Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vallejo council approves new Touro cancer center

Vallejo council approves new Touro cancer center
By JESSICA A. YORK/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 06/25/2008

Pushing aside the city's bitter medicine for the evening, the Vallejo City Council concentrated Tuesday night on its spoonful of sugar.

After some discussion the council unanimously approved Touro University's proposed $300 million cancer treatment and research center agreements while the city's budget and looming deficit were delayed until 6:30 p.m. today.

Though universally applauded, the Touro project did not pass without council scrutiny.

Council members asked city staff to explain the $1 sale price for the future north Mare Island cancer center. The property, officials explained, would have cost developers an estimated $8 million if fully developed.

Instead, Touro has agreed to fund about $22 million in road and infrastructure improvements to the island's north end and about $4 million in demolition costs for 17 buildings on the property. Also, due to the ground's instability, expensive support pilings will need to be installed under building structures.

"The council will be beaten over the head if we give it away for a $1 and beaten over the head if we don't attract new businesses," said Councilwoman Joanne Schivley. "We could hold out for several more million dollars' purchase price and have a bare piece of land."

Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes questioned city and Touro officials on contract details being considered, saying that the meeting was the first time the nuts and bolts of the agreements had been shared publicly. Specifically, Gomes said she is concerned about having design review control over the center's development and for the council to be kept in the loop on any problems arising during construction.

Resident Marti Brown also asked for explanations on what, if any, rights were being taken from residents to challenge the project. City attorneys said that the agreement was similar to a development agreement for the city's waterfront.

"I guess it just seems like we're throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, and that we're just giving everything away," Brown said, adding that there was "no doubt that this project is a bright star in what otherwise has been dark skies" for the city.

Francisco Da Costa, of the San Francisco-based Environmental Justice Advocacy group, urged the city to consider putting a holistic center in a holistic area, rather than a polluted one.

Public Improvements required of Touro would include widening and upgrading Azuar Drive from G Street to Railroad Avenue, part of Railroad Avenue near the project, and I Street. The State Route 37 interchange is also to be aligned with the north island's roads. Storm drains, utility lines and medians will be included in the improvements.

Loud applause greeted the unanimous vote approving the resolutions for the acquisition, right of entry and demolition, public improvement construction and development agreements. Only Councilman Michael Wilson abstained due to work-related conflicts.

• Contact Jessica A. York at 553-6834 or at