Activists should stop delaying hospital

Today, Aug. 29, is the final day for the 101,000 residents of the Peninsula Health Care District to postmark their mail-in ballots on whether to approve the long-negotiated contract for Sutter Health to rebuild Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame. Approval now will comply with the state’s 2013 hospital seismic upgrade deadline.

We hope the majority of voters in the district — which essentially runs from San Mateo to San Bruno — will say yes to the deal, by which the Sutter nonprofit’s Mills-Peninsula Health Services subsidiary pays $488 million to build a new hospital on public land administered by the Health Care District.

A small watchdog group called the Peninsula Guardians does not believe district residents are well enough informed to be entrusted to vote on the deal, even though public meetings about the new hospital have been in progress for six years.

The Guardians are suing to throw out the district referendum that hasn’t even been tallied yet, which would seem to indicate they don’t expect the full vote to go their way. Their attempt to stop the election was denied by Superior Court on July 28. Now the latest word is that the Guardians might drop the lawsuit if the Health Care District meets its demands.

Face-to-face meetings between attorneys for the Guardians and the district are supposed to take place early in September, although district spokespersons state it is extremely unlikely that any substantive changes would be made to the contract. The Guardians’ main remaining complaints are that the negotiated 50-year lease extends far beyond California’s 30-year limit on public hospital property agreements and that vague contractual language would allow the hospital management to make sweeping changes without another district-wide vote.

Admittedly these are reasonable concerns, but the Guardians were present at virtually all of the key meetings during the six-year negotiation process, and they had ample opportunity to speak out on their views. By the time this contract was submitted to voters, the terms that Peninsula Health Care District were able to wring out of Mills-Peninsula management during the often-contentious negotiations were considerably improved.

Mills-Peninsula will now pay $1.5 million yearly rent for the district property, rather than pay to build only the hospital. The district gained additional options for placing potentially profitable operations on the valuable acreage not being used for the hospital. And with help from an effective neighborhood campaign, the medical center’s massivenew parking structure was relocated to frontage on busy El Camino Real instead of looming right above single-family residences.

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