Dignity project on hold after 11th-hour letter
An 11th-hour letter from a Sacramento law firm representing area labor groups and other individuals has for the time being put the skids on Dignity Health’s plans to build a $50 million wellness campus on Sacramento River-front property in Redding.
Some of the labor groups the firm represents are the same ones that contested the Sheraton hotel at Turtle Bay Exploration Park over prevailing wage, an issue that delayed the project for years. The hotel is expected to open in early 2018.
The city received the 14-page letter from Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo on Monday, the final day to comment on the Dignity project and about 24 hours before Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
The correspondence questions the environmental impacts of Dignity’s planned 129,600-square-foot campus, noting “there is more than a fair argument that the project will result in potentially significant impacts relating to air quality, public health, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards, and biological resources,” and it asks for an environmental impact report to be prepared before approval.
Calling the letter significant, Redding Planning Manager Paul Hellman recommended Dignity’s project be put on hold indefinitely while his staff can evaluate it and respond.
“If we had received insignificant comments, we might be recommending approval today,” Hellman said during Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
The Planning Commission unanimously agreed in a vote.
Visibly upset, Commissioner Rick Bosetti asked whether the letter said who hired the law firm.
The Sacramento firm states it represents Redding Residents for Responsible Development, a group that includes International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 228, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 and their families who live and work in Redding and Shasta County.
“Is this a negotiation thing,” Bosetti asked Hellman. “I mean, this is a private project. . . . It seems kind of strange to me that a union would be bringing these kinds of conditions at this point in the game.”
Bosetti, still seething, said, “We have to do what we have to do . . . but this thing, I don’t know how a better way to say it, but it sucks.”
Andrew Meredith, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340, said Wednesday that they will let the letter speak for itself at this time. On the timing of the letter, Meredith declined to comment.
Asked when the group would have a comment, Meredith said after the city and Dignity Health responds "we may have a comment at that time."
Dignity's wellness campus would be built just south of the Cypress Avenue Bridge near the Henderson Open Space behind the Cobblestone Shopping Center. The healthcare giant has said the facility would employ up to 180 people at full build-out.
The project would be built in two phases, the first consisting of a four-story, 80,000-square-foot building. It had hoped to open this portion in 2019 but Monday’s letter could delay that goal. All told, the campus would comprise three buildings and total 129,600 square feet.
After Tuesday's meeting, Mark Korth, president of Dignity Health North State, vowed to continue moving forward on the project because he said it’s the right thing to do for the community.
“We just got to figure out what (the letter) means and what are the details behind it,” Korth said.
Randall Smith, who supports the project and has championed cleanup efforts in the Henderson Open Space, told the Planning Commission that he was devastated by the news.
“Someone has thrown a monkey wrench into this game today,” Smith said. “This property demands that someone takes an active role, which Dignity will, because the wheels are coming off down there.”
Senior Planner Lily Toy told the commission that her department likely will update the mitigated negative declaration after reviewing the letter. The updated version then will have a 30-day public review period.
In the letter, the group contends the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, contains a strong presumption that the lead agency, in this case the city of Redding, prepare an EIR under the “fair argument standard.”
“Under that standard, a lead agency ‘shall’ prepare an EIR whenever substantial evidence in the whole record before the agency supports a fair argument that a project may have a significant effect on the environment.”
At this point, nobody knows when Dignity’s project will return to the Planning Commission.