The Yale–New Haven Hospital Cancer Center offers tremendous opportunity for this city. This $534 million construction project offers us a crucial chance to demonstrate that progressive, responsible development can maximize the benefit to everyone involved. That’s why this project is too important not to do correctly.
Building the cancer center the right way means taking its environmental impact seriously to ensure that the center does not contribute to environmental degradation in a city where one in four children have asthma. I’ve been glad to see progress on this issue as the hospital, in response to sustained pressure from the community, has agreed to brick-by-brick deconstruction rather than an environmentally irresponsible demolition.
But the hospital has not addressed the most serious environmental impact this project will have: the rise in emissions due to increased traffic in the Hill neighborhood. In order to address this problem, the hospital must develop a comprehensive parking plan that takes environmental needs and the needs of the neighborhood into consideration.
Building the cancer center right means insisting that the urgently needed health care it will provide will be accessible to residents of New Haven, including low-income families without health insurance. For a non-profit hospital to repossess the homes of patients too poor to afford their care is unconscionable. Here, too, community pressure has yielded some progress, as the hospital has removed many of the liens that landed it in The Wall Street Journal. But the hospital has yet to commit to a long-term plan to guarantee that the poor will have no reason to stay away from the hospital when they get sick.
Finally, the process of unionization at the hospital is not a question of zoning. I look forward to approving a responsible zone that takes into consideration the needs of the neighborhood, and I urge the hospital, as it creates 400 new jobs, to ensure that those jobs provide long-term financial security. This means ensuring that the men and women who provide health care at the hospital will be able to afford quality care for themselves and their families, and have the right to make their own decision about unionization through a secret ballot process free from the kind of intimidation for which the hospital has been cited by the National Labor Relations Board in the past.
These issues are serious, and they deserve serious discussion and suitable resolution. That’s why I’ve been so disappointed by the hospital leadership’s refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue and negotiation with its neighbors and with the Mayor’s Office about how to quickly and responsibly move this project forward. Instead of collaborating with city leaders to fashion a workable zoning plan, as all developers are expected to do, the hospital unilaterally wrote and submitted its own zone plan and has since refused to work towards one that better accommodates the needs of the community.
Since I joined the Board of Aldermen in August, I have been working with a majority on the board to push for constructive negotiation between the hospital and City Hall so that we can move towards an agreement we can all be proud of.
I am strengthened in urging negotiation by my record of standing up to unions, business, and the Mayor’s Office when necessary, and by my decision not to take any PAC money in this campaign — both of which distinguish me from my opponent. Instead of seriously engaging with the challenge of ensuring responsible development in New Haven, he has falsely accused me of derailing construction and of opposing a secret-ballot election process, despite his inability to find any evidence to that effect. Ward 1 voters deserve better from a candidate for office.
I remain hopeful that by the time the new board is sworn in this January, the hospital will have come to the table to negotiate in good faith and the board will have resoundingly approved a plan for a responsible cancer center development. But this won’t be the last time that each alderman on the board will face a choice between meeting our responsibility to oversee development and ensure the needs of the community are honored, and abdicating that responsibility.
I see developments like this one as opportunities for business and the surrounding community to grow stronger together. Nick Shalek, according to his Web site, sees community members voicing their needs as “excessive” and sees every proposal put forward by a business as an ultimatum the city must accept. I believe we can do better than that. That’s why I’m running for Ward 1 alderwoman, and it’s why I’m asking for your vote on Nov. 8.
Rebecca Livengood is a junior in Saybrook College. She is the Ward 1 alderwoman.