I hate to sound like a broken record, but I’m fixated on keeping privately run Children’s Hospital Oakland (CHO) from eating me and my neighborhood alive. Soon there’ll be nothing left of me but a small oil slick in front of my 100-year-old house. That should make it easier for the bulldozers to roll down Dover Street. At least there’ll be no me to run over.
My deterioration started at a Sept. 13 community meeting when hospital executives unveiled plans to build a 12-story tower a half block from my home at 53rd and Dover streets. I lost part of my heart when I learned that my house would be in the shadow of the 196-foot-tall tower with a helipad. I nearly lost my mind when I discovered I would be asked to help pay for this concrete mega-expansion via a $300 million parcel tax known as Measures A and B.
My decomposition advanced over the winter as my neighbors and I dug deeper into CHO’s plans and learned the hospital intended to use eminent domain to take the homes of unwilling sellers. The hospital bought all but four houses inside the footprint and a century-old brown shingle craftsman across from the site, which will likely be razed to make way for a construction staging area, along with a 13-unit apartment complex.
CHO senior vice president Mary Dean characterized these real estate purchases as “opportunities” and said they would buy up more “opportunities” as they became available. Suddenly the jigsaw pieces started to fit together: All the homes CHO bought that remained empty, the traffic light that sprang up almost overnight at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 53rd Street. CHO was hoarding property and securing access to their dream tower, with an entrance and ambulance bay planned for 53rd and Dover streets.
In January, the hospital’s campaign of emotional blackmail ramped up when registered voters received mailers that bordered on harassment. If we didn’t vote for Measures A and B, they implied, the hospital would close and children would suffer and possibly even die.
As we all now know, Measures A and B were soundly defeated. Hospital executives would not get their hands on the $300 million they claimed they needed to build the tower. My neighbors and I celebrated for 10 minutes before learning from Oakland city councilmember Jane Brunner that CHO planned to move forward as though the election had never happened.
Last week, Tony Paap, CHO’s former president and CEO, published a column in the Berkeley Daily Planet debunking virtually all CHO’s campaign arguments. “They have thumbed their nose at the county, they have thumbed their nose at the neighborhood … your needs be damned,” he later told a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Which brings us to last Wednesday evening when more than 100 community members crammed into the North Oakland Senior Center to hear what the hospital had planned now that it didn’t have the $300 million.
CHO senior vice president Mary Dean’s presentation was riddled with contradictory messages: The hospital would return to “square one” and get more community input, but would proceed with plans for a 12-story tower at 53rd and Dover streets. Board chairman Harold Davis’ had not told them to move forward, she said, but had told them “not to stop the process.” What’s the difference?
There was something to laugh about. Earlier that week, I had purchased 30 T-shirts and carefully ironed on each a decal of our organization logo “Livable Oakland.” I wanted my neighbors to wear them at the community meeting as a gesture of solidarity. When she saw us wearing the T-shirts, Ms Dean asked for one. I’d spent $90 of my own money on them and I sure as hell didn’t want to waste one on someone whose mission is definitely not livable. But my polite side got the better of me and I grudgingly gave her one. She pulled it over her fancy suit and pearls and strutted around in it. No one at the meeting understood why she was wearing it.
I’ll tell you why. She was wearing it to prove what we already know. The hospital asks, then takes, and doesn’t pay. Mary Dean, you owe me three bucks!