By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The list of environmental requirements that Sutter Health must meet to build its planned $284 million hospital north of Santa Rosa grew Tuesday.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors tentatively added a condition envisioned to help further offset greenhouse gas emissions linked to the hospital’s development and operation.
Several environmental group leaders said the new requirement lacked clear standards and would fall short of its intended purpose, while Sutter officials said the extra hurdle wouldn’t delay or adversely affect their project. The 82-bed hospital off Highway 101 next to the Wells Fargo Center is set to open in October 2014.
The board’s move was part of its response to a judge’s order on a lawsuit challenging the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the hospital last year.
In his June ruling, Judge Rene Chouteau rejected many of the legal objections to the new Sutter facility lodged by hospitals in Healdsburg and Sebastopol and by an environmental group.
But Chouteau also faulted the county on two issues, the more significant of which required supervisors to reconsider the mitigation measures for greenhouse gas emissions related to the proposed medical center.
Specifically, Chouteau said the county and Sutter could not count as an offset the emission reductions expected from the closure of Sutter’s current facility, the former Community Hospital on Chanate Road.
The ruling left Sutter’s new facility far short of meeting a state threshold for emissions, even with a long list of other measures and county requirements geared toward reducing greenhouse gases.
The extra measure, approved on a 5-0 preliminary vote Tuesday, requires Sutter Health to work on developing a public shuttle for SMART that links northern Sonoma County to the commuter rail service’s planned Santa Rosa station.
Supervisor Mike McGuire, who made the recommendation, said the step would require Sutter to participate in the development of shuttle routes and schedules serving Cloverdale, Healdsburg and Windsor. Some monetary contribution would also be required, although McGuire did not put forward a number, saying the discussions about the shuttle were still in their infancy.
Sutter has paid the county $185,000 to support construction of bike lanes near the hospital. Some or all of that money could be shifted to the shuttle or an additional amount required, McGuire said.
Board members Valerie Brown and Shirlee Zane, both of whom serve as SMART directors, joined in support of the proposal. Zane initially pushed for wider changes, saying the county’s list of requirements did not have enough “teeth.”
Supervisors Efren Carrillo and David Rabbitt opposed McGuire’s proposal. They said existing emission measures were sufficient and that any new condition was an unneeded burden on Sutter and sent the wrong message to businesses looking to invest in Sonoma County. Grudgingly, Carrillo and Rabbitt voted with the board majority.
Mike Cohill, senior vice president of Sutter Health, said he was “happy” with the proposal, though Sutter representatives had lobbied the board to resist new requirements.
Sutter’s critics, meanwhile, said emission-cutting measures, including the new requirement and pair of existing provisions to address hospital traffic and transit use, would fail to deliver on the county’s long-established air quality goals.
“It’s mockery of climate protection,” said David Schonbrunn, president of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, a San Rafael-based nonprofit group. “This resolution is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to Sutter. It’s not acceptable and it’s certainly not leadership.”
The group of opponents, including Transportation Solutions and the Healdsburg District and Palm Drive hospital boards, have appealed Chouteau’s overall ruling. It called the two hospitals competitors of Sutter and said they had no standing to challenge the project.
The Board of Supervisors’ response also clarifies that the hospital property will be owned by Sutter Health. The response is up for formal approval Sept. 20 and would go to Chouteau thereafter.