We had hoped that the selection of doctors, researchers, and scientists to run Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland might result in not only a better relationship to the surrounding community by CHO but a more reasoned and analytical approach to matters in general. Not the case, unfortunately, based upon the Commentary “Response from Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland” (Feb. 18-24, 2010 Daily Planet) signed by Dr. Bertram Lubin, the new CEO of CHO, and his comments and those of Dr. Alexander Lucas, in charge of the Research Institute, at their Feb. 16 community meeting
When Alfred Crofts and I met with Dr. Lucas in Oct. and inspected the gym, we gave him two well-written and thorough articles about the long process leading up to and after CHO’s acquisition of Old Merritt. Paul Rauber’s cover story for the March 23, 1990, East Bay Express entitled “The Case of the Languishing Landmark” and “Brownfields Redevelopment: Meeting the Challenges of Community Participation,” by Arlene Wong and Lisa Owens-Viani for the Pacific Institute in 2000, are invaluable research of the site’s torturous redevelopment history with a (mostly) happy ending. The City of Oakland spent over $19 million on basic core and shell work rehabilitating the building. Additional tens of thousands were spent on staff time and consultants—Kerry Hamill, an aide to Mayor Harris, worked full time on the issue, and even the notable SF Planning Director Dean Macris was hired to help.
CHO eventually bought the building and site for $ 9 million (basic math: a financial loss to the city and taxpayers) and then proceeded to design the structure to meet their specific needs. It is worrisome that Lubin’s response to my Feb. 11-17 Daily Planet “Partisan Position,” and Lucas’s comments at the meeting, reveal their version that “our medical center was given an opportunity to restore and preserve a historically protected campus originally occupied by University High School and subsequently Merritt College and convert it into a research institute.” Lucas apparently never read the background pieces—his and Lubin’s version of events is rewriting history by omission and substitution, leaving out key chapters and players.
Lubin has expressed some welcome contrition, on behalf of CHO, over the hospital’s heavy-handed expansion plans in the past. Yet, at the community meeting when he was asked about CHO’s master plan and how many houses CHO owns in the neighborhood—traditionally, buying residences and then bulldozing them was how CHO grew—Lubin said there was no master plan and he honestly didn’t know what CHO owned. Again, where’s the scientific method here, or was he just being disingenuous?
Before Lubin took over as CEO he was head of the Research Institute and thus well-aware of the ongoing deterioration of the gym on his watch. Lucas was number two and then elevated when Lubin was made CEO. He would have known as well. In his Planet rebuttal to me, Lubin said CHO applied for the stimulus grant to “renovate and utilize the building” and Lucas repeated this intention at the public meeting. Did they even review their own grant application? The May 29-June 4, 2009 SF Business Times article in which Lubin is extensively quoted, states: “The potential 30,000 square foot facility—a new building that would replace the former University High School gymnasium on CHO’s complex.” Demo, not rehab, most succinctly put by George Brietigam, Vice-President, Facilities, for CHO, when he bluntly told us, “CHO wouldn’t spend a penny on a building it intends to tear down.”
Lubin and Lucas both expressed the intention to apply for more stimulus money. Indeed, whatever the difficulties of being a health care provider under the current system (and CHO certainly does good work), the research facility is a moneymaker ($63 million last year) for the hospital. With their requests for federal money, Lucas and Lubin may be forced to reconsider their ill-treatment of the gymnasium, listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with the rest of the campus. “Anticipatory demolition” is expressly forbidden under federal preservation laws, the issue that we went to court over some years back (North Oakland Voters Alliance (NOVA) v. City of Oakland)—the resolution of which spurred the renovation that CHO has benefitted from (and now takes exclusive credit for).
“A new leaf for Children’s Hospital” with doctors, researchers, and scientists in charge? Hardly.
Robert Brokl is an Oakland resident.