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Mission Bay School Title Talks Stall Project

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The site of the future Mission Bay School on Mission Bay South Block 14 is a quarter of an acre larger than indicated in the Mission Bay South Redevelopment Plan, which identifies “approximately” 2.2 acres for use as a public school. That .25-acre discrepancy is delaying transference of the 2.45-acre parcel from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), a process involving the City and County of San Francisco Real Estate Division. The three parties continue to negotiate, amid growing concern by community members that the longer it takes to reach a title transfer agreement, the more likely construction will be deferred, with cascading impacts on the school’s targeted fall 2025 opening date.  

“How we ended up having to do this…if you go back to the original agreements, UCSF would donate 2.2 acres to the school district,” explained Bruce Lanyon, UCSF assistant vice chancellor of real estate services. 

Lanyon represents UCSF in talks with SFUSD and the City. The additional .25-acre, referred to in negotiations as the “easement parcel,” lies within the property’s western stretch, along Owens Street. Lanyon noted that the redevelopment agreement allocated 2.2 acres “before there were roads or anything else there.” He said it’s unclear how Block 14 wound up being 2.45 acres, but UCSF is bound by the Board of Regents to reassign use of the extra land through an easement, rather than donate it as part of the seed parcel.

Block 14 is an irregularly configured tract. Two crescent-shaped cutouts define the northern boundary, where the Mission Bay Drive traffic circle rounds a bend and meets Mission Bay Boulevard South; after a short straightway, that road curves inward to reach the eastern boundary along Sixth Street. The southeast corner, at Sixth Street and Nelson Rising Lane, forms the property’s only perpendicular angle. The southwest corner, at Nelson Rising Lane and Owens Street, turns at an obtuse angle toward Sixteenth Street. Owens veers west from there to the traffic circle. The land presently serves as a parking lot for Mission Bay Shuttle buses and UCSF employees.

When The View last reported on the Mission Bay School in June, a UCSF spokesperson stated that conveying the parcel requires two transactions: assigning title as detailed in Mission Bay development agreements; and providing an easement to the balance of the site requested by SFUSD. 

In September, SFUSD staff informed the Board of Education’s Buildings, Grounds and Services (BGS) Committee that agreement on transfer terms still hadn’t been reached.

“We are at the point where if we cannot get something executed, at least a term sheet…it’s going to begin impacting the schedule and our ability to open on the timeline that we’ve given the community,” Dawn Kamalanathan, the District’s chief facilities officer, told the BGS committee. “We’ve been working with our UCSF partners on and off for over a year. It is not unusual for this to take a long time, especially with large bureaucracies, over the form of the agreement and its content. UCSF itself is also a large land-holding agency, with a complex bureaucracy they need to navigate. The pandemic has put as much pressure on them, particularly as a medical institution, as anyone else, but we need to make progress. We need the certainty of a term sheet. We are engaging in a real push to get this executed in the next month.”

SFUSD has agreed to use the land for educational purposes. The main discussion point now is indemnification. 

“We understand that we’re taking it as is,” Kamalanathan told BGS. She said the District requested that UCSF document the types of activities that’ve occurred on the property during its ownership. The redevelopment agreement under which UCSF obtained Block 14 dates to 1998.

“We’re working with the School District to see what they want us to remove from the site. We’re providing every scrap of paper on what we’ve done,” Lanyon told The View. He said this included “access to our records. We’re trying to be very open book about it.” UCSF will remove equipment related to the parking lot, which it installed.

Legal counsel for SFUSD and UCSF initiated title transfer negotiations in May 2018, according to a summary prepared by SFUSD. Based on that outline of events, it appears that discussion of terms didn’t begin in earnest until October 2019, when UCSF indicated that SFUSD isn’t entitled to the entire Block 14, only 2.2 of the 2.45 acres, and asked SFUSD to formally request the whole parcel. After SFUSD sent UCSF a letter asking for Block 14, UCSF stated that an official appeal needed to come from the City’s Real Estate Division. 

Negotiations halted while parties dealt with the public health emergency in the spring and resumed after District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney’s office facilitated a new round of meetings in the fall.  By then, SFUSD had communicated land transfer uncertainty to an informal neighborhood steering committee that’s worked with the District for years to coordinate community outreach on behalf of the project. Hearing of the stalled talks prompted Mission Bay resident Bruce Agid to write to Francesca Vega, UCSF vice chancellor of community and government relations in October, expressing disappointment with the lack of progress after more than two years. He implored Vega to “work with UCSF’s law department to resolve any current issues and agree with the San Francisco Real Estate Division to a term sheet…It’s our understanding that both parties have agreed to terms from a policy perspective, so we’re not sure of any current outstanding items requiring resolution.” 

The email was co-signed by members of the school steering committee, South Beach/Rincon/Mission Bay Neighborhood Association’s board of directors, and executive teams of the Potrero Boosters and Dogpatch neighborhood associations.

UCSF responded with a telephone call to Agid and Potrero Boosters president J.R. Eppler. “I’ve been in touch with all parties on a regular basis and I believe they are getting close to an agreement. We should know more by the end of the month,” Agid said in November, indicating that the UCSF Community Advisory Group, which he serves on, would include the topic on its December 2 virtual meeting agenda.

Asked how term sheet negotiations would impact construction start or the school’s opening date during a phone interview last month, Kristen Raymond, SFUSD’s senior project manager, said there’d been “no agreement, not even on the nonbinding letter of intent. The title transfer process is really a critical path to our schedule. I’m hoping we can come to a resolution on this. I am going to say that handling this as one property was the recommendation of the City and County of San Francisco Real Estate Division.” 

Josh Keene, a real estate project manager representing the City couldn’t be reached for comment. “Active negotiations are ongoing amongst UCSF, SFUSD and the City regarding the transfer of Block 14,” the City’s Real Estate Division replied by email. “Consistent with City practice, we are not able to comment further at this time.”

Asked whether he could provide insight on whether the school’s opening date would be affected by term sheet discussions, Lanyon suggested that The View request a construction schedule from SFUSD, which the District declined to provide.

“SFUSD and UCSF, in conjunction with CCSF, continue to work collaboratively,” Laura Dudnik, SFUSD public relations manager wrote in a mid-November email. “There is high level policy perspective agreement, and we continue to discuss the legal language that matches those agreements. We plan to exchange a few more redline versions over the next week and meet again as a team this week. We cannot make statements at this time on the project schedule until the path forward has clarity.”

Lanyon, a Potrero Hill resident before moving to his current home a short walk from Block 14, said he’s aware of community members’ frustration with how long the title transfer is taking. If the school’s opening is postponed, “I’ll have neighbors in my building asking me, why am I blocking the school,” he said. “I’m one of the neighbors that want to have a school there! UCSF also wants to have a school there. Nothing has changed on our side. UCSF is committed to transferring the property to the School District.” 

SFUSD staff presented site design schematics over YouTube last month showing a four-story main building rising approximately 80 feet, within zoning height limits, which’d accommodate 500 students in a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school on the first three floors. The top floor will house a District-wide Linked Learning Hub for high school students, and professional learning spaces for District teachers. A two-story support services wing on the southside will feature a multipurpose room and rooftop play space. The school will face Owens Street, where north and south driveways will access pickup and drop-off points in front of the building. Additional vehicle access will be located at the site’s rear on Sixth Street at Nelson Rising Lane, where there’s currently a driveway for UCSF’s parking lot.  

Close to a soccer field and SPARK Social SF food park activated by Parklab across Sixth Street to the east, and a large open space that’ll be developed for recreational activities across Owens Street to the west, “The schoolyard is nicely positioned to allow for easy pedestrian flow between those spaces,” Kamalanathan said. “The schoolyard would be sustainable and green, not just an asphalt jungle, but a place that’s inviting and complements the neighborhood’s existing open spaces and adds to that network.” The grounds will be landscaped, with a dry creek bed and bioretention area near the northeast cutout. 

Outdoor learning will be conducted in designated spots. The school will be more energy efficient building than older District facilities, with an advanced ventilation system. 

A philanthropic endowment from Alexandria Real Estate Equities was announced last fall. “The model — a partnership with industry — is a model that City agencies have used before. This will be the first time the San Francisco Unified School District will use it,” said Karissa Yee Findley, SFUSD’s director of school portfolio planning. 

In addition to providing funds, the partnership with Alexandria paves the way for internships with other Mission Bay companies through the Linked Learning Hub. “We thank Alexandria for helping us activate other stewardships between other building owners and tenants in Mission Bay. We’re looking forward to building a stewardship council,” Kamalanathan said. 

The donation amount is under discussion, but it’ll be “a substantial contribution,” said Terezia Nemeth, Alexandria’s executive vice president and regional market director. “This school will be focused on life sciences,” she said. 

Funding for laboratory facilities will be included to support the educational curriculum. The gift will pay for startup costs not covered by General Obligation bond monies, such as library books, as well as a maintenance account to support the schoolyard.

Alexandria’s San Francisco offices are located at 1700 Owens, a block from the school site. The owner and developer of multiple Mission Bay life science campuses, Alexandria wants municipal approval to build a new campus at 1450 Owens, across the street from the school, on Mission Bay’s last remaining undeveloped commercial property. SFUSD doesn’t have a role in evaluating the proposed 1450 Owens project.

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