By Meghan Hall
The oldest and largest campus in the University of California San Francisco Health system is gearing up for growth and big changes in the coming years. UCSF’s Parnassus Heights campus, which totals 107 acres, could accommodate up to 2.05 million gross square feet of net new development, according to a preliminary presentation made by UCSF officials to the City of San Francisco at the beginning of June. The proposal revamps the previous Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan (CPHP) and builds upon the university’s original project by nearly 1.5 million square feet.
“It’s worth noting and stating the obvious fact that Parnassus Heights campus needs some investment and attention. It needs some love,” explained UCSF’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Real Estate Brian Newman at an informational briefing at the beginning of the month. “The campus has not received the level attention and investment that Mission Bay has received over the last 25 years…We’re turning our attention back to Parnassus to really address that and prepare for the next 100 years in the city of San Francisco.”
UCSF is one of 10 campuses in the U.C. system, but is the only one solely focused on health sciences, including teaching, research and a nationally ranking health system and hospital. Currently, UCSF is San Francisco’s second largest employer—only after the City of San Francisco itself—with 22,500 faculty and staff and a student population of 6,000 made up of graduate level, postdocs and clinical residents. In all, UCSF occupies about eight million square feet of space across 200 acres and currently provides 1,600 units of housing for students and staff.
UCSF has occupied the Parnassus Heights campus for 122 year. In addition, since 1976, UCSF has been subject to a growth ceiling put in place by the UC Regents, limiting its capacity and development. Neumann cited numerous challenges that the campus faces, including regulatory and seismic compliance, building crowding and a lack of modern facilities within which innovation can occur.
“Many of our spaces are functionally obsolete,” added Newman. “They do not provide the quality of spaces we need for the clinical care that we provide and the cutting-edge research that is done at Parnassus.”
Over the past two years, UCSF has been working on plans to revamp the Parnassus Heights campus in an effort to address the age and infrastructure of its buildings and their ability to adhere to modern, contemporary health care practices. In October of 2019, UCSF released the CPHP. Included in the 2.05 million square feet of development would be 750 housing units totaling about 915,000 square feet. The remaining 1.37 million square feet would be new clinical and research facilities and a new hospital.
The CPHP will be based on six primary ideas that will transform the campus into one that is more permeable and welcoming to the surrounding community, said Newman. Of those, the new plans will form complementary districts, connect Irving Street to the wider community, emphasize connections and cross-disciplinary spaces and designate Parnassus Ave. as a “main street” for an enhanced pedestrian experience and local access. The plan will also create a campus epicenter through the expansion of Saunders Court,and create a park-to-peak feeling in which the campus will be vertically integrated and better connected.
“We sit in this amazing location, between Mount Sutro and Golden Gate Park, and rather than being a barrier to those two wonderful urban jewels, we want to become more permeable and connect park-to-peak throughout the campus,” stated Newman. “…UCSF is more of a wall along Parnassus Avenue than it is connecting…”
The newest proposal by UCSF would require the UC Regents office to increase allocations in its long-range development plan (LRDP) from 3.55 million square feet to 5.05 square feet. Currently, none of the buildings have been formally designed—only envelops were presented to the Planning Commission. The buildings will be programmed and designed in later phases. While City Staff have not determined timing for the project beyond entitlements, a draft environmental impact report is expected this month, with a final EIR anticipated in November of 2020. At the end of the year, the U.C. Regents office is expected to issue a decision.