Column: No Butts, Said the Pregnant Lady

By Susan Parker
Tuesday January 15, 2008

I’ve spent the last two months campaigning against Measure A. That’s the $300 million parcel tax on the Feb. 5 ballot which calls for Alameda County property owners to subsidize construction of a 12-story high-rise for Children’s Hospital Oakland, a private medical center serving northern California.  

The proposed 180-foot-tall building, crowned by a helicopter landing pad will be located at the end of my block, five doors from my home.  

My neighbors and I first learned about the tower at a community meeting on Sept. 13. At the time I was too stunned to ask any questions. I could not imagine a 12-story building in a neighborhood of one and two-story homes. The closest structure of that size is the Kaiser pediatric building located on Broadway, near McArthur and 580. When I found out it would be my own tax dollars helping to pay for it, I began to get cranky. 

Since then I’ve been doing all I can to uncover Children’s plans. I’ve learned that California hospitals must meet earthquake safety standards by 2013, but that Children’s doesn’t need to build a 180-foot tower in a residential neighborhood in order to meet these requirements. A new report by the California Health Care Foundation says that nearly half of California’s hospitals won’t meet the deadline, and many won’t meet the final 2030 deadline.  

As of this writing, Children’s has no architectural drawings, no master plan, and no contingency plan if the ballot measure doesn’t pass. The only thing my neighbors and I have seen is an aerial photograph of the four blocks between MLK and the freeway, and 52nd and 54th streets. In that photo you can see a little gray speck near the intersection of Dover and 54th streets. That’s my house. Half a block away my neighbor Bob’s house is covered in red. He’s in the footprint of the tower, a home that will not exist if CHO has its way. 

For several weeks I have stood at the entrance to the Temescal Farmers Market, passing out flyers, explaining to patrons what the passage of Measure A means to the neighborhood. Many are shocked to learn that Children’s is a private hospital asking for Alameda County tax dollars to pay for a facility that serves all of Northern California. They wonder if a 12-story tower is necessary. When they ask if there are alternative building plans, or if the neighborhood has had any input, I have to shrug my shoulders and say no.  

A few days ago my next door neighbor, Jenna, and I dragged ourselves over to the office of Mary Dean, CHO’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, to ask her some questions. I say dragged because Jenna is nine months pregnant, about to give birth at any moment. The three-block walk to Mary’s office was about as far as Jenna could go. During the meeting, Jenna raised many of our neighbors’ concerns. How much sunlight will be blocked by the tower? How much noise and light pollution can we expect? How long will construction take and how will traffic patterns change? Can the building be smaller and built further away from residential homes? Can’t Children’s keep the helicopter pad where it already is, between the freeway and the MLK off ramp, so that it is not directly above our heads?  

Then Jenna got down to the nitty gritty. “What will be at the end of our block?” she asked. “Is our neighborhood going to be the butt of the hospital, the place where all the trash, poisons, and medical waste is removed?”  

Mary said she didn’t know.  

“I don’t want to be the butt of anything,” said Jenna. And then we left because I didn’t want Jenna to grow more upset and have her baby on Mary Dean’s office floor, albeit it was a pretty nice office, and we could have probably found someone relatively knowledgeable to help with the delivery.