Just days ahead of a final, Jan. 21 UC Regents meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors asked that approval of a long-planned seismic upgrade and expansion of UCSF's Parnassus campus be delayed
The resolution requesting a delay, introduced by Sup. Dean Preston, was preceded by widespread, last-minute text and email blasts courtesy of a longtime political consultant and sourced from the San Francisco Department of Elections voter registry
UCSF plans to build a state-of-the-art new hospital and research facility alongside $20 million in transportation investment and 1,236 housing units, 40% of which will be affordable
In a statement on Tuesday, UCSF said that it disagrees with the Supervisors' request for another delay and plans to move ahead with the approval
Over the past two-plus years, UCSF has been refining a plan to build a two million square foot hospital and research institute on the Parnassus campus. Just ahead of a Jan. 21 meeting, when UC Regents are expected to formally green-light the project, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is asking for a last-minute delay.
The planned expansion, which is slated to begin construction in 2022, has two main components. One is the state of UCSF facilities, specifically Moffitt Hospital, which was built in the 1950s and does not meet current seismic safety standards. The current, aging facilities also limit the hospital’s patient capacity: The Chronicle reported that due to a limited number of beds, the facility turns away thousands of patients every year. The expansion would add 200 beds.
“The majority of my time is spent dealing with aged infrastructure, such as crumbling pipes, inadequate power distribution and a lack of infrastructure and equipment,” said Alan Ladwiniec, a facilities manager at UCSF and Sunset resident, at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting on Monday. “It’s not an option to keep repairing and replacing our aging infrastructure as the building will not meet seismic code in 2030. Please do not delay this critical project.”
The benefits package UCSF is voluntarily offering the city of San Francisco is, for some, another point of contention. The package includes $20 million in transportation improvements, and 1,236 units of housing for UCSF’s workforce, with nearly 40% of those units below market rate.
Monday’s hearing regarding the UCSF project was called by Supervisor Dean Preston, whose district adjoins the UCSF Parnassus Campus. Citing what he called a “very short window the public has had” to review the project, Preston proposed a two-month additional delay in sending the proposal to the UC Regents for a vote. Since 2018, the UCSF proposal has been the subject of 28 community meetings, numerous surveys and dozens of public briefings, the most recent of which was held on Jan. 6.
During Monday’s lengthy meeting, which was led by the three-person committee’s chair, Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Aaron Peskin and Preston repeatedly asked City and UCSF representatives if the Board of Supervisors would have any jurisdiction over the Memorandum of Understanding outlining the project, and whether the Board of Supervisors could enforce the MOU, which will be signed by representatives of UCSF and the City.
By definition, MOUs are not legally enforceable documents. These types of memorandums have been used in previous agreements with universities in the city, including when UCSF built out its Mission Bay campus.
The agreement would allow the City to retain the ability to sue or appeal future environmental impact reports, or EIRs, associated with the project. The city would also retain the authority to issue or refuse major encroachment permits.
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood said that UCSF has “stretched and stretched and stretched” to accommodate and work with the city, noting the project is already at the “extreme end” of the schedule to complete hospital construction by 2030. He added that if there are lawsuits filed under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, those will also further delay the timeline. If the project adheres to the current proposed timeline, the new state-of-the-art hospital would welcome its first patient by 2029.
Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting drew additional community interest after a group calling itself the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition sent emails and text messages to San Francisco voters on Saturday, opposing the campus expansion.
A public records request revealed that the group, which uses the Redding, Calif. mailing address of a registered agent, requested the voter file for “political purposes,” which was not disclosed in the email blast. There are no disclosures on the group’s website, which was registered with a hosting provider in October 2020, nor on fliers distributed in neighborhoods near UCSF.
The application for voter information was filed on behalf of James Stearns of Stearns Consulting. Stearns is a veteran political operative who has managed or consulted on campaigns for numerous city officials over the past 25 years, including past campaigns for Sup. Aaron Peskin, as well as Sup. Preston’s recent campaigns for District 5 supervisor.
The application was filed by Edward M. Leonard, who identified himself as a board member, vice president and secretary of the group. Neither Stearns nor Leonard could be reached for comment, and the SF Department of Elections did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on whether the text and email blasts were a permitted use of the voter file.
During the nearly eight-hour meeting on Monday, which included almost six hours of public comment, more than 120 people queued up to offer public comment on the resolution. The majority of commenters supported the MOU as is, thus rejecting the resolution to extend the timeline an additional two months.
Despite public opposition, on Tuesday the Board of Supervisors passed the resolution urging a delay 10-1, with only Sup. Catherine Stefani voting against the resolution.
“The bottom line, for me, is this project provides affordable housing now, a new hospital, and much needed jobs,” said Stefani. “We need each of these as soon as possible, and additional delays are not in the best interest of our city.”
In a statement following Tuesday’s vote, UCSF said that the hospital, and the community it serves, cannot afford any further delays.
“Every year, UCSF turns away up to 3,000 patients because of a lack of capacity. We must immediately begin the 10-year process of replacing our aging and outdated hospital to meet the state’s 2030 seismic deadline,” said UCSF in a statement. “We respectfully disagree with the need for a second delay and will seek approval from the UC Regents so we can continue working with our community to increase health care capacity and improve the daily experience of living in the neighborhood through millions of dollars in community investments.”