Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Committee for Green Foothills' comments on Stanford Medical Center DEIR

(We submitted the comments below on the draft environmental review of the Stanford Medical Center. The letter references a previous letter that CGF wrote in 2007, which can be found here.  -Brian)

July 27, 2010

Steven Turner
Department of Planning and Community Environment

Re:  Stanford University Medical Center Facilities Renewal and Replacement Draft Environmental Impact Report, SCH #2007082130

Dear Steven,

The Committee for Green Foothills ("Committee") submits the following comments on the Stanford University Medical Center Draft Environmental Impact Report ("SUMC DEIR", or "DEIR").

General Comments:

Length of review period.  We are aware of complaints that the review period for this project is taking too long and is too close to the statutory deadline for seismic upgrades, and therefore further review should be truncated, no new mitigations should be requested, and Stanford's project should be approved without modifications.  These objections fail to account for two reasons that are related to Stanford's own actions. 

First, Stanford began the process much later than other hospital systems like the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.  This strategy by Stanford, of beginning a process late and then claiming their proposal needs to be approved as is because there's no time to change it, is an oft-used procedure.  Stanford used the identical strategy for obtaining approval of its Sustainable Development Study from Santa Clara County, without incorporating any changes suggested by Palo Alto.  Giving into this strategy is self-defeating, so neither the City nor the County should let Stanford's delay function as a reason for giving in to its demands.

Second, the review was delayed for a period when Stanford was given unannounced access to preliminary versions of the DEIR.  This access contravenes a statement by the City several years earlier (which was the last that we had heard from the City) that the City would not share preliminary versions of DEIRs with applicants, a practice that biases the review process and gives applicants inappropriate opportunities to influence what is supposed to be a neutral evaluation.  While exactly what happened is unclear, it appears Stanford took advantage of its access to argue for changes in the DEIR that delayed its publication.  Again the fault for delay lies with Stanford (although also in part with the City for its mistaken decision).  These delays do not justify short-changing environmental review.

DEIR inadequately addressed issues raised in our scoping letter.  On October 1, 2007, the Committee submitted scoping comments for the DEIR (attached).  Several of our comments, reproduced below, have not been addressed adequately:

·         Any relaxing of existing zoning standards will violate thresholds for environmental significance that the standards are meant to protect, unless compensatory environmental mitigation is required.  This is especially true given the large size of the project. For example, easing density restrictions should be compensated with open space protection.

·         Increased building height and density should be compensated with open space protection.  Decreasing views of hillsides and of natural areas are visual impacts that can be appropriately compensated for by open space protection.

·         Increase utilization of recreational resources must be analyzed in the EIR for direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts.  The City should compare the analysis used for the Stanford GUP in Santa Clara Clount’s EIR for comparison.  Increased utilization is a significant impact unless mitigated.

·         The impact on housing will be significant unless mitigated and must be analyzed.  The impact will also affect open space and traffic, because if new housing is not constructed by Stanford, it will be constructed mostly in Central Valley and elsewhere, with workers commuting in on area highways.  The City must do its own calculations about the number of jobs generated by the amount of space created.  Secondary (off-site) economic impacts must also be considered in determining the net demand for housing created by this project.

·         All newly-created housing demand should be fully mitigated with housing creation that matches the income level of housing demand generated.

·         Any analysis that concludes a “no net increase” mitigation standard for transportation is not feasible, must also determine why it is feasible for the much larger Stanford GUP expansion but not for this project.

Raising height limits, visual impacts, and the recreational impacts justify and require open space mitigation.  The Committee disagrees that simple compliance with undefined ARB recommendations for final design (DEIR at S-28) will suffice to convert an admittedly-significant impact before mitigation into one that is less-than-significant.  The loss of open views and a "big sky" means that the ability to travel around the City and surrounding area and not find it dominated by structures is reduced.  An appropriate mitigation for this impact is to secure nearby open space, and Stanford could appropriately do that by providing open space access or paying funds that could be used to secure open space access.

Similarly, increased recreational use in an area that the DEIR acknowledges has insufficient parkland (DEIR at 3.14-8) is a significant impact.  The analysis of employee use fails to include overall increased population pressure, as the people who will be brought to work at SUMC will have to live somewhere with their families, despite the City's disinterest in requiring housing as part of the project.  The failure to account for housing impacts means payment of the Community Facility Fee for non-residential development is insufficient to fully mitigate the project's impacts.  Even if these people cannot live in Palo Alto, living elsewhere means they will place pressure on recreational uses elsewhere.  That effect on recreational uses elsewhere is unanalyzed, as is the lost opportunity of Palo Alto residents to use these out-of-city facilities, thereby placing more pressure on City facilities.  Finally, the analysis fails to consider the recreational impacts to areas immediately outside of Palo Alto such as the main campus area of Stanford and in San Mateo County, where the Community Facility Fee would not provide mitigation.

The cumulative recreational impact of this project together with other recreational population pressures is significant.  Combined with visual impacts, the DEIR should require mitigation that creates recreational access to open space to mitigate the lost open sky and diminished recreational opportunities.  One possibility which was included in the Stanford GUP DEIR was the construction of two trails from the main campus into the Foothills.  The same could be done in this case, either from SUMC or from portions of the main campus easily accessible from SUMC into the Foothills.   Alignments of the C1 Trail near the north side of Stanford Foothills and outside of the golf course would be ideal, or alternative versions of the S1 Trail that run along the Stanford Foothills and eventually connect to the trail under construction could work as well.

An alternative to dedication of a trail is payment of equivalent funds into a grant program that would mitigate Stanford's recreational impacts.  Stanford has essentially agreed to do just that regarding its proposed sidewalk expansion along Alpine Road.  If San Mateo County continues to reject the sidewalk expansion as it has, then Stanford will pay the money it would have spent on that massive project into a fund run by Santa Clara County Parks Department that could mitigate the recreational impacts of the Stanford GUP.  Given that was Stanford's own agreement with the County, it should meet the same standard with the City.

Transportation issues.Given the conclusion that transportation, air quality, and climate change impacts will be significant, the DEIR should have included either of the following feasible mitigations to reduce those impacts:  1. a No-Net-New Trips standard, based on the standard used in the Stanford County GUP EIR, requiring Stanford to either avoid the creation of net new trips or install the traffic mitigations required in this DEIR; or 2. the equivalent of No-Net-New Trips that would require SUMC to match every incentive and disincentive used by Stanford in the core campus, but without requiring actual measurement of traffic.  This would not exempt Stanford from traffic mitigations required in the DEIR.  This second alternative would adjust over time, "ratcheting" up to match changes in the program used on the core campus to avoid increased trips.

In developing a No-Net-New Trips standarad, patient trips should also be taken into account, and Stanford should provide similar incentives to patients and guests to avoid increased trips.  If this is seen as infeasible, however, the no net new trips standard could exempt patients and guests and still provide partial mitigation to the significant impacts from this project.

It should be noted that one traffic mitigation, improvements to Intersection #3 (El Camino/Ravenswood) (DEIR at 3.4-61), appears to be at least partially the same listed mitigation as that found in the Stanford GUP DEIR to mitigate for that separate and different Stanford project (Stanford GUP DEIR at 4.4-98).  While the SUMC DEIR does not count the improvement of Intersection #3 towards the post-mitigation conclusion (DEIR at 3.4-65), it does count it here as potential mitigation for this project, and that could be double-counting of a mitigation that will not be effective because it could be "used up" for another Stanford project.  It would be disturbing and inadequate if this same intersection keeps getting listed in still more environmental reviews as potential mitigation for still more projects.  Similarly, Intersections #10, #18, and #23 are listed in both DEIRs, although they raise fewer issues as they are not considered feasible.  The failure to discuss the potential double-counting in the DEIR is disturbing.

The DEIR states "The three feasible intersection improvements in Table 3.4-18" were combined with other mitigations to assess overall impact mitigation.  In fact, only two feasible improvements are listed in Table 3.4-18.  If the overall analysis counted on a third intersection mitigation that is now only considered "Potentially Feasible" or "Not Feasible", then the analysis exaggerates the effectiveness of the mitigation.

The impact of the SUMC expansion to traffic on Alpine Road between Juniper Serra and Highway 280 is likely to be especially severe.  For this reason as well, a No-Net-New Trips standard should be applied.

Additional comments:

The Tree Replacement Mitigation Measure BR-4.5 should emphasize the use of native trees and that provide maximum benefitis to wildlife as replacement trees for the ones that would be removed if this project is approved.

PH-1 impact analysis states the percentage of regional housing demand from the project is relatively small.  DEIR at S-85.  Given the tremendous total housing demand on this area, the cumulative is considerable and should be mitigated by the provision of on-site housing or paying into a fund for the construction of housing, especially housing that is affordable according to the type of demand generated by the new jobs at SUMC.  Mitigation Measure PH-3.1 should be mandatory and should expressly apply to the SUMC project.

Please contact me with any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Attachment:  Letter of October 1, 2007, from Committee for Green Foothills to City of Palo Alto

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