Planning Commission Approves CPMC Project

by Randy Shaw on April 27, 2012

After a hearing that began on April 26 at 10:00 am and continued until 8:00pm, the Planning Commission approved CPMC’s new hospital and medical office building project at Cathedral Hill and its rebuild of St. Luke’s Hospital. On the key votes, the Commission voted 5-1 to approve the EIR (Moore dissenting) and 4-2 on the Development Agreement (Sugaya joining Moore. Commissioner Wu was on vacation). The project now moves to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

The lengthy public hearing had few surprises. Many speakers for and against the project repeated points made in prior hearings, with the most striking newcomers a large contingent from the Stationary Engineers who are locked in a bitter labor dispute with Sutter Health, parent of CPMC. All of the Engineers spoke against approving the project.

The California Nurses Association, in their own multi-year dispute with Sutter, provided a detailed refutation of the sufficiency of the EIR that was designed to set up a possible lawsuit against it. A number of Commissioners expressed sympathy for both unions’ position against Sutter, but were barred by federal law from using labor issues as a basis for denying the project.

The Laborers Union, whose members would help build the new CPMC, turned out in the largest numbers of any group. Unlike prior hearings, SEIU-UHW had little presence.

A surprising number of neighbors to both St. Luke’s and the proposed new Cathedral Hill project supported approval. This had particular weight with Commissioners, and appeared to reflect a shift from earlier hearings.

Commissioners also appeared influenced by testimony from the Opal Hotel on Van Ness that the new project would enhance the neighborhood business environment. CPMC’s becoming an economic engine for lower Van Ness was not much discussed over the past year, but the issue seemed to loom large in the minds of the Commission.

I had to leave prior to testifying as to the extraordinary streetscape and pedestrian safety improvements the project will bring to the Tenderloin. The $8 million from CPMC will bring the most sweeping street, sidewalk and lighting improvements to the neighborhood since its rebuilding in 1907. The funds will add 135 pedestrian streetlights, built a permanent “Safe Passage” for kids going to after-school programs, and largely complete the Tenderloin-Little Saigon Transit Plan.

Testimony addressed every component of both the EIR and Development Agreement, with public testimony itself lasting nearly seven hours. Despite the length, Commissioners had sufficient energy to provide detailed reasons for their votes that showed they had listened carefully throughout the lengthy proceedings.

Opponents of the project did not expect to prevail, and recognized that the Board of Supervisors is the best vehicle for their efforts to improve upon the current Agreement.

The project should reach the full Board no later than June.

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