San Francisco

In the Middle of a Pandemic, San Francisco NIMBYs Sue To Stop a New Hospital From Being Built

The lawsuit argues a 2,100-page environmental impact report for a major expansion of the University of California, San Francisco's Parnassus campus wasn't thorough enough.

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Neighborhood activists in San Francisco are suing to stop the University of California, San Francisco's (UCSF) plans for an ambitious expansion of the medical center at its Parnassus Heights campus, which would include a new hospital and housing for students and staff.

These neighborhood groups argue in three separate lawsuits that the University California Board of Regents, the governing body of the UC system, failed to properly consider the serious impacts UCSF's planned expansion would have on housing demand, traffic, air quality, and aesthetics in the surrounding area when it approved those plans last month.

One of these lawsuits—filed Friday in the California Superior Court of Alameda County by the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition and Haight-Asbury resident Calvin Welch—argues that a 2,100-page environmental impact report on UCSF's Parnassus expansion should be thrown out, and another analysis be performed that more closely examines the project's impacts.

"Although the [UCSF] project will cast shadows on Golden Gate Park and the Grattan Playground, result in more than 6,000 bird deaths a year, increase housing demand, and make traffic worse, the [environmental impact report] improperly dismissed all of these impacts as 'less than significant,'" fumes the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition on its website.

Two other groups, San Franciscans for Balanced and Livable Communities and the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, have filed similar lawsuits, reports the San Fransisco Chronicle. 

The Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition lawsuit also argues that UCSF's expansion plans violate a Board of Regents resolution from 1976 that capped development of the Parnassus campus at 3.5 million gross square feet. UCSF's planned expansion would bring the campus's building space up to around 6 million square feet by 2050.

That 1976 resolution was passed under remarkably similar circumstances. At the time, UCSF was moving forward with a plan to modernize a hospital building on its campus and construct a new dental school.

Those plans also raised the ire of neighborhood activists, including Welch, who filed lawsuits to stop these projects and lobbied the state legislature to cut off funding to them, according to his complaint.

In an effort to safeguard its funding, the Board of Regents approved a compromise resolution that placed a number of limits on the campus's growth, including the aforementioned cap building space. In return, activists agreed to drop their lawsuits and lobbying efforts.

According to the Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition's complaint, that cap was understood at the time to be permanent.

But 50 years on, UCSF says an expansion of its campus is necessary in light of its growing student and faculty population, the outdated nature of its hospital facilities, and the increased demand for hospital beds.

Each year, UCSF turns away about 3,000 patients for lack of bed capacity, the university said in a press release. One of its existing hospital buildings, the 70-year-old Moffitt Hospital, also doesn't meet state seismic standards and will have to be decommissioned for inpatient use by 2030, it said.

Nearly half of the additional building space UCSF is looking to add would be taken up by a new hospital building, which would bring with it an additional 200 hospital beds. New on-campus housing would add another 673,000 gross square feet of space and about 762 new units, according to the environmental impact report for the project.

Planning for this major expansion was kickstarted in 2018 after UCSF received a $500 million private donation from the Helen Diller Foundation to help construct a new hospital.

In July 2020, UCSF released a final environmental impact report on the planned expansion, which was then approved by the UC Board of Regents on January 20.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires government agencies like the Board of Regents to perform these kinds of environmental reviews when considering approval of a project.

The CEQA is a citizen-enforced statute, meaning that third parties have the power to sue government agencies if they believe they've abused their discretion by approving a project without doing a thorough enough analysis of its significant environmental impacts.

The law, passed in 1970, was originally intended to apply to major state infrastructure projects like a new highway or dam. Subsequent amendments and judicial interpretations have vastly expanded the law's scope to include even largely pro forma government approvals of privately sponsored projects like a new apartment building or a new burger joint.

The Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition's lawsuit, which is challenging a state agency's approval of a public university's expansion plan, is seemingly closer to the original purpose of the law.

Their petition is nonetheless trying to stop a hospital from modernizing and expanding its facilities on its own property over some very typical NIMBY ("not in my backyard") concerns, including parking and population growth.

Given the twin housing and health crises faced by the city, maybe it'd be better to let this project proceed without litigation.

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  1. “result in more than 6,000 bird deaths a year”

    How do you even come up with a number like that?

    1. 42 — the answer to life, the universe, and everything
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    2. How do shadows even kill birds in the first place?

      Some birds killed because trees their chicks are in get cut down for the expansion. But that’s it. As long as they’re nto paving over major expanses of habitat, there’s no impact here that just being a city hasn’t already done.

      Shadows don’t kill birds.

      1. I think they only meant that any building will kill birds which fly into it, shadows or not.

    3. How do you even come up with a number like that?

      Science!, you Racist!

      1. I thought science was racist now…

    4. I can tell you it stinks; it was just pulled out of someone’s ass.

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    5. Okay Parnassus Neighborhood Coalition, lets take that number as a given and assume also that this is a bad thing – now do windmills.

    6. I suppose that you just take the actual number and multiply by 3000.

  2. failed to properly consider the serious impacts UCSF’s planned expansion would have on housing demand, traffic, air quality, and aesthetics in the surrounding area

    Wouldn’t it be grand if all the objections also had to create environmental impact statements covering all those same areas?

  3. HEALTHCARE IS

  4. HEALTHCARE IS A RIGHT

    1. Your rights end where bird playgrounds begin.

  5. Okay. But the people in the neighborhoods protesting the new hospital buildings can’t use any facilities of the hospital or school.

  6. In normal times, I go to Parnassus frequently for work. The hematologists with whom I speak have noted to me that they sometimes cannot accept acute leukemia patients because of lack of beds. Their lab facilities are also over-burdened. For some reason, they cannot move the campus to a more favorable location such as Mission Bay (something in the charter maybe?).

    That said, getting to and from the campus is a horrible experience–and parking is expensive and limited. That alone is a terrible burden on patients and compromises the mission of the hospital.

    1. Dunno about the charter, but Mission Bay is pretty well built-out already. They’d likely have to take the park in front of the existing hospital, and you know how the NIMBYs would respond to that.

  7. Good thing bird deaths don’t apply to wind farms

  8. Healthcare should be banned everywhere in favor of the environment. The sooner each of us dies, the smaller our carbon footprint. If we could manage to get rid of the human race entirely, that would be best but the least we can do is cut out medical care, pharmaceutical supply, etc., and hope that people die sooner.

    Covid-19 was a chance of a lifetime to save the planet and we blew it. Instead of lockdowns, we should have forced large gatherings to help spread the disease. Rather than funding vaccine development, we should have outlawed it.

    1. It also would have disproportionately killed older people, saving the looming failure of the Ponzi scheme entitlement system. Instead we get to keep forcing each generation into that form of indentured servitude.

  9. “”Although the [UCSF] project will cast shadows on Golden Gate Park and the Grattan Playground, result in more than 6,000 bird deaths a year.”

    Says the man who undoubtedly endorses wind turbines and solar panels.

  10. The NIMBYs can only tyrannize California with the backing of the courts. Why doesn’t the judicial system put its foot down and rule for common sense?

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