By Thomas K. Pendergast
An ambitious plan to dramatically expand the University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF) Parnassus campus over the next 30 years has been approved by the University of California’s Board of Regents despite community objections and a resolution passed by the SF Board of Supervisors asking the Board to delay making a decision.
According to a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Board of Regents and the SF Mayor’s Office, the Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan (CPHP) would require the Regents to amend its “space ceiling” for non-residential development that “has largely capped growth there since 1976” in order to include a new hospital at the Helen Diller Medical Center, additional research space, new campus housing, improved public spaces and other changes.
The 107-acre campus has been limited by the previous 1976 MOU with the City to a space ceiling of 3.55 million square feet of non-residential space. This agreement was amended in 2014 with a Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), however, the new CPHP would develop up to approximately 2.05 million additional square feet and anticipates a substantial increase in the campus daytime population.
The new MOU was agreed to by Mayor London Breed’s office and the UC Board of Regents last year. It would also add 762 new housing units by 2030, split between the Aldea area near the top of Mount Sutro and along a restored Fourth Avenue at the western side of the campus between Parnassus and Kirkham avenues. Additional housing is proposed after that for a total of 1,263 new units by 2050.
The remaining 1.37 million square feet would primarily consist of new clinical and research space, including the new hospital.
The new LRDP amendment would increase the estimated average daily population from approximately 18,500 in 2035 to about 25,300 in 2050. When compared to the existing average daily population at the campus of 17,400 people, it would be an overall increase of 7,900 people.
But critics in the local community oppose changes to the 1976 agreement and say the new CPHP will have a big impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. They feel the timing between the publication of the new plan and the Board’s decision did not allow enough time to give the plan a sufficient review.
At a Land Use and Transportation Committee of the SF Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 11, Dennis Antenore, a member of a community advisory group to UCSF since 1991, supported a resolution sponsored by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston asking the Board of Regents to put the decision off until their next meeting in March.
“I’ve literally spent thousands of hours of my time contributing to the planning processes at UCSF,” Anenore said. “I’ve always been proud of my involvement and happy that the university has been able and willing to listen to the input of a community advisory group over all these years. However, with this project they have abandoned that possibility. They have abandoned us, and they have left us in the lurch.
“They keep talking about how much they have engaged the public in this process. There’s not even been one meeting on the underlying project. … The only thing that has been presented to people are ‘community benefits,’ but there’s never been any underlying discussion of the overall project at all, not even one minute of it, despite repeated requests and repeated demands by members of the group,” he elaborated.
“The current Environmental Impact Report was issued today,” Antenore said. “It is well in excess of 5,000 pages. It is impossible to analyze and respond to it in the time between now and the Regents’ meeting. That’s another reason there should be a delay, because we need a real look at the impacts.”
Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations (a.k.a. “Choo Choo”) was also critical of the timing, mainly because of the housing component.
“There has not been a proper process to analyze specifically the housing affordability impacts of this new project, including analysis and public discussion of jobs-housing fit,” Marti said. “A starting point is to understand that new staff, faculty and students will create demand for new housing, for new households and that we should expect the project to provide for this demand with new units equal to the new households, with the appropriate affordability levels in household and unit sizes.
“New households’ needs can’t be mitigated with existing units serving current needs, such as existing student housing,” Marti said. “Otherwise, the impact remains the same as the sum total of households still creates demand for units to live in. (The financial income levels of the housing plan) does not seem to be connected in any way to project’s new staff and faculty’s actual wages because that analysis has not been done. This seems more like guesswork.”
Preston, the resolution’s sponsor, said he has “serious reservations” about the timeline.
“I have no illusion, given the very short window the public has had to consider this MOU, that we will be in a position to have this item move forward on the proposed timeline at the Regents next week, which is why the resolution asks for the Regents to move consideration to their March meeting,” Preston said. “Timelines aside, in the brief period since the MOU has been made public a number of issues have surfaced among the stakeholders, neighbors and advocates.
“The housing commitment appears inadequate to achieve the stated goals,” he said.
Referring to a recent analysis based on data compiled by the City, he said the proposed housing contribution, compared to the overall work force growth, would satisfy only an estimated 28% of the increased demand. The details of affordability, he claims, are set at levels “that will leave, unfortunately, much of the workforce out.”
“The terms of the MOU, by defining UC affordable units as both new and existing housing, make it unclear to me exactly how much of the affordable housing will be built by UCSF, as opposed to how much of the existing student housing – much of which, by UCSF’s own statements, is already rented (at) below market (rates) – will simply be converted in name, not in actual affordability, to satisfy many of the affordability commitments in the MOU.”
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood responded to the Committee’s request to delay the decision with a decisive “no” for an answer.
“We enthusiastically accepted the invitation, a full one year ago, from supervisors Preston, Yee and Mayor Breed to create an MOU with the City,” Hawgood said. “We have worked closely throughout this period with the mayor’s office, with significant input from supervisors Yee, Preston and more recently Melgar, the Planning Department and SFMTA to develop the MOU over the past year. The community investments memorialized in the MOU was developed through our comprehensive community engagement process that has spanned more than two years and has included 28 well-attended community meetings….
“This has been planned for over two years, and with all due respect, we have already accommodated one request for a two-month delay last year. We are unable to accommodate a second request,” he said. “Further delay will cause a cascading series of events that will result in needless complexity and cost.”
On Jan. 12, after the SF Board of Supervisors’ meeting when the resolution was passed by a 10-1 vote with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani voting no, the Regents promptly denied their request.