Page One

Supervisors, Children’s Hospital Clash over Bond

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday August 10, 2007

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors and Children’s Hospital of Oakland appear to be on a collision course over a proposed Children’s Hospital Special Tax Initiative tentatively scheduled to be placed on the February ballot. 

The proposed two-thirds majority tax-initiative ballot measure would authorize the county to collect property parcel taxes ranging between $24 and $250 per year for the construction of a new Children’s Hospital. The tax is expected to generate between $11.2 million and $12 million in revenue for the hospital. But because of differences between the county and Children’s Hospital, one supervisor said privately that county supervisors might end up writing the ballot argument against the initiative. 

Officials of Children’s , a private institution, began circulating petitions early this year to place the measure on the ballot. But the measure has run into opposition from county supervisors, who say that while they support Children’s and want a new facility built, they were never consulted in advance on the measure, and are concerned that the measure as written may not stand up to a legal challenge, and might fill up the county’s debt load so much that it will prevent the county from taking on any other major capital projects, including renovation of the county’s own Highland Hospital. 

Last month, after Children’s Hospital President and CEO Frank Tiedemann told supervisors, “We know you have serious questions, and we will try to give them serious responses,” it looked as if the two sides might be able to work out a compromise. 

At that meeting, several supervisors expressed anger that because they had not been consulted in advance to work out possible problems and conflicts with the tax, they were being put in the position of opposing money for a politically popular institution. 

But supervisors say that a followup meeting with Children’s Hospital officials was not fruitful, and last week the five county supervisors signed a public letter to area elected officials asking them to “withhold your endorsement [of the tax initiative] until our Board has completed its review of the measure.”  

In their letter, the supervisors said “the County of Alameda has a long history of supporting Children’s Hospital … Children’s Hospital is an outstanding institution. We are fortunate to have its unique services in our community. Nonetheless, we believe that it is premature to endorse this special tax.” 

At the same meeting, supervisors approved a recommendation by County Administrator Susan Muranishi that “county staff prepare a report that addresses the fiscal impacts of the measure, including its effect on the ability to finance infrastructure, the potential effect of the measure on County operations including on the Board of Supervisors, and any legal issues associated with the measure.” 

The report is scheduled to be presented to Supervisors no later than September 30. 

County Counsel Richard Winnie had earlier written Children’s Hospital officials asking them to clarify six legal issues associated with the tax initiative, information which Winnie said he needed in order to complete a legal evaluation of the measure. Winnie did not return a telephone message in connection with this article, and the Children’s Hospital official in charge of the ballot measure is out of town until next week, so it is unclear whether Children’s officials have responded to that letter.