OP-ED University of California, San Francisco: Déjà Vu

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As the great, inimitable Yogi Berra once said, it’s dОjИ vu all over again. There are growing concerns among Dogpatch and Potrero Hill residents that the University of California, San Francisco is expanding outside Mission Bay.  This, along with the tenacious legal actions by UCSF backers to block the Warriors Arena from being developed on land that might otherwise be used by the university, reminds this former mayor why I said “no” to UCSF when it first asked to locate in Mission Bay in 1989.

Back then, after years of conflict with the Parnassus neighborhood over UCSF’s expansion into the Haight and Inner Sunset, the university recognized that they were boxed in; future growth would be an inch-by-inch struggle with residents. With that in mind, UCSF’s outstanding chancellor at the time, Julius Krevans, visited me in City Hall to seek a large chunk of land in Mission Bay. It was tempting.  UCSF is a magnificent presence in our City.  It’s a preeminent, world-recognized, medical research and treatment facility, as well as one of San Francisco’s biggest employers.

It’s in the DNA of every large institution to expand, no matter what it might say in an attempt to ease neighborhood concerns.  In my time, the City’s plans for Mission Bay were primarily aimed at creating affordable housing, retail, and open space.  While there might have been room to squeeze in a place for UCSF, my political instincts said it wouldn’t be long before there’d be a repeat of the Parnassus neighborhood battles, replete with ballot initiatives and lawsuits.

With that in mind, I offered Chancellor Krevans a chance at a “dream” location:  the Hunters Point Shipyard, which was just about to be turned over to the City by the U.S. Navy.  I would give it to them for next nothing.  Why?  To provide this premier multi-faceted medical facility the best opportunity they’d ever have to end the constant battle over expansion in a tight city. The empty shipyard would maximize the opportunity for growth for medical science and treatment as well as employment for our City in general and Hunters Point in particular.  UC is one of the best minority employers in San Francisco.

What a spectacular opportunity it offered the university:  approximately 500 uninhabited acres along the bay shore with the City’s best weather. They could expand to their institutional heart’s content without any hesitation. They could sell the Parnassus property, to be restored to residential development, and use the money to finance the new campus.

As part of the sales pitch to the chancellor, I personally took him in the mayor’s limo to review the huge property. He liked it a lot, and promised to take a hard look at the idea with his faculty advisors. A few weeks later, the answer came back:  thanks, but no thanks, we like Mission Bay.  Why, I asked.  The answer was vague and weak:  the Shipyard was too “remote.”

There was no changing anyone’s mind; theirs or mine.  UCSF waited for the next opportunity, which came in 1999. Half-hearted threats to relocate to San Leandro led to an initial outlay of 42 acres within Mission Bay.  Today, that’s grown to 60 acres and counting, as the hospital buys up property and buildings for future expansion.  And the neighborhoods are now demanding specific border limits to UCSF growth.  DОjИ vu!  Yogi sure knew what he was talking about.