Councilman denies Chapa-De bias |

Councilman denies Chapa-De bias

The Union graphicProposed Chapa-De medical offices.
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Speculation was rampant last week after news filtered down that Chapa-De’s proposal to expand its Indian health clinic to Grass Valley was dead in the water.

Was it a racist vendetta, as some charged, a mysterious move by the hospital to consolidate its power?

Was it a desire by the city to bring in a project that would generate more tax revenue than a federally funded non-profit clinic? Or was the surprise decision by Chapa-De not to pursue another traffic study simply an attempt to manipulate the city into approving the project after all, as some on the other side intimated?

“This is about one thing – traffic. It’s about nothing else,” said City Councilman Steve Enos this week. Enos had appealed the planning commission’s approval of the project, and it was his appeal that would have required the contentious new study. Enos categorically denied charges of racist bias, adding he spends a lot of time on Indian reservations throughout the Southwest. “It’s my adopted religion,” he said.

At issue is the traffic study submitted by Chapa-De in January 2002, before the city revised its required methodology in March of the same year. Enos says the city revised its standards in part to address concerns about the cumulative impact of projects. In any case, Enos says, the traffic study submitted by Chapa-De was “glaringly bad,” and he felt it was inadequate since day one.

“A focused EIR could have been done not just for this project but others in the Litton Hill and East Main areas,” Enos said. “The study would have (given) a more holistic look at the area and come up with solutions. It is intended to identify impacts but also identify options to mitigate those impacts, to offset those impacts.”

While the city said the study should have used a trip generation rate from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) for medical/dental buildings, Chapa-De argued that its clinic did not fall into those parameters, and instead used the Auburn clinic as a comparison. According to Chapa-De attorney Mark Merin, the ITE rate is inaccurate because it averages numbers drawn from large and small, city and rural clinics alike.

“The (traffic) appeal was done with the agenda to impede the progress of the project,” charged Merin. “It’s like saying, ‘I don’t object to your boyfriend’s race, it’s that he’s too tall.’ “

In a letter to the city dated Feb. 3, Chapa-De CEO Carol Ervin said the traffic study conducted in January 2002 met the requirements of the Grass Valley City Code, and noted that the staff and the Planning Commission had approved the study. The letter served notice that Chapa-De would not take on the “substantial burden” of the EIR focused on traffic impacts.

This newest letter was in marked contrast to a letter sent to the city just a week prior, on Jan. 28. In that letter, Chapa-De requested that the city suspend the project application process while the new traffic study was prepared. Chapa-De agreed to use the city-selected trip generation rate rather than the comparison study previously used.

“I think the smart thing (for Chapa-De) to do would be to fulfill the agreement, to perform the focused environmental impact report and work to find solutions,” Enos said. “We get nowhere by abandoning the process; and we get nowhere by making charges that the motivation for this is anything but following the rules and regulations.”

“If you compare those two letters, it is most interesting,” said city administrator Gene Haroldsen. “We felt we had an agreement. That’s what we were going by.”

City Development Director Joe Heckel concurred, saying the agreement was done in the spirit of cooperation. “That is an option we want to keep open,” Heckel said, adding that city staff had been in touch with Chapa-De and its attorneys.

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