On Friday, the Inter-Neighborhood Hospital Review Committee (IHRC) met with Alta Bates administrators and city officials, regarding traffic issues, construction, and the Bateman Mall.
Many concerns had been raised about the hospital’s difficulties in dealing with traffic problems. Under the environmental impact report for proposed construction at the hospital, Alta Bates promised that they would keep the number of vehicles on-site at 519.
A June 2006 Fehrs and Peers annual traffic report found that Alta Bates had 562 employee cars on-site. Additionally, daily traffic around the hospital had grown by less than 1 percent and parking had grown by 8 percent, both increased for a second year.
Deborah Pitts-Cameron, director of public affairs for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center (ABSMC), didn’t think that Alta Bates was entirely responsible for the increased traffic.
“I am not saying that the numbers haven’t changed, but I don’t think that anyone can say that all the numbers are in fact associated with the medical center,” said Pitts-Cameron.
Several ideas to reduce traffic were suggested at the meeting, including preferential parking for carpools and vanpools, carpool matching service, bicycle lockers and showers, more convenient remote parking in Oakland, increased shuttle service and transit subsidies for employees for BART and AC Transit.
“In February, we purchased 150 spaces of additional parking off-site,” said Pitts-Cameron. “We also started to pay for 50 percent of a BART ticket for the employees.”
Alta Bates must reduce traffic to the level it had originally proposed or must return to the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) for a public hearing. However, Wendy Cosin, deputy planning director for Berkeley, said intervention by the ZAB probably won’t be necessary.
“The goal is a significant increase in mitigation,” said Cosin. “We hope to see a significant improvement.”
Neighbors have been complaining about the loud noise from construction, mainly from a compressor, and have leveled accusations that Alta Bates violated their use permit. After an article was published in the Planet, a 24-hour contact sign for information and complaints was posted on-site, a concession that neighbors of the project had been seeking for months.
The other big issue discussed at the meeting was the fate of the Bateman Mall, a grassy-area which has been turned into a temporary emergency access road to the chagrin of many area residents.
The hospital hopes to finish construction of phase one for the Bateman Mall area between late October and early December, depending on the rain. A meeting is scheduled for Oct. 17 from 7-9 p.m. on the first floor of Alta Bates to discuss the Bateman mall situation.
Another issue raised was the subject of the park benches at the Huntmont Park. Alta Bates has recently replaced park benches in the park.
“I got a call from some neighbors who reported that people were sleeping on benches,” reported Pitts-Cameron. “The benches are not on our property, but we put some new benches there anyway. We maintain that area. There has been a big problem with people sleeping on the benches and making the place dirty. There was a lot of discussion around putting bars on the benches to discourage people from using the space to sleep.”
Doctor speaks out
Dr. John Friedberg, a neurologist at Alta Bates, said that the disruption from the construction has affected more than just the area residents, and that it has been difficult on the hospital staff as well. He said he has had to contend with the high levels of construction noise, which he called “upsetting.”
“The noise is so bad, I’m on the third floor and I have to retreat to the bathroom to dictate reports,” said Friedberg. “I practice neurology and we can’t do this with noise so loud.”
He says that the hospital has not been very responsive to his requests to curb the noise.
“There’s nothing they can do,” Friedberg said. “I was told by Ms. Cosin that construction can’t be over 85 decibels rating. It must be above that, but I’m totally guessing. I just get so upset.”
On Aug. 22, the Berkeley Health Department conducted a noise study on the Alta Bates property and found the noise levels were under the limit, said Cosin.
“When it was measured at the compressor, the reading was between 79-81 dba (decibels),” she said. “When measured at residential neighborhoods, the readings were around 60 dba.”