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SANTA ROSA, UPDATED 4:20 p.m. – A lawsuit has been filed by opponents of Sutter Health’s planned new hospital next to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts – less than a week after the Sacramento-based health organization celebrated a ground breaking ceremony for the $284 million project meant to replace the seismically unsafe Chanate facility.

The North Sonoma County Healthcare District, which oversees operations of Healdsburg District Hospital, authorized the suit to block development of Sutter’s proposed 82-bed hospital. Joining the healthcare district is Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol, the California Nurses Association and the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, an anti-sprawl organization in the Bay Area.

The suit, filed Sept. 22 in Sonoma County Superior Court, claims the environmental impact report approved by Sonoma County and the Board of Supervisors is “flawed,” does not conform with the county’s General Plan and is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA. To read the full complaint filed in Sonoma County Superior Court, click here.

Sonoma County and the Board of Supervisors are listed as defendants to the case. Sutter Health, Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, Sutter Medical Foundation, Sutter West Bay Hospitals and the Sutter West Bay Medical Foundation are listed as parties of interest.

“The Board of Supervisors made a carefully considered decision in approving the new Sutter hospital, and they did so after preparing a very thorough environmental impact report,” Sutter said in a statement.  “This is a critical project for Sonoma County health care, and for jobs and the local economy,” the statement continued. “It is unfortunate that taxpayers and Sutter have to bear the cost of this lawsuit, but we are confident that the county’s thorough environmental impact report and accompanying studies will demonstrate that the lawsuit lacks merit.”

Sutter spokeswoman Lisa Amador added that the board and the county Planning Commission voted unanimously to certify the EIR.

Throughout the approval process for Sutter’s plan, critics said the location was ill-suited for a new hospital because it would have a negative impact on the surrounding area, particularly with respect to traffic, air quality, noise and the lack of public transportation in the area.

“By approving the project on the basis of this flawed and fragmented environmental analysis,” county officials and the supervisors “made a decision without considering all of the information that they and the public needed to properly weigh the consequences of the county’s actions,” the suit alleges.

But Sutter has said repeatedly that it would assist the county in expanding the public transportation and in widening Mark West Springs Road to accommodate for an increase in traffic. It also says the construction of the hospital, which will include 80,000 square feet of medical office space, would be a significant boon to the economy.

More than 1,500 jobs would be “created and maintained during the planning, design and construction of the new hospital,” Sutter said in August, announcing that nearly a dozen of local companies would be selected to work on the project. About $5.5 million would be paid in mitigation fees to the county upon completion of construction, which is expected to take four years, Sutter said.

Sutter also faces a looming deadline of Dec. 31 of this year to reach certain construction milestones that would grant it an extension in meeting state-mandated seismic upgrades. The Chanate facility, originally built in 1937, is inadequate in seismic requirements, Sutter has said.

It remains unclear if the suit will affect the December deadline and whether or not construction will begin on time.

“The county and Sutter will review the complaint and prepare for the next step in the legal process, which would be to respond to the complaint,” Sonoma County spokesman Jim Leddy said. “No date has been set for the first court review of the complaint and response.”

Judge Robert S. Boyd has been assigned to the case.

Another element of criticism is the impact that the hospital will have on other health care providers, particularly in Northern Sonoma County.

The suit alleges the EIR “fails to analyze the substantial possibility that the project will result in the downsizing or closure of public ‘district’ hospitals and other medical facilities in the region and contains no analysis of the resulting environmental and health impacts.”

The Sierra Club was one critic of the plan, but so far it has no plans of joining the suit.

“I can’t say right now just what step the Sierra Club will take next to make this project more consistent with the climate protection goals of the county and its residents,” said Steve Birdlebough of the Sonoma County Sierra Club chapter.

Sonoma County Health and Human Services also approved of the hospital plan under the 1996 Health Care Access Agreement, which stipulates that Sutter must provide a certain level of care for the uninsured and indigent populations after it took over operations at the former Community Hospital on Chanate Drive.