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Neighborhood groups sue to halt massive UCSF Parnassus campus rebuild and housing project

Neighborhood groups sue to halt massive UCSF Parnassus campus rebuild and housing project
Image: UCSF
By Joe Kukura - Published on February 22, 2021.

At the beginning of the new year, UCSF and the City of San Francisco introduced their final touches on a giant UCSF Parnassus Heights hospital expansion with 1,260 units of housing built in that will cost $3 billion, and take an estimated 30 years to complete. The UC Board of Regents approved the project on January 21, giving the apparent green light to adding another two million square feet to an already four-million-square-foot campus. 

But a project that size will inevitably get community pushback in this town, which has now arrived in the form of a lawsuit. The SF Examiner reports that community groups have filed a lawsuit alleging that the rebuild skirted environmental impact review (EIR) assessments, and would add too much traffic while ruining air quality.

Former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos told the Examiner that “The aim of the lawsuits is not to stop this project, but to make it work for all of us.” He’s aligned himself with the three neighborhood groups fighting the project, called San Franciscans for Balanced and Livable Communities, the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition, and The Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium.

Courthouse News has obtained a copy of the lawsuit filing, which details a laundry list of 19 ways the groups say the University of California rammed through an inadequate EIR, and ignored 1976-era ceilings established on how large the campus could be.

“The Project guts the space ceiling,” plaintiffs claim in the filing. “Since housing was excluded from the calculation, the resulting development will be approximately 6 million gross square feet, nearly doubling the space ceiling promised by the Regents in the 1976 Resolution. Understandably, members of the public feel betrayed by the actions of UCSF, which will result in buildings that overwhelm the neighborhood and campus environs.”

“The hospital will add close to the square footage of two Transamerica buildings to an already overbuilt campus situated between two mature neighborhoods,” opposing group San Franciscans for Balanced and Livable Communities said in a statement. “Over four decades the university has repeatedly promised the community that it would take steps to decompress the Parnassus Campus.”

This being San Francisco, the 1,260 new units of housing are the big issue getting the most attention. Around 40% of those units are designated as affordable housing. But the whole project also essentially rebuilds the UCSF Parnassus Heights hospital, a 70-year-old facility that does not meet California seismic retrofit code. 

The lawsuit was filed in a California Superior Court in Alameda, not in San Francisco. According to the filing, the groups filed suit in Alameda County “because the Project’s environmental impacts will partially occur in Alameda County” and “because the Regents are situated in Alameda County.”