News - August 25, 2010

Officials concerned about hospital expansion

by Dave Boyce

Officials from the town of Portola Valley, the city of Menlo Park, and San Mateo County have expressed concerns over impacts that might not respect county boundaries if Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto expands facilities as proposed in a draft environmental impact report (EIR).

The hospital is proposing to increase its floor area by 1.3 million square feet, its staff by 23 percent, and its parking by about 2,000 spaces, said Steven Turner, an advance planning manager with the city of Palo Alto.

The expected completion date is 2025, with the main and children's hospital portions to be built first, perhaps by 2015, Mr. Turner said.

Stanford is requesting that Palo Alto approve a special hospital zone, thereby allowing buildings to exceed the city's structural height limit of 50 feet, Mr. Turner said. Four of the 10 proposed new buildings could reach 130 feet.

Aside from the visual impact from Sand Hill Road, a primary issue in is traffic, according to letters from Portola Valley, Menlo Park and the San Mateo County Planning Department.

The public-comment period for the draft EIR expired on July 27. The city of Palo Alto, not the hospital, is responsible for addressing all comments and will do so in the final EIR, Mr. Turner said.

Officials based in San Mateo County peppered their letters with complaints.

• Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline noted that in the draft EIR, construction workers would be prevented from leaving the work site during the heart of the evening commute, between 4:30 and 6 p.m., but appear to have no restrictions on morning arrival times.

• The draft EIR's proposal to reset traffic-lights in Menlo Park to account for new construction traffic characterized this adjustment as mitigation, but that is incorrect, Mr. Cline said, because the lights are already set up that way. And, he added, there is no mention of payment to Menlo Park for the impacts of heavy trucks on city streets.

• The draft EIR uses pricing formulas other than Menlo Park's to estimate costs to improve Menlo Park intersections and to build a bike tunnel under El Camino Real at Middle Avenue, Mr. Cline said. The county Planning Department has similar complaints with respect to traffic-congestion formulas.

• The draft EIR does not consider housing for the hospital's new employees on hospital land, Mr. Cline said. Because Menlo Park is geographically nearer to the hospital than many Palo Alto neighborhoods, Stanford needs to consider how its new facilities would affect single- and multi-family housing availability and home prices in Menlo Park west of El Camino Real, he said.

• Portola Valley Mayor Steve Toben and San Mateo County Community Development Director Jim Eggemeyer both noted that adding another right-turn lane from Santa Cruz Avenue on to eastbound Sand Hill Road should not be called "infeasible" if it's just a matter of money. (Menlo Park and the county share jurisdiction of the intersection.)

• Mr. Toben recommended the reinstatement of a pass-through right-hand turn lane that used to funnel westbound vehicles from Santa Cruz Avenue on to Alpine Road at the intersection with Junipero Serra Boulevard. The pass-through lane was eliminated in the 2006 reconstruction of the intersection.

• Mr. Eggemeyer claimed that, while the draft EIR analyzed the project's impact on intersections along Sand Hill Road and El Camino Real, the same was not done for intersections on Alameda de las Pulgas and Middlefield and Marsh roads.

• The draft EIR claims that new bicycle tunnels in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, and support for a Menlo Park shuttle bus fund, would reduce traffic on Alpine Road by 375 trips per day. Mr. Eggemeyer would like to see this claim justified.

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