$3 billion San Francisco hospital, research expansion argued in court; likely headed for appeal

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Parnassus Heights campus

Three neighborhood activist groups resisting the University of California, San Francisco’s, plans for a new hospital and research facility expansion at its Parnassus Heights campus have asked a state court judge to toss an environmental study for the project that they claim falls short of meeting California’s tough environmental review standards.

The University of California Board of Regents approved the plan to add roughly 2 million sq. ft. to its already 4 million-sq. ft. campus in San Francisco in early 2021, drawing lawsuits from groups concerned about its affect on nearby housing, transit, air quality, and neighborhood aesthetics, Courthouse News reports.

The planned $3 billion project would add 1,200 units of student and faculty housing and replace a 70 year-old hospital, which must be retrofitted or decommissioned for inpatient care by 2030 because it no longer meets California’s seismic code.

In a two-day hearing before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, lawyers for the three groups — The Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition, San Franciscans for Balanced and Livable Communities, and Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium — argued the university failed to consider other sites to meet its growing housing, clinical and research facility needs, CN reported.

“This is a situation where UC has multiple campuses around the city,” said public interest attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, who argued the Parnassus Heights location is “highly inappropriate” for the size of development the university is trying to achieve.

She said its failure to consider underused alternative sites renders the environmental impact report deficient under the California Environmental Quality Act, which was enacted in 1970 to ensure that environmental effects are considered before building and development projects are approved.

Speaking for the UC California Reagents, Charles Olson said while the university had previously agreed to cap the size of its Parnassus Heights campus in 1976, which led to the construction of a new hospital at Mission Bay in 2015, years of subsequent “intensive” study revealed a desperate need for more beds at Parnassus.

“Parnassus provides the primary adult care of the UC medical care system, it has the most advanced, sophisticated care,” Olson said. “The five medical schools are at Parnassus and the hospitals at Mission Bay are for children, women and cancer. They are different facilities.”

He said that contrary to Brandt-Hawley’s assertion, the regents had been looking at the issue for 20 years. “Parnassus is turning away more than 3,000 patient referrals every year because they don’t have enough beds. This year 4,000 are being turned away. So they looked at this, the need for more beds at Parnassus,” Olson said.

He said other fundamental research and educational objectives could not be met at another location.

The groups are also complaining about noise pollution from all the construction. Patrick Soluri, an attorney for the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition, said residents will be subjected to high levels of demolition and construction noise through 2050 when the final phase of the project is expected to be completed.

“The EIR acknowledges that there will be extremely high construction noise to neighbors for years. We’re talking about at least 20 years,” he said.

“You agree then that ‘UC’ stands for ‘under construction,’ Roesch joked.

“Clearly, and I’m sure my client does as well,” Soluri said. “So we’re talking about a long period of time. We typically see construction noise, emissions dismissed as short term; a few weeks or a few months. That’s not what is happening here.”

Roesch said that regardless of how he rules, the case is most assuredly headed to the court of appeal.

“I will draft an opinion and get it out, knowing full well that no matter what I decide the First District will be making perhaps the final word on it,” he said.

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