By Rachel Swan
SF Gate – June 3, 2015

Plans for a major expansion of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland got a green light from the City Council Tuesday, and the hospital can now add 20 beds, private intensive care rooms, and a slew of seismic upgrades to better serve families in Oakland.

Such changes will dramatically improve the facility, said Marsha Luster, the hospital’s manager of social services. Speaking at a May 19 meeting when council members considered the plan for preliminary approval, Luster pointed out that the hospital doesn’t have enough beds for parents to stay overnight with their kids.

“I have observed situations where a child’s medical status changes rapidly, and other parents in the critical care areas are impacted due to our current structure limitations,” she said.

The proposed renovations took years to conceive, and evolved over two years of community meetings to discuss environmental impacts and rally support from the surrounding neighborhood.

Those meetings culminated with an emotional appeal May 19, when the hospital’s trauma director, Christopher Newton, waving his pager in the air, said: “I never leave this, wherever I go,” as he pointed to the device. “Oddly enough as I got up to speak, there’s another 6-year-old coming into the hospital that’s been shot.”

A woman who came to endorse the plan said the doctors at Children’s Hospital had saved her son after an accident that left him with a fractured skull. The only way to repay them, she said, was to become an emergency room volunteer.

Wesley Nelson, a North Oakland resident who spoke at the meeting praised the medical institution, but expressed concerns about how the renovation project would affect the neighborhood, particularly with hospital staff commandeering nearby parking spaces.

Councilman Dan Kalb addressed those concerns with a series of amendments to reserve parking spaces for neighborhood residents, and zoning restrictions to discourage the hospital from buying up property on nearby blocks. He also asked for Children’s Hospital to make improvements to a local city park.

Kalb helped assuage residents’ fears that the renovation effort would produce giant buildings to dwarf the nearby bungalows, or force the neighbors to make room for a new helicopter landing pad.

“This is where we live, we will feel the effects for many years to come,” Nelson said.

The council voted to move the plans forward with Kalb’s amendments at the May 19 meeting, and gave final approval Tuesday. Construction will begin this summer.