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New Children’s Hospital Tax Measure Added to Ballot

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday October 26, 2007

After what Supervisor Keith Carson said was “reluctantly” carrying out their legally-mandated duty to place a $12 million Children’s Hospital special tax initiative on the February ballot, Alameda County supervisors voted to place a second compromise measure on the ballot as well. 

But supervisors also said that both ballot measures may be in trouble and may not get the political support of all of them in next year’s campaigning. 

The compromise measure, which County Administrator Susan Muranishi said would mitigate some but not all of the county’s concerns about the original Children’s Hospital’s initiative, was written by Children’s attorneys following what some participants have privately described as an intense Oct. 9 meeting between hospital and county officials, and what Muranishi said were “extensive” followup meetings and conference calls. 

Both measures passed at last Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting on 4-0 votes, with Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker absent. 

The two competing measures will now appear side-by-side on next year’s presidential ballot in Alameda County. To pass, each measure must receive a two-thirds vote. If both pass, the measure getting the most votes will go into force. 

Children’s Hospital Vice President Mary Dean told supervisors at last Tuesday’s meeting that Children’s was “in total support of the revised version of the measure.” 

Children’s Hospital officials were unavailable to comment for this story. 

Both measures would authorize a special property parcel tax ranging between $24 and $250 per year for the construction of a new Children’s Hospital. Seismic problems had forced Children’s, a private hospital, to either retrofit its old North Oakland hospital or build a new one either in Oakland, in another Alameda County city or outside the county. Earlier this month, Children’s announced plans to build a 250 patient room, $700 million facility, complete with a 12-story tower, between 52nd and 53rd streets near the hospital’s current location. 

But according to Muranishi, the revised measure would alleviate several of the county’s original concerns, including eliminating the county as the holder of the bond’s debt service, reimbursing the county’s costs in administering the tax and providing some assurance that tax proceeds do not supplant hospital funds that can then be freed up for purposes not spelled out in the tax measure. 

The conflict between county supervisors and Children’s Hospital officials, which had been simmering for several months, went public last July after all five supervisors expressed sometimes-bitter concerns that Children’s had placed their original measure on the ballot without prior consultation with county staff or officials. 

One of the county’s major concerns was that the Children’s measure, if passed, would add to the county’s debt load, making it difficult if not impossible for the county to initiate its own bond measure for needed seismic retrofits at county-operated Highland Hospital. 

“What caught me off guard is that this has been going on for a long while and we were not made aware of it,” Board of Supervisors President Scott Haggerty said at the time. “I don’t know how you can involve the county in incurring this level of debt without bringing us to the table. This is not about the fine work that Children’s Hospital is doing. Everybody on this board appreciates that and acknowledges that and supports that. Let’s not make this about the children. We get it. We spend millions on the needs of children in this county. It’s about process. It’s about not coming to us in advance. I don’t know how you operate like this.” 

A chastened Children’s Hospital President and CEO Frank Tiedemann said in response that he “apologize[d] if we have not communicated well. We do a good job running a hospital, but not so well in the political process. We know you have serious questions, and we will try to give them serious responses.” 

Children’s officials said last July that it was an oversight that county staff and officials had not been brought into the original planning for the tax initiative, but the hospital’s bond counsel later revealed to county officials that their exclusion from the planning process had been intentional. 

According to Supervisor Carson in announcing last Tuesday’s compromise, county officials “rolled up our sleeves to work on correcting the original measure in order to demonstrate our support for health care in this county, regardless of whether we are the deliverers of that health care.” 

Carson represents the district in which Children’s Hospital is located and has been taking the lead in negotiations between the county and hospital officials over the measure. 

While supervisors expressed reluctance at Tuesday’s meeting about voting to place the original measure on the ballot, Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie told them that because the measure had received the necessary signatures, the supervisors were mandated to do so. 

But Carson said that the original measure “was proven to be flawed by the fact that Children’s Hospital’s own attorneys have come back and totally changed it,” and said that the original measure would have failed “without a doubt” because of announced opposition by the Alameda County Taxpayers Association and “all labor unions in the county.” 

Carson said he still had “deep concerns” about the compromise measure.  

And Haggerty said that both initiatives were “poorly written,” adding that “we tried to fix the problem initially before Children’s Hospital began collecting signatures on the original ballot measure,” but said that county officials were rebuffed by hospital officials. “I talked with one Children’s Hospital Board member about how poorly-written the first measure was, and this person looked me straight in the face and said, ‘you wouldn’t vote against children, would you?’” But Haggerty said that having two competing Children’s Hospital measures on the ballot will be confusing to voters, “and both of them will probably fail.” Haggerty said that “while I’m voting for it today, I’m not saying I will go out and ask voters to support it.”