Concerns remain over cancer center

The next steps of the campaign to build the Yale-New Haven Hospital cancer center have begun to take shape — fresh off the heels of the tenuous agreement reached last week with community, city and union leaders — but some concerns still remain about the community’s role as the cancer center project progresses.

While members of Community Organized for Responsible Development, which has led the drive to reach a community benefits agreement with the hospital, celebrated what they described as victories for workers and the community in the agreement, some said they are concerned about future dialogue with the hospital regarding the potential effects of the center on its surroundings, especially regarding parking and pollution caused by an increase in traffic in the area. But hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said Yale-New Haven maintained an open dialogue with the community in the months leading up to the agreement and plans to continue to do so. A community review group will be established before next fall, Petrini said.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr., along with hospital and union officials, announced March 22 that an agreement had been reached that is expected to allow construction on the center to begin in September. Under the terms of the deal, the hospital approved a community benefits agreement that includes a $1.2 million contribution toward housing and economic development in the neighborhood. Yale-New Haven will also make a voluntary payment to the city, and hospital employees will vote on the possibility of unionization in a National Labor Relations Board-monitored secret ballot.

But after receiving the final text of the agreement’s consent amendment to the medical zone, Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said he was not satisfied with some of the design concessions made in order to reach an agreement with Yale-New Haven. Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, also said the current version of the text does not adequately address design problems and traffic issues. She said CORD did not continue a dialogue on design, parking and pollution in recent agreements and that she hopes the issues will be discussed in the future.

“We’ve worked on many projects with [CORD] to encourage better planning, but in August, they really stopped talking to us,” she said. “They were willing to trade the viability and sustainability of the neighborhood.”

Robin Schafer, a postdoctoral student in radiology who works at Yale’s Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education, said she was thrilled with CORD’s success in reaching the agreement for unionization rights and neighborhood development, but she said she thinks parking and pollution issues need to be addressed as well.

“I understand that a huge thing happened in formulating the agreement, [but] by addressing this other issue I don’t think we are in any way endangering it,” she said. “Before you work, you have to breathe.”

CORD members hope to set a precedent with their involvement in the development of the center and will continue to be active in agitating in the community through the rest of the process, said Phoebe Rounds ’07, a CORD student member. She said last week’s agreement was an excellent beginning to open communication with the hospital. The hospital has not had a history of extensive relations with the community, Rounds said, but she said she thinks last week is the beginning of a new era in the Yale-New Haven’s relationship with its neighborhood.

“I think that people in New Haven are going to have to remain organized to see through the agreement and future agreements and conversations,” she said. “This is just sort of a sea change in terms of how the hospital does business.”

Mitch Streeter, an organizer for Unite Here local 226 in Las Vegas, said he traveled to New Haven to learn from CORD’s success in community organizing. He said CORD’s accomplishments represent one of the nation’s most successful examples of grassroots activism.

“CORD is the model for community organizing,” he said. “I’m excited to be here for the celebration of their fight.”

While Mattison said CORD played a smaller role in the agreement than Yale-New Haven and the Service Employees International Union, which is trying to unionize the hospital’s workers, he said the community benefits agreement agreed upon was nearly identical to the one proposed by CORD. In the wake of the agreement, organizations including CORD that are currently active with the development of the center will have to re-evaluate their positions, Mattison said.

“The black and white is much easier to deal with than the grays,” Mattison said. “Ultimately everybody’s concerns should be on the table, but you can’t give everyone a veto. CORD is going to have to figure out how to maintain itself as a legitimate community organization over time.”

The City Planning Commission will hold a hearing to discuss the map portion of the amendment to create the proposed medical zone on April 5. On April 6, the Aldermanic Committee of the Whole will meet to discuss the entire proposed zone.

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