Hospital expansion irks some 

Residents worry thatconcerns about traffic and economics of a proposed new hospital could be steamrolled as the Planning Commission prepares to vote on the environmental ramifications of the project.

Sol Kutner, founder of the Stop PAMF community group, said the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s proposal to build a medical center and 110-bed hospital on Industrial Road threatens to bring massive traffic to San Carlos, harm the city’s character and hurt its long-term economic health.

Project neighbors in the Laureola neighborhood have lingering concerns about the traffic the facility would cause, as well as the lack of solid communication between the medical foundation and locals, Laureola Neighborhood Association President Scot Marsters said.

"I’m not real happy with the process," said Marsters, who was disappointed in the Traffic and Transportation Commission’s approval of the foundation’s environmental review Jan. 24. "They essentially dismissed our concerns."

The PAMF project is no stranger to detractors. In the years since its introduction, it has faced negative flier campaigns from Citizens for a Healthy Open Debate, a group affiliated with SEIU Local 250, a union whose employees work for PAMF affiliate Sutter Health, and from other anonymous groups. Fliers claimed the project would be built on a toxic site and would lower San Carlos homeowners’ property values.

In response to traffic concerns raised by residents and in the environmental study, PAMF is offering a number of measures, including guaranteed ride home programs, a shuttle, commuter checks, bicycle racks and shorter work weeks, foundation spokesman Ben Drew said.

"What the report says is that when you combine our traffic with existing and foreseeable development, all intersections will still operate at an acceptable level," Drew said. "But we understand traffic is an important issue and we are going to do what we can to reduce it."

Meanwhile, Kutner believes San Carlos is being swindled out of millions of dollars. While PAMF has offered to pay the city millions of dollars in benefits over the next 30 years, the nonprofit agency showed revenues over expenses of $79 million in 2005 alone, according to Kutner. Because PAMF is a nonprofit, it is exempt from paying property taxes on the 18-acre site, an estimated loss of $30,000 annually.

"The city is inept," Kutner said. "This deal is good for PAMF, but bad for San Carlos."

Much work has already gone into crafting the environmental review of the PAMF plan, and public comment has already been incorporated, according to Planning Commissioner Alex Phillips, who anticipates its adoption.

"Unless somebody comes up with something new, I don’t see any problems," Phillips said.

The San Carlos Planning Commission meets Monday at 7 p.m. at Hiller Aviation Museum, 601 Skyway Road, San Carlos.

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Beth Winegarner

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