Hospital standoff - Page 2

A skeptical Board of Supervisors opens hearings on the massive, high-stakes CPMC project

CPMC wants to build a 550-bed hospital on Cathedral Hill, a project with big impacts.

In the meantime, the board's Land Use Committee has scheduled a series of hearings on different aspects of the project, starting June 15 with a project overview and presentation on the jobs issue, continuing June 25 with a hearing on its impacts to the health care system. Traffic and neighborhood impacts would be heard the next week, and then housing after that.

Calvin Welch, a progressive activist and nonprofit affordable housing developer, said the project's EIR makes clear just how paltry CPMC's proposed mitigation measures are. It indicates that the project's 3,000 new workers will create a demand for at least 1,400 new two-bedroom housing units. Even accepting that estimate — which Welch says is low given that many employees have families and won't simply be bunking with one another — the $26 million being provided for new housing construction would only create about 90 affordable studio apartments.

"We're going to end up, if we want to house that workforce, subsidizing CPMC," Welch told us.

Compounding that shortcoming is the fact that the Cathedral Hill Hospital is being built in a special use district that city officials established for the Van Ness corridor — where there is a severe need for more housing, particularly affordable units. The SUD calls for developers to build three square feet of residential for every square foot of non-residential development.

"That would require building 3 million square feet of residential housing with this project," Welch said. "We don't think $26 million meets the housing requirement for this project, let alone what was envisioned by this [Van Ness corridor] plan."

SFHHJJ is calling for CPMC to provide at least $73 million for affordable housing, with no more than 20 percent of that going to the company's first-time homebuyer assistance program. That assistance program does nothing to add to the city's housing stock and critics call it a valuable employee perk that will only increase the demand for existing housing -- and thus drive up prices.

But the business community is strongly backing the deal, and the trade unions are expected to turn out hordes of construction workers at the hearing to make this an issue of jobs -- rather than a corporation paying for its impacts to the community.

"After a decade of discussion, debate and compromise, the city's departments, commissions, labor, business and community groups all agree on CPMC," San Francisco Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk wrote in a June 8 e-mail blast entitled "Message to the Board of Supervisors: Don't Stand in the Way of Progress."

"The fate of our city's healthcare infrastructure now lies solely with the Board of Supervisors," the Chamber says. "When it comes time to vote, let's insist they make the right choice."

Yet it's simply inaccurate to say that labor and community groups support the deal, and both are expected to be well-represented at the hearings.



Economic justice issues related to health care access and costs are another potential pitfall for this project. SFJJHH activists note that no supervisors have signed on to sponsor the project yet — which is unusual for something this big — and that even the board's most conservative supervisors have raised concerns that the city's health care costs aren't adequately contained by the deal.

"There's a significant amount of dissatisfaction with the deal, even among conservatives," SFJJHH member Paul Kumar, a spokesperson for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, told the Guardian.

On the progressive side, a big concern is that CPMC is proposing to rebuild the 220-bed St. Luke's with only 80 beds, which activists say is not enough. And even then, CPMC is only agreeing to operate that hospital for 20 years, or even less time if Sutter's fortunes turn around and the hospital giant begins losing money.