City officials have touted an agreement with UC San Francisco to provide a package of community benefits as part of its planned Parnassus Heights campus expansion.
But as city supervisors pointed out on Monday, that agreement isn’t binding.
Supervisors at the Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting Monday afternoon called for more time to negotiate stronger community benefit commitments from UCSF, seeking a delay before the project is approved by the University of California Board of Regents. They also sought a legally enforceable agreement, which would require review and approval from the Board of Supervisors.
“If UCSF doesn’t want to make it binding, I think that’s a real issue,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, who called the hearing. “If we’re operating in good faith, why wouldn’t we want to have an agreement so everyone can feel better?”
San Francisco and UCSF officials announced a voluntary, yet-to-be-finalized agreement earlier this month around community benefits to accompany the Inner Sunset campus expansion over 30 years. Most notably, the university committed to building 1,263 housing units and paying for $20 million in transit improvements, although the affordability of that housing remains a key concern.
Supervisors Preston and Myrna Melgar, who represent the area where the project will be built, sought more time to negotiate. Preston brought forward a resolution, which the full board will hear on Tuesday, that would urge a delay in the UC Regents vote to approve the campus expansion’s environmental impact report, which is currently scheduled for Jan. 21.
“UCSF is an important part of San Francisco. We want the hospital to succeed, bring good jobs, and invest in community benefits for our neighborhoods and our city as a whole,” said Melgar. “However, there are issues that remain unresolved, including clarifying language on the commitment on affordable housing and a signed project labor agreement. I am supportive of us having more time so we can get this done right.”
However, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood has rebuffed calls for further negotiations or delays. He indicated that significantly amending the MOU at this stage would be less convincing to UC Regents and, therefore to the donors needed to bring the expansion to fruition. He said the MOU process has been conducted in good faith over the past year.
“I consider this MOU to be binding,” said Hawgood. “Further delay will result in a cascading series of events. We need donor support and anything to indicate we are going to delay on this project is a significant concern. The regents will want to know that we have a good relationship with The City.”
UCSF has committed to making 40 percent of the new and existing units affordable, but the lack of specificity around units for low-income service workers concerns Supervisors Melgar and Preston as well as some Planning Commissioners. The MOU was updated this week with slightly more specific language around household income levels, but may end up shutting out very low-income households as currently written, Preston warned.
The project also anticipates creating 4,000 permanent jobs, including 1,000 construction jobs, and 30 percent of those are promised to be local hires.
The supervisors’ options to shape the project are rather limited. As a state entity, UCSF is exempt from local land laws and voluntarily negotiated a memorandum of understanding with The City, largely through the Mayor’s Office. As written, the agreement is not legally binding and therefore supervisors do not have the authority to approve or reject it. The City can withhold certain permits if commitments are not significantly adhered to, but that would go through city departments, the City Attorney’s Office said.
“We still have the ability to withhold certain key requirements that UCSF will need,” said Jeff Buckley, Mayor London Breed’s senior housing advisor. “But we do not believe that will be necessary. That’s why we chose the form of a memorandum of understanding.”
UC Regents were originally supposed to vote on the EIR in November. The hospital design is still underway and will go through a separate EIR process.
(Disclosure: Janet Reilly, a co-owner of The San Francisco Examiner under Clint Reilly Communications, is a UC Regent.)
This article was updated with additional comments from supervisors.