On Tuesday, June 20, at 10 am, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors (BOS) will hear public comment and then vote on a sweetheart deal to give the County’s wealthiest land developer the most valuable piece of County land to be sold in modern history for pennies on the dollar.
Our group of 175 local health professionals is urging citizens who care about responsive government and public health to sign our petition here or on the right of this page, and, if possible, to turn out and speak against the giveaway deal on Tuesday, or to call your supervisor and express your opposition on Monday at 707-565-2241.
The 80-plus acre Chanate property is the location of several critical public services as well as the site of the old Community Hospital (which Sutter leased from 1996-2015), on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa. When they issued a Request for Proposals a few years ago for the Chanate land, our County officials did a grave disservice by failing to “carve out” and retain, for the public benefit, the land on the property that houses the Sloan House women’s shelter, a unique peer to peer mental health counseling facility, the County’s only bird rescue facility, the County morgue and other property, for future usage.
A developer could certainly be found to still build this housing and offer the same price for the land while a portion of about 10% of the large property was retained by the County (the planned development uses just a fraction of the land to be acquired for housing). There is no reason that our Supervisors did not ask for this in their faulty Request for Proposals.
I can’t understand why, right now, our elected officials could not negotiate a better deal on behalf of taxpayers and our County’s public health needs, and the important facilities that will be made homeless by this giveaway. It is not too late for them to vote down this plan, take public input, plan for public health needs, and revise the property sale plan accordingly.
Instead, to date, the Supervisors have entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with a wealthy local developer, Bill Gallaher to acquire, for a song, the county’s largest parcel of land to be sold in modern recent history”
There are so many things wrong with this deal:
- The outrageously low price
- The speed at which is it being pushed through with almost no public input
- The eviction of a battered women’s shelter, a bird rescue shelter and peer to peer counseling services
- The lack of foresight regarding future public health needs
The Low Price
The developer will buy the 82 acres of public land for only for $6 million (with an additional $13,750 for every unit after the first 400 approved by the city of Santa Rosa). This is an scanadlously low price! The documents released by the supervisors estimate that the county’s share of the property taxes will be $3 million. This means that (assuming a rate of 1¼%) they anticipate it we be assessed at $250M when the project is completed. Land acquisition typically costs 1/7 of the total project cost, or $35 million in this case. To add insult to injury, the Board of Supervisors is selling 2 buildings, the morgue and the public health lab and administration building that the county needs to continue to use. The supervisors plan is to LEASE it back from the developer! The first 5 years are free, but after that the people of Sonoma county will pay the developer 1.44 million dollars every five years to use a tiny part of the land we sold. That means that after 20 years, we will have paid the developer $5.76 million of $6 million he is paying for the property! Of course, when we do move these services, it will cost millions to build or retrofit new spaces to house them.
The government officials promoting this giveaway claim that the “value” of the deal is much, much higher. This misleading narrative is based on the false premise that the County is receiving compensation by NOT having to demolish the buildings–which is a basic site improvement cost of that any developer of a $250 million project would be need to pay. Moreover, the County is suggesting that we citizens who own this property will receive a benefit of tens of millions of dollars above the purchase price because the developer will agree to add 20% low income rental units to the housing mix of the new project. Again, this is a cost that any major developer in central Santa Rosa would be required to bear simply to get approvals.
It is not a value to the taxpayers, who are receiving just a fraction of the land’s value in this sweetheart giveaway to the developer.
The Speed and Lack of Transparency
The process in which all of this unfolded has been rapid and not transparent. There has been only one public forum regarding this sale and that was in October of 2015, with a focus on the neighboring community. Before the decision to enter the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Gallaher in February of 2017, the public was only given 3 days to review the proposal. Since then, there have been no opportunities for public comment. Last month a group of concerned doctors went to a Supervisors meeting when the issue was on the closed session agenda to voice concern. They were told there wasn’t enough time for them all to speak and only one person could speak for 3 minutes! The sale is on the agenda for June 20 and I hope that concerned citizens will be allowed to speak at that time.
Eviction of Critical Public Services Including Largest Battered Women’s Shelter in Region
It is also important to understand that there are much needed services currently on the property that are being made homeless by this sale. The Sloan House is a 22 bed women’s shelter that is always full., The house was built in the last decade using donations from the public. Now, the board of Board of Supervisors is selling the land out from under it. Next to the Sloan House is the Bird Rescue and the Wellness Center which performs peer-to-peer mental health counseling. These facilities provide services that are not available anywhere else in the county. And while, some may not consider them health services, as a doctor, I’d argue the case, having a broad understanding of what healthcare means.
Lack of Foresight
I am concerned that the county is selling assets that may become important as the national healthcare plan shifts under us.
In 1996, when the county leased the hospital building to Sutter, there was concern that Sutter might not continue providing services that the county felt were essential. To reduce this concern, we created an agreement known as the Health Care Access Agreement (HCAA). This agreement requires Sutter to provide care for the uninsured and underinsured, to run the family medicine residency program, and to provide full spectrum women’s health services. This agreement was tied to the 20-year lease of the old hospital. However, Sutter found the earthquake retrofitting costs to be daunting and in 2004 the Supervisors agreed to let Sutter build a different hospital instead of retrofitting the old hospital ONLY IF they agreed to extend the HCAA for another 5 years. This means that the agreement will expire in 2021, just over 3 years from now!
The is all occurring while Republicans in Washington are working hard to dismantle Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), which could dramatically impact the needs in our the county to care for the vulnerable. Let me spell out some the reasons that this doctor is having a hard time sleeping these days:
Abortion Access. In the last two years, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of clinics that provide abortion in Sonoma County. Two years ago, there were four clinics outside of Kaiser where a woman could call up and make an appointment if she needed an abortion. Now there are only two. And both of those could stop providing abortions if the Republicans passed a bill forbidding Medicaid (MediCal) contracts for birth control or pap smears to clinics that offer abortions. This is not just paranoia – it is in the bill they are trying to pass right now! Wouldn’t be great if there were a county clinic that doctors could use to provide this service?
Care for the Less Fortunate. Back in the 1990s the county operated a prenatal clinic, a STD clinic, a HIV clinic and a TB clinic on the Chanate property because we needed to have outpatient services to prevent more severe and costly outcomes available to those who couldn’t get insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act many of the less fortunate are covered by MediCal. Where will we care for them if federal and state changes leave them out of MediCal?
Training of Local Doctors. Another important issue is the training of primary care doctors. When trying to attract family doctors to the area, we are competing with places like Oregon, which offers both higher salaries and cheaper housing. Fortunately, the Family Practice Residency, recently ranked in the top ten best family medicine residencies in the US, graduated nearly 500 Family Physicians since 1969. Over half of the doctors we train (at Sutter Hospital) fall in love with the area and stay to practice in Sonoma County, serving as the single largest pipeline of primary care physicians to Sonoma County. Most of the community clinics are staffed at least partially with graduates from our residency. There is a huge shortage of primary care doctors in our country, especially family doctors. If we are not attracting them to our area and providing training it will be exceedingly difficult to recruit high quality doctors to the county. Nationally this would also mean the loss of one of the few Family Medicine programs that trains family doctors in full spectrum underserved care,
When the Health Care Access Agreement ends in 2021, there will be no guaranteed sponsor for the residency. The County needs to start planning now to make sure this important program continues. There may be ways that the Chanate complex, with its many health care facilities could help.
Lets Plan for the Future! We don’t know what will happen with the Republican administration or after the Health Care Access Agreement expires in 2021. We do know that we have a huge asset in this 82-acre property on Chanate Road. As we move forward, we need to think creatively about what is in the best interest of those vulnerable populations that have used its health care services for generations and work together to protect their access to care. That could mean setting aside some of the buildings or profits from the sale to use to provide services after 2021.
And it certainly means engaging the community, health care professionals and neighbors in deciding what to do with the largest and most valuable parcel of land that we, the people of Sonoma County, now own.