A Path Forward for Parnassus

Dean Preston
7 min readJan 19, 2021


This past week, a plan to expand UCSF’s Parnassus campus was the subject of a six-hour committee hearing at the Board of Supervisors, as well as a resolution authored by my office. With good reason, it is a topic of tremendous importance to the Parnassus neighborhood and the city at large.

While opinions on the plan vary widely, I want to articulate what I believe is a path forward for Parnassus. First, the UC Regents must not move forward on approval of the plan at their meeting this week, and instead move consideration to their March 2021 meeting. The additional time will allow for what I see as a critical next step: a mediation, where UCSF, city leaders, organized labor, transit advocates, affordable housing experts and concerned neighbors can come together, listen to each other, and work out their differences. The time spent at this point in the process is crucial, and I believe will avoid unnecessary contention and potential delays.

The Parnassus Proposal

The Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan (“CPHP”) intends to add upwards of two million square feet of new office, medical, and research space at the UCSF Parnassus campus, bringing its total footprint to more five million square feet. It is, by any measure, a major expansion that will impact not only this campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, but the entire city.

Breaking Prior Agreement

Importantly, the plan involves UCSF expanding beyond a “space cap” that was the subject of a 1976 agreement, the product of negotiations with neighbors and the university. Known as the 1976 UC Regents Resolution, the agreement states that the “total structures within the campus boundaries shall not exceed 3.55 million gross square feet (not including space committed to residential use …) and that this limit shall be permanent.”

This agreement to a permanent space cap has been reaffirmed by UCSF for decades, including most recently in the 2014 Long Range Development Plan, and would be eliminated by UCSF’s current proposal. The abrogation of this longstanding and recently reaffirmed agreed upon space ceiling should not be taken lightly, especially where, as explained further below, UCSF is seeking community support based on a new MOU which requires ongoing good faith of the parties.

Different Rules for State Agency

A private development of this scale would require review and approval by city departments and the Board of Supervisors, but because UCSF is a state entity, our city’s normal processes that provide for public input and feedback do not apply to this plan.

Proposed Agreement with City Just Released

In the absence of formal requirements to offset the impacts of development, the Planning Department, acting on behalf of the city, has worked with UCSF to draft a proposed Memorandum of Understanding.

By its own terms, the MOU seeks to align the proposed expansion with the City’s priorities for housing, jobs, open space, and transportation. The intent is to ensure this expansion does no harm to the housing, transportation and related needs to the community, and it is our hope that it will actually provide benefits that will make it a net positive for the public.

On January 1, 2021, the City released the draft MOU to the public. A community meeting concerning the MOU was held on Wednesday, January 6th, a mere five days after the draft MOU was made available.

UC Regents About to Consider The Plan

UCSF intends to ask the California Regents this week, on January 21, to approve the Expansion Plan EIR, as well as an amendment to their 2014 Long Range Development Plan, effectively allowing them to expand dramatically beyond the existing ceiling, and their decades long commitment to permanently abiding by that space cap.

What We Gain with Additional Time

I strongly believe that a short postponement of hearing this matter at the Regent will give a window of opportunity for parties and stakeholders to come together around a project and MOU that will unite the community, instead of dividing the community, around this expansion plan. After UCSF refused our request to postpone, I authored a resolution urging the Regents to move consideration of this item to their March 2021 meeting. The resolution passed by a 10–1 vote at the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday.

I am particularly concerned that despite the extensive meetings with the neighborhood advisory group, many key stakeholders have not been at the table, including CNA and AFSCME whose members will staff the expanded facility, as well as affordable housing experts who could help match the housing commitments to projected demands.

With the additional time, the various stakeholders will have the opportunity to come together for a comprehensive mediation. This is imperative for ensuring greater public buy-in to the plan, and making necessary clarifications and amendments to the proposed MOU.

Here are what I see as the most important issues to be discussed in such a mediation:


According to the San Francisco City Attorney’s office, this MOU is not a legally enforceable document as drafted. That’s concerning, especially in this context in which the MOU is supposed to reassure the community as UCSF is seeking to abrogate its prior agreements on the space ceiling. UC can and should enter into an enforceable agreement with the City, as it has with San Francisco and other cities in other agreements.


According to the jobs/housing balance data compiled by our city, the proposed housing contribution, compared to the overall workforce growth, would satisfy only an estimated 28% of the increased housing demand. That’s a problem, and one that, unless mitigated, will be shouldered disproportionately by the surrounding neighborhoods.

Further, the proposed agreement does not obligate UCSF to provide a single unit of housing to a person earning under $80,000 per year. Not one. In fact, half the “UC Affordable Units” under the agreement could be rented to people earning $80,000 and up, and the other half to individuals earning $107K and up. The affordability levels should correspond to the jobs-housing fit, including a band of affordability specifically for those with lower incomes, like many of the service workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299.

In addition, UCSF needs to clarify how many of the units that will be built at the Parnassus campus will be affordable units. As it stands now, there’s no explicit requirement that a set number of the new units at Parnassus be affordable. Especially given the desirability of the Parnassus location, we need to make sure that the housing will not simply be for high earning doctors, faculty, and administration, but will also be affordable to cafeteria workers, custodial staff, physicians assistants, and nurses, among others. Significant affordable housing must be created at the Parnassus site.

Lastly, affordable housing commitments should last for the foreseeable life of the project, but the proposed MOU takes a different approach, with affordability expiring 30 years after project completion. This would be a problem in the long term, a lesson we have learned over and over again in San Francisco. We must plan for the future and that means permanent affordability.


The proposed MOU does not address ongoing impacts on the public transit system from the expansion. There should be some type of cost sharing agreement to address overcrowding or other service impacts that may result from the Parnassus expansion. Additional transit funding should be linked to service and infrastructure on the lines abutting the campus. UCSF will be exempt from taxes to fund transit, so it’s particularly important to have any commitments in the MOU. Instead, there is an arbitrary one time payment that is not linked to actual anticipated impacts.


We have consistently supported demands for a comprehensive labor agreement for not only the hospital, but the entire project. The breaking news is that a labor agreement between UCSF and the Building Trades was announced earlier today with respect to the hospital. We are pleased that the Board of Supervisors’ resolution helped motivate UCSF in these negotiations and we congratulate our friends in the Building Trades for their hard work and success in securing this agreement. It is exactly this kind of progress — uniting parties behind a deal that works for all — that shows the potential if the Regents postpones a decision on the expansion plan so that similar unifying agreements can be reached on housing, transportation, and enforcement.

Avoiding Unnecessary Delays

It would be counterproductive for the Regents to make any decision on this project this coming week, just weeks after the release of the draft MOU and days after release of the Final EIR, all in the midst of the worst surge to date in this pandemic. I fear that a decision by the Regents to reject the nearly unanimous request of the Board of Supervisors and the will of many stakeholders will all but ensure that the project ends up delayed by litigation and community opposition.

CPMC as a Model

Eight years ago, led by then Supervisor David Campos and respected mediator Lou Giraudo, a comprehensive mediation was held in connection with the development of CPMC hospital on Van Ness. While the resulting agreement may not have satisfied everyone, there is no question that a broad cross section of the community supported the resulting agreement and plan. We can do this right for Parnassus. Or UCSF can get it’s quick win at the Regents, followed by years of community resentment, opposition, litigation, and delay.

A Brief Postponement will go a Long Way for Public Buy-in at Parnassus

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors by a 10–1 vote has asked UC to take the relatively minor step of holding off two-months — in the middle of a global pandemic — to give the space for all parties to try to work out an agreement that enjoys broad support. The largest union at the site, AFSCME Local 3299, representing over 2,000 workers at UCSF Parnassus, has joined in this demand. It is disappointing that, despite admitting that this short Regents postponement would have no impact on the timeline for this project to be shovel ready, the Chancellor and UCSF have rejected our calls to move consideration until March. The Regents should exercise its oversight function with a postponement until March to allow final negotiations to proceed.