staff recommended approval of the project to the planning commission. We certainly cannot understand why, other than they were under strict instruction, they would support placing an essential service like a hospital in a flood zone - have they forgotten the lessons of Katrina? 

Based on the flood plain decision alone, you have to question the intelligence, and more importantly, the independence of these high-paid bureaucrats. It is a black eye on their professionalism. 

Darrel Doan & Barry Broome

The two so-called economic gurus representing the City of Elk Grove and the Sacramento region, respectively, were early and vocal advocates of the CNU hospital. What better way to pad your resume for your next stop on your grifting career than claiming credit for a $1 billion project.

With the CNU project in suspension, we suppose Broome can resume cold-calling temp employees at Bay Area high-tech firms. For Doan, once trade conventions resume, he can continue his soft-shoe shuffle at Las Vegas junkets pimping whatever he is trying and failing to pimp. 

American Pacific Island American Public Affairs 

Known more commonly as APAPA, the political advocacy group founded by businessman C. C. Yen has suffered a strike-out with this at-bat. They swung and missed three straight pitches. 

First, they supported former Mayor Steve Ly; supported the CNU project, which included appointing CNU's Alvin Cheung to one of their advisory committees; and finally, Yen and APAPA associate Tony Lin was outed from the Elk Grove Planning Commission by Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen.

APAPA will continue to be an influential regional player, but for now, their first substantial foray in Elk Grove politics flopped.     

Allen Warren

Call it the CNU curse, or maybe not. The former, and the keyword being former, Sacramento City Councilmember was recruited for community relations after the many missteps of former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis. 

Warren started his CNU public advocacy in the pre-COVID days of early March 2020. After starting his CNU work, Warren lost his reelection bid for a third term.

More recently, Warren was the frontman for CNU at the ill-fated Elk Grove City Planning Commission hearing. Things did not go well, and Warren's advocacy went over like a lead balloon.  

We are not saying Warren's CNU advocacy caused his electoral demise, but it makes you wonder about the quality of political hacks willing to shill for CNU.

Steve Ly

Unlike his fellow city council colleague Darren Suen, Ly never backtracked from his support of the project, which showed a degree of loyalty. Unfortunately for Ly, support for the hospital, in addition to a host of other issues, led to his loss for a third term as Elk Grove Mayor in 2020.

Ly could always attempt a comeback, but he will probably have to wait until the air is cleared on the CNU matter.    

California Northstate University

Needless to say, the CNU organization and their project had suffered a significant setback with the recent developments, so they are the biggest loser.

Nonetheless, if they learn from their mistakes, they can recalibrate and come back around. Whether they are winners or losers in the future will be determined by their decision making which to date, has been poor. 

So as the CNU project enters its self-imposed hibernation, who, if anyone, will be added to each of these lists? 

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Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2021. All right reserved.


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1 comment

Spoons and Forks said...

Sometimes the big guys fall and the people prevail. CNU take note.

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