S.F. General helipad study not ready to land 

A long-awaited report detailing the potential environmental impacts of a proposed helicopter landing pad at San Francisco General Hospital has been delayed in order to do additional noise studies.

In 2003, San Francisco’s Health Commission approved moving forward with the planning process for a helipad, which would be placed on the roof of the hospital. At that time, the cost for the construction project was estimated at $3 million.

The one thing that supporters and critics of the project can agree on, however, is that the process is moving slowly. A fact sheet on the helipad project, put out by the Department of Public Health, lists the targeted completion date for the Environmental Impact Report as "winter 2005." Planning officials now say they hope to have an environmental impact report completed by early this summer.

San Francisco General Hospital is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in California that does not have a helicopter landing area, according to the Department of Public Health. In advocating for the helipad, city officials have noted that people with severe injuries have a better chance of surviving if they reach a trauma center within one hour after an injury, and have said that ambulances are not always able to make it through city traffic in a timely manner.

On Feb. 15, during a public policy talk, Mayor Gavin Newsom said among his goals was to "figure out what we’re doing with the helipad."

Although the mayor has not expressed an opinion on the project, he was responding to concerns expressed by one of his department chiefs, MitchKatz, who oversees the public health department, said Newsom’s spokesperson, Peter Ragone.

"Mitch feels strongly that in order for General [Hospital] to be a real trauma center we need to have a helipad," Ragone said. "He [Newsom] is waiting for that study to give us some guidelines."

Neighbors of the hospital have fought the helipad project, expressing concerns about the noise helicopters would bring to the area, as well as fears that the aircrafts might crash. In April 2005, a Board of Supervisors committee conducting a hearing on the helipad proposal received hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and letters of opposition.

"We’ve been on a holding pattern, waiting for the draft EIR," said Rebecca Sawyer, a neighbor and an organizer with the group Stop the Helipad. "We’ve been expecting it any day for almost a year."

Paul Maltzer, environmental review officer for The City’s Planning Department, said consultants working on the study are trying to get more information about the potential noise impacts.

"The nature of doing an EIR is that it unfortunately takes longer than anyone wants it to, this one in particular," Maltzer said. "This one is not typical: Noise impacts for a helipad is a new one."

beslinger@examiner.com

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