SF Planning Commission

Plans OK’d for Major Expansion at 3150 California St.

By Thomas K. Pendergast

Plans for a new building at the 3150 California St. campus of San Francisco University High School are moving ahead, after the City’s Planning Commission unanimously approved them amid serious concerns from some neighborhood businesses.

The commission granted a Conditional Use Authorization in November after an agreement was worked out between the school, developers and local businesses who are worried that the construction noise will create a difficult environment for a nearby hotel and psychiatrists offices to do business.

The plan is to demolish the existing two-story school building, along with a surface parking lot, then construct a new three-story over basement, 40-foot tall and approximately 46,300 square-foot building, with the ultimate goal of increasing the total campus enrollment from 410 to 550 students – about a 35% increase, throughout the existing four SFUHS buildings in the Presidio Heights area.

The new building will contain a mix of classrooms and laboratories, a student center, athletic facilities, food service, faculty and administrative offices, a roof terrace at the third level and a rooftop photovoltaic array to be used by the high school. It will also include approximately 2,300 square feet of open space at the roof terrace, a 516 square-foot open patio and 50 bicycle parking spaces.

An artist’s drawing shows what is planned for the 3150 California St. site of the San Francisco University High School campus. Courtesy image.

“The new building at 3150 California St. will not only allow us to build new, modern classrooms, provide more space for our students and a new, regulation gymnasium, but it will provide a new ‘front door’ for the school,” said the Head of Schools Matt Levinson. “Our new front door will not only be on a major Muni corridor, the 1-California, but also will be a more accessible location for students from across the City and the region.”

During public comment before the commission, however, some neighbors said they were worried about the impact that the expansion might have on the neighborhood.

Rodrigo J. Howard said that, although he has two daughters who attended the high school, he still has misgivings about the expansion, as he owns an apartment in the neighborhood two blocks away from the proposed project.

“It’s a great school. They had a wonderful experience,” Howard said. “It’s a very large expansion of the student body; too large, in my view. I wonder about how the neighborhood can accommodate this large an expansion.

“So, while I’m very supportive of the school, I think it’s just too much, 140 more students, some additional number of faculty and staff; it’s a small neighborhood, small streets, it’s residential. This is a large increase in the number of people that will be in the neighborhood, passing through the neighborhood.”

Steve Mitchell told the commission that he and his wife own property on Sacramento Street “which, unfortunately, is right behind the proposed project.”

He said their building has seven psychotherapy offices, one of which is occupied by his wife. Of the other six, four from which they derive income, are facing California Street and are about 75 feet away from the demolition and construction site.

“Not surprisingly, those four tenants have told me that it will be impossible to conduct therapy sessions once the project gets underway,” Mitchell said. “They’ve told me that UHS wants to be a good neighbor but all I’ve received in return from the good neighbor thus far is a nasty letter from their attorney essentially telling me to go away.”

“My wife has practiced in our building on Sacramento since 1998. We oppose the Conditional Use Authorization not just because it’s going to put us out of business but because a 48,000 square-foot structure is wildly out of character with anything in the neighborhood.”

But others told the commission they think the time has come for the school to expand.

Alec Perkins said he is a neighbor, a parent of students at the school and the owner of a commercial building close to the site.

“For the majority of the last 30 years, I’ve lived within three blocks of the school and the proposed building site and so I’ve had a chance to see the impact this school has had on the community over a 30-year period,” Perkins said. “As a neighbor I’ve witnessed how incredibly considerate I think the school has been over the last many decades.

“I’ve found the students to be kind and respectful, staff to be kind and respectful and the community truly remarkable. It’s part of the reason we decided just a couple of years ago to send our kids there. The school seems to go out of its way to treat its neighbors well.

“It is intricately woven throughout a highly residential neighborhood. It always has been for decades. (The high school) is providing a critical service. They’re keeping diverse families in San Francisco who might otherwise look to move elsewhere.”

Joey Kennedy said he is a senior attending the high school.

“I’m a captain with the varsity basketball team and just two weeks ago we had 55 boys try out for basketball in the current small gym we have. We were pretty much shoulder to shoulder and doing whatever we could to do drills and evaluate the players,” Kennedy said. “Plans for the new building include a new gym that is much bigger, with space for two practice courts and bleachers that would fit all of our fans, instead of having kids sit on the ground as they currently do when our gym reaches its small capacity.

“I think this building is going to be such an incredible resource for future UHS students, academically, athletically and socially.”

Levinson said if they increase the enrollment to 550, they will probably hire an additional 21 teachers and four administrators to accommodate the increase.

Commissioner Sue Diamond said she is concerned with the impact that construction will have on the neighbors, like the nearby Laurel Inn hotel and its guests.

She was told that school officials will meet with the hotel officials at least once a year or more as needed when the project was operating to resolve any issues with students getting dropped off and picked up.

The construction contractor would also limit the hours of operations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and no construction at all on Sundays, with some exceptions for “time sensitive construction activities.”

The workers can “mobilize” to prepare as early as 7 a.m. but the heavy construction will not start until after 8 a.m.

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