High noon for CPMC

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CPMC, the health-care giant owned by Sutter Health, has two weeks to convince some very reluctant city officials that its plan to build a flashy new hospital on Van Ness Avenue is at least marginally acceptable.

It might not be possible.

CPMC and Mayor Ed Lee had a deal back in June -- a bad deal for the city, but one that the mayor was ready to push. Then internal documents showed that the hospital folks weren't telling the truth and were looking for ways to shut down St. Luke's, which provides care to the underserved population in the southeast part of the city.

The actual deal is in some kind of suspension now, since CPMC and the mayor aren't anywhere near close to agreement -- but the environmental impact report on the development came up on appeal to the supervisors, and it was clear that there weren't enough votes to approve the document. Rejecting it would have set the project back at least 18 months, probably two years -- and that would spell doom. CPMC is under a state mandate to upgrade the seismic safety of its facilities by 2015, and this Van Ness super-hospital is supposed to replace that aging California St. campus, which doesn't meet state codes.

At the end of a seven-hour hearing, the supes agreed to continue the matter for two weeks after Michael Duncheon, Sutter's general counsel, promised to maybe, sorta, kinda try to reopen talks with the city:

"In the intervening two weeks, CPMC commits to work with the mayor's office and with you. ... CPMC is ready to talk about a structure for future discussions as we all put our heads together."

I other words, we're ready to consider the shape of the bargaining table.

That doesn't go very far, particularly since CEO Warren Browner has been a complete asshole throughout this process. He acts as if he's entitled to do anything he wants with this project and he dismisses community benefits as nonsense. Oh, and guess what? He's not even around right now. He's on vacation.

Sup. Jane Kim made a good point in her remarks:

“The fundamental issue in certifying this EIR, in my humble opinion, is the elephant in the room, which is that there is no proposed project.  The only sponsor of this project, has himself stated that there is currently no project without greater assurance and agreement to stronger language from project sponsor on a commitment to the operation of St. Luke’s."

And she said that if the matter hadn't been continued, she would have voted not to certify the EIR. Sup. David Campos told me that he agreed: "We sent a very clear message that we can kill this thing if we want to," he said.

So now we wait two weeks to see if Browner and his crew will come to their senses. "There's hope," Campos said, "but who knows?" And if CPMC doesn't come back very quickly with a much-better plan, it will be time to start thinking about other options for saving St. Luke's.