May 2008

Community Chimes in on University of California, San Francisco-Mission Bay Expansion

By Lisa Tehrani

The neighborhoods surrounding the new University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Mission Bay campus are beginning to see the spillover effects of being located next door to a major research university. UCSF is planning to build an 869,000-plus square foot hospital just south of its new Mission Bay campus on 16th Street. In addition, the University recently purchased a building at 654 Minnesota Street, and will likely open another facility in the old Copenhagen Furniture building on Third Street. The 289-bed hospital, expected to be completed by early 2014, will serve children, women and cancer patients.  Its plans include a helipad and parking structures.  Proposals for more research and health care facilities are likely to emerge as the campus and hospital develop.

The Mission Bay Community Task Force recently completed a year-long effort to identify community issues and develop planning principles to manage the impact of the University’s development on the Dogpatch, Potrero Hill and South-of-Market communities.  The Task Force is an advisory group that consists of representatives from a variety of neighborhood, civic, and ethnic groups, with community residents serving alongside San Francisco Planning Department and Port representatives.  Over the course of a year the 25-member Task Force held eight meetings and two community workshops, culminating with the March release of Project Summary Report and Planning Principles.

The Task Force process enabled community members to voice their concerns about UCSF’s off-campus development in the surrounding neighborhoods, according to Barbara Bagot-Lopez, UCSF’s Associate Director of Community Relations.  The University’s purchase of the Minnesota Street building, in the middle of Dogpatch – quickly followed by its decision to open a children’s mental health center services on Third Street – alarmed nearby residents, who were worried about how far the university was going to expand beyond its campus boundaries, and the impacts their facilities would have on the neighborhood. Task Force member Jim Meko, from the SOMA Leadership Council explained, “They were beginning to exercise a heavy hand and the process was long overdue.”

The Task Force initially developed a “Community Issues Summary,” which served as the basis for the Planning Principles.  A wide range of topics were considered, including building design, housing, public amenities and transportation.  A central land use issue Task Force members grappled with was whether the off-campus facilities would crowd-out other existing land uses in the adjacent neighborhoods.  However, a UCSF-sponsored economic study found that Mission Bay and the surrounding area would have sufficient capacity to accommodate both university-related activities and other land uses.

The Task Force was concerned about the University’s exemption from local land use and zoning policies and plans. The Planning Principles attempt to address this issue by stating that, “UCSF will endeavor to be consistent with applicable land use plans and mitigation approaches where consistent with U.C. policy, while respecting specific neighborhood plans and concerns.”  According to Task Force member Corrine Woods, “U.C. is not bound by zoning and they are essentially the 800-pound gorilla so that the fact that they heard us and that they agreed to abide by the neighborhood’s rules was enough.”

Task Force members also discussed the fact that the University, as a government agency, is exempt from property taxes. Community members called for UCSF to contribute to the development and maintenance of housing, amenities, transportation, infrastructure and open space.  The Planning Principles state that neighborhood impacts resulting from the University’s development will be addressed with “cushioning actions,” typically in the form of physical improvements to open space facilities or enhanced street lighting.   There were also concerns about the impact the University’s growth would have on the local housing market; the Planning Principles include a commitment to developing affordable housing for faculty, staff and students. They also reiterate the University’s current policy of not converting existing residential property to non-residential uses.

The Task Force’s work created the “Community Issues and Opportunities Map,” which shows that part of 17th Street in lower Potrero Hill and almost all of Dogpatch are designated as “Areas of Greatest Community Sensitivity.” Keith Goldstein, President of the Potrero Hill Association of Merchants and Businesses, explained that the Task Force was able to get the University to agree not to acquire property along 17th Street in an effort to keep that area free of medical offices and laboratories. The Association hopes that the street will become a neighborhood-serving commercial corridor.  

The map also identifies several blocks of SOMA between Harrison and Townsend streets as a “Potential R&D Development Area.”  Meko explained that the area is zoned for small businesses and light industry, and remains that way under the Eastern Neighborhoods Community Planning Process proposals. “Biotech could be permitted in that area under the least objectionable level, but there would not be a lot of room for its expansion.”  Housing will likely not be permitted in that area under proposed zoning policies.  

The map is part of the Planning Principles, which have been incorporated into the University’s Long Range Development Plan. Goldstein said that he was pleased with the Task Force process, but remarked, “My only fear is that when it gets to the next level, then the [University] Regents will not be able to follow through.” He added, “I hope the implementation lives up to the planning principles.”

According to Bagot-Lopez, the University is committed to enforcing the Planning Principles since the Chancellor signed off on the report.   Bagot-Lopez said that the Task Force resulted in “a lot of solid dialogue between the University and the community.  The process was important and the end result was extremely valuable.”

Some community members are supportive of additional UCSF development, especially families that can benefit from the hospital’s services.  According to De Haro Street resident Maria Wilson, “I am excited about the new hospital. I am a big fan of the UCSF Parnassus hospital, having had both my kids there. I think that UCSF offers excellent women’s and children’s health care, so I am pleased to see them expand in women’s and children’s health. They are also already known for world class cancer care, and groundbreaking cancer research, so another cancer hospital seems like a benefit to our community.”


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