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Have we misplaced our community priorities?

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on May 23, 2007

Watching the Palo Alto City Council talk last week about a proposed rebuilding and modernization of the Stanford Medical Center made me wonder if we have misplaced priorities in this community.

The council was told that Stanford needs to build 1.4 million square feet of new facilities at the Medical Center, to replace 700,000 square feet of existing facilities. In large part the rebuild is dictated by state legislation that requires all acute-care hospitals to meet new seismic standards by 2013.

The physicians appearing before the council -- Dr. Jerry Shefren and Dr. Harvey Cohen -- carefully documented the need for more room. Stanford Hospital's emergency room frequently is at capacity, as is the hospital itself: 500 adult patients had to be turned away last year because of a shortage of rooms.

The hospital provides the highest level of trauma care, which didn't even exist when it was built in 1959. The demand for inpatient and outpatient care is increasing as the area's population ages. There's need for modern facilities to accommodate new medical technologies and to conduct more research.

Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital is almost at 100 percent capacity daily, and last year it could not accommodate 200 critically ill children a year because of lack of room.

"We are having to say no to children in our community," Cohen said.

So what were some of the first comments from our council?

Council member Peter Drekmeier said he knew this was a hospital rather than a university project, but he was worried about open space, and said the goal should be to dedicate more open space.

"The fear in the community is that growth is just happening," he said.

Councilman John Barton called this a "gargantuan project with significant impacts" that have to be "mitigated," meaning Stanford will have to give something to the community in return for the expansion.

Councilman Jack Morton went even further, saying Stanford was "threatening" the council by asking that discussion be limited to the Med Center. "I want this to succeed in a way the community is satisfied, (acknowledging) our love of open space, our love of the horizon. ... We value the overall environment and we wish you valued it the same way."

Funny, I thought the project under discussion was expanding a Medical Center to provide the community with more and better medical care.

Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said she was worried about traffic, since the project would bring more people to Stanford and she wanted no new traffic impacts. And she and a few other council members have suggested to Stanford in the past that if the Med Center employs more people it needs to provide housing for these employees.

But the demands do not just stop at housing, for Stanford has been told if these employees require housing they might also require schools, parks and maybe even a library. Kishimoto talked about more bike paths and reintroducing the idea of redeveloping the train station area to include more housing.

"We are concerned not about just what happens in the study area but we are looking at impacts in a larger area," she said.

So we have four council members telling Stanford they want more housing, less traffic, more schools, compensation for three tall (130 feet) patient towers (that will probably house some of us when we are in the hospital), more open space and maybe even some land in the foothills -- all in exchange for a state-of-the-art medical facility that will serve thousands of patients for years to come. By comparision, Hoover Tower is 285 feet tall, Palo Alto City Hall is 127 feet, Palo Alto Square is 132 feet and 101 Alma is 140 feet high.

I've heard more than one council member say that Stanford is a rich university so it should in effect "pay" for the hospital expansion. Stanford may be rich, but the hospitals depend on patients for their income.

I, for one, would not want employee housing or bike path costs hiking up my medical bills.

Only council members Judy Kleinberg and Bern Beecham acknowledged that the council was talking about a medical center whose space and medical needs were of great importance.

Kleinberg was particularly upfront on her support, saying she didn't take Stanford's proposal to limit discussion to the Med Center as a threat. And while there will be more patients and employees, there also will be more benefits that are not just monetary -- such as saving lives.

As to the towers, she said she would prefer the hospital go up instead of out, to allow more space and more sunlight as well as greater functionality and efficiency in the hospital.

Why are some council members suggesting that if we expand the Med Center we are somehow endangering the quality of life in our community? Isn't the reverse true? By having a hospital that is one of the best in the country, aren't we guaranteeing that quality of all our lives will be improved?

As some residents pointed out at the study session last week, expanding the Medical Center is not simply a construction project that must be negotiated. The hospitals will be the center of our medical needs, particularly if there is a disaster. The Medical Center is a world-famous institution that is involved in cutting-edge research -- it attracts the best and the brightest of physicians and researchers, despite the high housing costs in our region.

And the Med Center does not just serve Palo Alto. It accepts patients from the entire area, even the entire country. As to requiring that housing be provided, it need not be up to Palo Alto alone to provide housing for hospital employees -- the entire region is available for housing, meaning a regional approach may be appropriate to absorb the housing impacts of a regional facility. Some communities, such as San Jose, are reporting a surfeit of housing.

The council needs to focus on what the Med Center is all about -- saving human lives. That is the top priority.

Comments (15)

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2007 at 7:02 am

A discussion on ms Diamond's editorial was started a few days ago. Here is the link:

Web Link

I think this discussion on the hospital/medical center's future will be illuminating as to character and motives of our city council members.

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Posted by Forum Reader
a resident of Stanford
on May 25, 2007 at 9:44 am

Stanford isn't just rich. It has an $18 billion endowment.
Web Link
It was fun to watch the usual pro-development crowd shedding (real?) tears in front of the city council telling about their family members who were cured at the hospital. Maybe Stanford has hired Oprah for this project.
As though the good doctors have anything to do with the immense land development. This is a business deal.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2007 at 11:07 am

Unfortunately, Forum Reader, I am not sure you know what an endowment is and what it is to be used for.
However, I can see where you are coming fun--maybe it would be much easier for all concerned if the City Council would be forthcoming in their feelings that the Stanford Hospital/Medical Center should not proceed with their proposed expansion/rebuild. That way Stanford will know if they need to start looking for a out of town new location for thier hospital and the city council will save themselves the trouble of thrwoing roadblocks in Stanford's way for years to come.

Like this comment
Posted by Forum Reader
a resident of Stanford
on May 25, 2007 at 12:48 pm

And move away from Stanford University? Surely you are losing track of reality.
You pose yet another straw argument. The council isn't even implying that they shouldn't build. It is just saying, let's see what the implications are. For example, several times they have refused to say how many new employees they expect. Though they have numbers from here to the moon on exact square footage, dollars, building plans, the whole deal. But because housing is in short supply and development is already out of control in Palo Alto, they won't tell nya, nya.
Maybe it isn't just Oprah they are imitating, maybe it is also Vanna White. They'll reveal the number when they are good and ready and everyone else is exhausted.

Like this comment
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2007 at 1:18 pm

Stanford Hospital is moving many of it's clinics to the old Excite campus in Redwood City. There are plenty examples of university hospitals having separate locations from the main campus (Northwestern, Johns Hopkins etc).
It is something for Stanford to consider if the city council plans to play it's we want more housing/we want more open space ( a conflict BTW)/no more traffic games

Like this comment
Posted by Otto
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 25, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Yes, and Stanford recently purchased that multi-acre site to do more biotechnology-based work. Palo Alto lost the opportunity tto co-develop a cultural center with Stanford. the gods only know how many other deals have been washed away, or not even proposed, because of the poor track record of our city's management and policy-makers working with Stanford.

The soccer fields at Page Mill and El Camino we somewhat of a win, but far from the massive victory that some made it out to be.

The bottom line is that we are rank amateurs when it comes to dealing with Stanford. What's most upsetting about this is that we have no fixed vision or plan for approaching our neighbor. We simply deal with things as Stanford brings them up. Aside from help Stanford sell football tickets with our downtown BID promotions, where are we with our world-famous neighbor? In the doghouse.

If we had any respect on the Stanford campus, we would be included in development talks of projects like the mall and hospital FAR before we currently are, but Stanford is too smart for that. They don't want to get bogged down in negotiable minutiae with certain plicy makers who don't seem to understand what it takes to forge strong municipal/commercial partnerships (even as they tout their Stanford-pedigree MBA's). Our City Manager, otherwise an effective guy, doesn't seem to have a clue how to manage the massive, dormant opportunity next door.'

btw, "not so fast" is correct. PA shuolod not take Stanford's current needs as a guaranteed opportunity to extract favors. What's amazing to me is how Stanford manages to trump PA in most areas, anyway, in spite of too-little, too-late efforts by some politicos to bleed a neighbor that shuould be our biggest benefactor and co-partner, instead of it's current status (in their minds) as a threat to our environment, our views, and so on.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2007 at 11:28 am

Disclaimer: I an not and have never been affiliated with Stanford in any way.

For me, having Stanford as a neighbor is one of the best aspects of living in Palo Alto.

Several members of my family have received excellent emergency care at the Stanford medical clinic over the years. Forum Reader may wish to reconsider his or her Oprah/Vanna accusations the next time a loved one has a medical emergency.

While Stanford doubtless pursues its own interests, it generally does so in ways that preserve and enhance the quality of life for Palo Alto citizens. Almost everything I see Stanford do, development-wise, is win-win. They are a spectacularly good neighbor, all things considered. But Palo Altans discuss Stanford as though it were a noisy factory belching toxic waste.

The people who rant against Stanford's plans remind me of those who spend all day blasting capitalism and globalization but couldn't live a minute without their laptops, cell phones, iPods and imported cars. With just a bit more self-awareness, they could rise to the level of hypocrites.

To those who would obstruct Stanford in all their efforts to improve the university, medical center, and Palo Alto: be careful what you wish for.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 1, 2007 at 3:44 pm

As a forty year resident of Palo Alto, who has aging parents living in Palo Alto and two elementary school children attending Palo Alto schools, I have had the opportunity to personally experience the value of a world class hospital as our neighbor. From friends and relatives who have sought cancer treatment or had major surgery at the hospital, going to the ER for broken bones, and delivering our children at the Children’s Hospital, the care and expertise we have received has been exceptional.

As I understand it, the overall project encompasses the main hospital building, the original hospital Hoover Pavilion, and the existing single story medical office buildings on Welsh Road. This distributes the additional square footage over many buildings.

Having the main hospital renovated and upgraded to meet health care needs of a more populous Palo Alto and surrounding communities, we are better prepared for not only the next fifty to one hundred years of continued excellent health care, but in the case of a major health catastrophe, we would have the best resource in the county in our back yard.

Additionally, if the facility is planned is a sustainable way, it can be a model not only for other healthcare facilities, but businesses such as HP, Google, Sun, Xerox, and other Palo Alto businesses who do not have green design as a criteria in their construction. I am amazed that Palo Alto lags behind other communities in requiring new construction to be sustainable and green. This could include better public transporation to the hospital.

We are not losing open space or detrimentally impacting our quality of life in Palo Alto. We are finally gaining world class hospital buildings to support the exceptional healthcare providers and researchers in our community.

I see this as a win for Palo Alto and would hope for strong support for a project that brings such great value to our community.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 6, 2007 at 3:58 am

Diana Diamond's next to last paragraph reveals a basic confusion behind this discussion. Stanford Hospital is, as noted, a regional facility and the region *should* reasonably be expected to bear the costs of such a facility. However, that is not the way it works out: The relevant law and policies of the State of California have nothing to do with "reason." The State law fails to take into account the existence of regional facilities and imposes on the *immediate* locality the costs of this type of project. Thus Palo Alto taxpayers will effectively be subsidizing the medical care for residents of Atherton, Woodside, Los Altos Hills, ...

When Ms. Diamond writes "I, for one, would not want employee housing or bike path costs hiking up my medical bills." she fails to explain why she *does* want to pay even more via her taxes.

Stanford was well aware of the absurdity of State law and its impacts on Palo Alto, but chose to do nothing avoid the current situation, despite many years lead time. If Stanford regards these costs as so trivial that it can cavalierly and unilaterally attempt to impose them on Palo Alto, then why can't Stanford pay for them itself?

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 6, 2007 at 6:38 am

Shouldn't the city of Palo Alto have done something if the law is so absurd? If it is a regional issue, isn't it the duty of the cities of the region to try to change the law if it is so absurd? Wouldn't a city trying to change the state law have more leverage than a hospital?
Maybe this is part of the areas problems--that the neighboring cities cannot work towards regional solutions to problems and instead are only interested in what is inside their own borders

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 6, 2007 at 1:18 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
The reason that the various cities in the area have not been able to get these absurdities addressed is that there are too many special interests, including Stanford, that make too much money off the current situation.

As an organization, in many areas is more like a city than a corporation (including having its own Post Office) and is on par with many of the area cities. Plus it has been very effective in lobbying the State to grant exceptions in areas such as this.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 6, 2007 at 1:37 pm

I didn't realize that Palo Alto was a "victim" in all this. Stanford Hospital and clinics are a non-profit, so I am not sure how they are making money "off the current situation".
If people consider Stanford to be more like a city, then maybe they should be spun off from palo alto's control.
Posts like the one above--which foster the belief that relations with Stanford must be adversarial do not help. Please read some of the posts above from Otto and others with regard to how Stanford should be handled and how Palo Alto has benefited from Stanford Hospital and Clinics.

Like this comment
Posted by Forum Reader
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 7, 2007 at 2:16 am

Stanford isn't "like a city" it IS a city.
It has about 19,000 students, thousands of staff, thousands of faculty, its own hospitals and shopping center, police and fire, roads, restaurants, and homes, and zip code.It produces its own energy.

According to the Stanford president:
With more than 46 miles of roads, a 49-megawatt power plant, two separate water systems, three dams and lakes, 78 miles of water mains, a central heating and cooling plant, a high-voltage distribution system and a post office, the university is a self-sustaining community. Stanford also provides or contracts for its own fire, police and other services.

There are more than 670 major buildings at Stanford that incorporate 13.1 million square feet. Ninety-five percent of undergraduates live on campus, as do nearly 60 percent of graduate students and 30 percent of faculty members. There are 850 owner-occupied housing units for faculty on campus, as well as 628 rental units for faculty and staff.
Web Link

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 7, 2007 at 3:00 am

gForum manager - please remove both of my comments in this thread. I am unwilling to accept your deletion of my comment on the fallacy of the argument made by a previous poster, and especially since you left in his/her misrepresentation of my comments.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 7, 2007 at 5:57 am

Just for the record Doug, you presume wrong--I am not a professional PR person. If you are familiar with this forum you will note that I have posted on numerous threads that deal with PA issues--most notably the Alma Plaza remodel.
For the record I am a citizen of Palo Alto.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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