Children’s Hospital Fails to Resolve Dispute with Supervisors

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday September 07, 2007

Officials of Children’s Hospital an-nounced plans this week to rebuild their aging hospital facility in Oakland, but whether the hospital will actually be built inside the city limits, and whether the announcement will settle the hospital’s dispute with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors over a proposed property tax increase ballot initiative, remains to be seen. 

Following the press conference, Children’s Hospital officials and Board of Supervisors representatives were sharply divided on whether progress was being made in resolving the dispute, or even whether talks were being held. 

At a Wednesday press conference, Children’s Hospital officials said in a prepared release that “the board of directors of Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland has approved a plan to rebuild a world-class pediatric medical center on its current site in Oakland. The new medical facility will be constructed on land between 52nd and 53rd streets near the hospital’s main campus. The hospital will continue to operate in its current facility during construction, which is expected to begin in 2010 and must be completed by 2013 to meet the state’s deadline for seismic upgrades. 

“Construction is expected to cost approximately $700 million,” the prepared release continued. The hospital plans to finance the new medical center through three sources including $173 million in past and future state bonds, $150 million raised through private donations and $300 million from The Children’s Hospital Construction Fund measure, which is a modest $2 per month parcel tax on residential properties in Alameda County.  

The measure includes a $100 a year assessment on small non-residential properties and $250 for large non-residential properties annually. Residents over age 65 and the disabled are exempt from paying the assessment. 

But passage of the parcel tax, which Children’s officials hope to have placed on the February, 2008 presidential primary ballot, has been put in jeopardy by a simmering dispute with members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. 

Petition signatures for that proposed tax initiative are still being gathered. 

While supervisors have said that they support the rebuilding of the privately operated Children’s Hospital in Oakland, earlier this year they bitterly complained to hospital officials after Children’s began circulating petitions to put the parcel tax initiative on the ballot without first sitting down with county officials to iron out details and resolve conflicts.  

Saying that they were “blindsided” by the introduction of the ballot measure, supervisors said that it would tie up much of the county’s bonded indebtedness, making it impossible for the county to introduce a bond measure to retrofit the Alameda County Medical Center, the county’s own aging medical facility. In addition, supervisors said there were legal discrepancies and problems with the Children’s tax initiative that needed to be cleared up. 

Last month, 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.”  

A report by County Administrator Susan Muranishi “address[ing] 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” is scheduled to be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 30. 

One of the issues to be cleared up is whether the language of the tax initiative allows Children’s Hospital to collect the tax money and then use it to rebuild its facility away from Oakland, despite hospital’s officials’ pledge this week that they will remain in the city. 

Following the Children’s Hospital press conference, a spokesperson for Children’s Hospital Vice President Mary Dean, who is coordinating the tax initiative, said that Dean felt that “good progress” was being made in talks with supervisors over supervisors’ concerns. Dean herself was out of town and not available to answer questions. 

But a spokesperson for Board of Supervisors President Scott Haggerty referred queries to the office of Supervisor Keith Carson, who Haggerty’s office said was the board “point person” on the Children’s Hospital issue.  

A spokesperson for Carson said that there had been “no follow-up” to the “issues and concerns” that supervisors had earlier expressed about the initiative.