UCSF's Grand Vision Faces Hurdles

Editor-in-Chief
School of Dentistry

UCSF’s grand vision to renovate the Parnassus Heights campus into a premier hospital and academic institution has numerous hurdles to overcome, one of which is to mitigate conflicts with the community.

The Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan outlining the renovation projects over the next several decades consists of both near-term and long-term projects to expand and transform the campus to accommodate a new hospital, more research space, and additional housing units.

Near-term projects to be implemented in the next 10 years call for improvements of garage facades on Irving Street, a new hospital on the Langley Porter site, new research and academic building to replace UC Hall, and an increase in the number of units at Aldea Housing.

To gather input from the community about the renovation plans and its potential impacts, UCSF formed the Advisory Committee for the Future of UCSF Parnassus Heights comprised of neighbors, community leaders, merchants, and representatives of the city agencies, and has held monthly public meetings since August 2019.

Even after months of meetings, UCSF continues to face community backlash with unsatisfied neighbors citing concerns like increased traffic and congestion, pedestrian safety near campus, and housing crisis fueled by population growth.

But the problem brought up most consistently was the lack of communication and responsiveness to community comments in recent years.

“I think what would be more respectful to the community is to ask what can we [UCSF] put here? How much can we put here? How much do we need? and so forth. Instead, they’re being told, this is the plan,” said an advisory committee member.

Even with the expansion of student housing as part of the plan, neighbors still raised concerns about the impacts on transportation and housing costs.

“UCSF really needs to think about taking responsibility for its impacts on housing, but so far hasn’t done anything,” said Dennis Antenore, an Inner Sunset resident. ”They’ve supplied some housing for students and faculty, but they haven’t responded to the affordable housing needs in the city that they are certainly creating a part of the problem, not just Parnassus but also including Mission Bay.”

As a member of the UCSF Community Advisory Group since 1991, Antenore urged UCSF to play a bigger role in addressing the housing crisis that the expansion has contributed to and could exacerbate.

“The city is in a crisis over affordable housing, and the Board of Supervisors just ordered a big increase in fees for developers of office buildings specifically for affordable housing,” he said. “UCSF doesn’t pay any of those fees. It gets developed without paying any of those fees for transportation, housing, etc. It also doesn’t pay any property taxes but makes use of the facilities of the city that people pay for. That’s a big problem.”

Parnassus Heights, UCSF’s largest and oldest campus, is currently home to all four professional schools, #1 tertiary/quaternary adult hospital in the western U.S, and basic, translational, and clinical research programs.

However, with buildings built over 50 years ago, such as the Moffitt Hospital and Medical Sciences Building, many of UCSF facilities are outdated, undersized, and require significant renewal. Specifically, the Moffitt Hospital must be renovated by 2030 to comply with the state seismic code requirements.

Moreover, the Moffitt hospital operates full capacity almost all the time.

“In our emergency department, we run at or above capacity on most nights. We're so overwhelmed with patients here at UCSF,” said Mark Laret, president and CEO of UCSF Health, who spoke at the November community meeting. “We are faced with a real issue, which is what we’re trying to do today [in the hospital] can’t be done in the same envelope that we have, so we must get bigger.”

According to Laret, UCSF is seeing an increase in demand since its advanced technology is attracting an increasing number of patients with complicated illnesses such as brain tumor and cancer.

“A part of what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we have a place that accommodates the change in need of healthcare in our community,” Laret said.

However, some community members disagree.

“The plan just states as a fact that we’re 40% over the space ceiling,” said one local resident at the meeting. “It’s a little strange how you presented that it can only be that hospital, that comprehensive plan, and that’s what we need. We can also make it 30% smaller and still be a really good hospital, deliver really good care, and still be in the future.”

As the tension between the community and UCSF rises, Laret and other UCSF officials wanted to reassure community members that UCSF will listen.

“We’re trying to do the best thing for the community. We’re eager to have your input and will consider it,” Laret said. “We’ll do everything we possibly can to accommodate all of your suggestions, make this the thing that works for the community and the patients.”