Almanac

News - April 6, 2011

Report on Stanford hospital expansion called 'defective'

by Sandy Brundage

After examining the potential traffic snarls presented by the planned Stanford hospital expansion, staff is asking the City Council to send a letter to Palo Alto stating that if Stanford agrees to pay more for mitigations, then the city will not try to delay the project — even though the draft letter calls the project's final environmental impact report (EIR) defective due to underestimating the traffic impact.

The $3.5 billion project may bring 10,000 new vehicle trips to the area per day, with 51 percent of the estimated traffic passing through Menlo Park. Based on the EIR, four of the city's roads are expected to see significant impacts: Marsh Road west of U.S. 101; Sand Hill Road east of Santa Cruz Avenue; Willow Road east of Middlefield Road; and Alpine Road west of Junipero Serra Boulevard.

The expansion will add 1.3 million square feet of development and more than 2,200 employees to Palo Alto by 2025, and includes rebuilding Stanford Hospital and Clinics, expanding Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, renovating the Hoover Pavilion, and replacing School of Medicine facilities.

Counting cars

The letter challenges the methodology used by contractors Fehr & Peers, hired by Stanford to collect traffic data instead of the Palo Alto's EIR consultant, a move which the letter calls "highly unusual" since using the city's consultant is meant to avoid conflicts of interest.

Describing the traffic analysis as inadequate, the letter states that the traffic generated by the existing hospital was only counted on a single day in October 2006, instead of over multiple days. Menlo Park estimates traffic is actually 45 percent higher than calculated by Fehr & Peers. The consultants also failed to include two Stanford parking lots in the count.

A primary issue, according to the letter, is that the consultants evaluated traffic on Menlo Park residential streets using Palo Alto's guidelines, which staff consider less stringent and "which results in understating significant impacts, reducing the need for mitigations."

The proposed mitigations include building an undercrossing for bicyclists and pedestrians near Middle Avenue on property owned by Caltrain, meaning that Menlo Park doesn't have authority to construct the tunnel. The EIR also offers only 5 percent of estimated construction costs towards the tunnel.

Even if the undercrossing did get built, the letter states, the report's estimated 3 percent traffic reduction "is an unbelievable conclusion given the current traffic volumes. ...

Money talks

Stanford has offered $312,000 as a one-time payment to Menlo Park as a "fair share contribution" toward traffic mitigation while holding out $8.3 million to Palo Alto.

Menlo Park would like to see its payment fall closer to $2.1 million, with an additional $70,970 per year to expand Menlo Park's shuttle bus program and one-third of any penalties Stanford pays for failing to meet its traffic-reduction targets.

"At this point attempting to redo these inappropriate trip and intersection delay reductions would be difficult and time-consuming," the letter concludes, while reiterating that the city doesn't want to stop or delay the expansion. "Paying 51% of our normal [traffic impact fee] is reasonable since 51% of project trips go through Menlo Park."

MEETING

The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to discuss the draft letter on the Stanford Medical Center expansion during its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 5, in council chambers at the Civic Center, 701 Laurel St. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

• Visit tinyurl.com/3w18kqk to read the staff report.

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