News - April 13, 2011

Stanford hospital expansion: Menlo Park not happy with traffic mitigation measures

by Sandy Brundage

Many people think that an expanded Stanford hospital will be a boon to the community. Nevertheless, the project's final environmental impact report continues to come under fire by Menlo Park officials.

One Stanford physician in chief told the council at its April 5 meeting that the expansion was critical. "Ninety-five percent of children seen in emergency rooms are from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. So it's really critical for us to move ahead with this. We've run out of room," Dr. Hugh O'Brodovich said.

The $3.5 billion project would bring about 1.3 million square feet of new development and more than 2,200 new employees to Palo Alto by 2025.

But it could also add an estimated 10,000 new daily car trips to the area, with 51 percent of the traffic passing through Menlo Park. According to the EIR, that traffic won't have a significant impact, an assertion that troubled the City Council.

"How do we reconcile what we see in our town, as patterns when we drive, with the report we get that says there is no impact at 280 and Sand Hill? Or there is a low impact at Alpine, and Santa Cruz and Sand Hill?" asked Mayor Rich Cline at the April 5 meeting. He added that he lives near the latter intersection. "There's no way there's not going to be a significant impact."

Prior to the council meeting, Stanford representatives provided additional information to address some of the EIR's perceived shortcomings — namely, the methodology used for traffic analysis. Menlo Park staff estimates traffic could actually be 45 percent higher than calculated by the project's consultants, Fehr & Peers.

In a memo to the council, Fehr & Peers defended their analysis, saying that by industry standards, using one-day traffic data was appropriate, given the nature of traffic to the current hospital.

The current negotiations between Stanford and Menlo Park remain focused on the amount of money available for traffic mitigations. The university initially 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.

Stanford director of community relations Jean McCown told the Almanac that Menlo Park would benefit either directly or indirectly from Palo Alto's funding. "The additional amounts which may be provided to Palo Alto in the future if the hospitals don't achieve the mode share targets are to be used for alternative transportation, including regional transportation systems and solutions," she said.

Ms. McCown also pointed out that one goal of the expansion is to "right size" the hospital; in other words, provide enough space for existing services, which therefore wouldn't generate additional traffic.

Hospital representatives told the council they are prepared to pay the full cost of adding two traffic adaptive signals at 10 intersections, and also willing to discuss the timing and inflation adjustments for other mitigations, including a shuttle.

Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith said there's much goodwill between Menlo Park and Stanford, and that the community stands to benefit from the expansion. "I support the incredible work they do at the hospital every day and want them to be able to proceed. However, Menlo Park simply must have the traffic mitigation measures necessary for our community. I am hopeful that we will be able to work out the mitigation issues in an acceptable way to all parties. We are close," she wrote in an email to the Almanac.

The council voted 4-0, with Kelly Fergusson recused due to personal ties to Stanford, to send at least one letter to the Palo Alto council outlining their concerns.

Visit to read the staff report related to the letter.


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