Residents Have Mixed Feelings About Biosciences and Healthcare Developments
By Melissa Mutiara Pandika
Some Southside residents believe that overall the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)-Mission Bay has been a good neighbor, and has held to the development agreements it made with adjacent communities in 2008. “The community pushed UCSF to agree to the planning principles so they don’t just take over the neighborhoods,” explained Corinne Woods, a Mission Bay resident and Community Task Force member.
The principles direct UCSF to consult with the community before initiating projects with space implications on 17th Street and in Dogpatch, which have been designated as “Areas of Greatest Community Sensitivity.” “They’ve upheld [the planning principles],” said Woods. “I’ve heard there were a couple of potential projects they thought of doing in the area that they didn’t end up doing.” According to Dogpatch resident and Task Force member Joe Boss, in response to the community’s opposition to building a helipad at their future medical center, UCSF moved the landing pad from the south side to the north side of the center to lessen its impact on Potrero Hill.
But other community members feel that Mission Bay has been poorly integrated with Dopatch, Potrero Hill, and Showplace Square. “I find Mission Bay a gated community,” said Potrero Hill resident and Task Force member Dick Millet. He pointed-out that Mission Bay is enclosed by Mission Creek, Seventh Street and the Caltrain tracks, the future medical center, and the waterfront. “Why should I go to Mission Bay unless I belong to the UC hospital system?” said Millet. “There’s nothing there for me. There’s no commercial district. When you drive down Third Street, you don’t know what entrance is to what buildings…The only reason you go there is to go through there.”
According to Kepa Askenasy, co-founder of the Neighborhood Coalition to Save Potrero, the large, imposing, design of Mission Bay’s life sciences and high technology buildings clash with buildings in surrounding neighborhoods. “They have these big hulking structures,” said Askenasy. “They’re suburban industrial, not of the building type in San Francisco…There are short, narrow buildings [in the surrounding neighborhoods], but what they put in [Mission Bay] is a very generic, uninspired, bland set of buildings.” Woods agreed. “One of the issues we’ve had with UCSF in particular is that…their attractive buildings face toward the campus rather than toward the community,” she said.
Woods pointed-out that the buildings’ appearance is restricted by laboratory space requirements, as well as environmental and financial considerations. “Lab buildings in particular have to have a certain floor plate, which is big and bulky,” she explained. She added that seismic requirements mandate that the buildings be supported on piles, which need to be driven into bedrock that can reach depths of 250 feet. To compensate for the high costs of pile driving, a builder typically tries to maximize the floor plate. “Another problem…is that the water table is very high, so you can’t have basements, and a lot of your equipment has to be on the first floor, making the first floor, which is normally pedestrian friendly, much less friendly.” However, Woods said that the Task Force “still wants [UCSF] to make the ground floor more attractive and accessible.” Boss noted that the inaccessibility of life sciences buildings is a security measure. “They’re not meant to be public buildings,” he said. “The [scientists and graduate students] are pretty focused,” agreed Woods. “The people going to school there go to classes and leave, except for the ones that actually live on campus.”
UCSF and biotech company employees have gradually been taking up residence in Potrero Hill and Dogpatch. In an article that appeared in the April 2009 View, Edward Hatter, executive director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House (Nabe), who also briefly served on the Task Force, called disengaged new Hill residents “garage door people…They’re venturing out early in the morning. The garage door goes up, and then the garage door goes up later in the evening.” However, since then, “[the Nabe] has gotten a little success at pulling them out in the community,” he said, mentioning growing attendance at the Potrero Hill Festival, an annual Nabe fundraiser held in October. “We know it’s a work in progress. We’ve tried door knocking campaigns, but knocking on empty doors during the day can be frustrating, so we’re looking for new ways of pulling them out.” Hatter understands that pressure to pay exorbitant mortgages in the City may force life sciences and high tech employees to pull long hours. He looked forward to tapping into the influx of highly-educated residents to help improve educational opportunities for Potrero Hill youth, many of whom are low-income.
UCSF is also making efforts to reach out to the community. Their weekly farmers market gets “rave reviews” from Mission Bay, South Beach, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill residents, many of whom are Bakar Fitness Center members, said UCSF’s Barbara Bagot-López. UCSF offers subsidies for use of conference facilities by local nonprofit organizations, hosts graduation ceremonies and youth summits for Young Community Developers, a community-based organization that provides training and support opportunities for Bayview-Hunters Point residents, and allows the Potrero Boosters Association to hold their annual dinner at the Mission Bay campus. Last May, UCSF sponsored a Wellness Block Party, hosted by the Pennsylvania Street Gardens. If approved by the Board of Supervisors this summer, the proposed Fourth Street Public Plaza will provide open space on the new hospital site, where Fourth Street would otherwise run between Mariposa and 16th streets.
A lack of public transit connecting Mission Bay to its southern neighbors complicates integration of the communities. Mission Bay is served by the Third Street Light Rail (T-line), the N-line, and Caltrain. The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency plans to move the 22 Fillmore bus route off of 17th and 18th streets and onto 16th Street between Kansas and Third streets. Plans are also in place to reroute the 45 Union-Stockton to serve Mission Bay.
Although UCSF runs a free intercampus shuttle service that’s open to the public, including non-UCSF employees, the shuttles don’t make stops in Potrero Hill or Dogpatch. Better public transit could help address parking shortages in the area. Because Mission Bay was designed as a “transit first development,” it has limited on and off-street parking. Moreover, Third Street can’t have any street parking because of the light rail. With few public transit options and parking spaces, many Mission Bay employees are parking in residential areas in adjacent communities. “We had gone for years as a blessed community with no parking issues,” said Hatter. “Now we’re looking at restricted and reserved parking…MTA is putting in meters, most of that goes to the City coffer, and our public transit issue is still an issue.” “Muni hasn’t done what we hoped they would do for Mission Bay in terms of transit,” said Woods.
Improving transit through Mission Bay might also help bring more business to Potrero Hill and Dogpatch. According to Todd Rufo, of the San Francisco Office of Economic Development, a number of life sciences meetings have been held at The Ramp, Serpentine, and other nearby restaurants. But Keith Goldstein, Potrero-Dogpatch Merchants Association (PDMA) president, said that he hasn’t observed many people from Mission Bay patronizing Potrero Hill and Dogpatch businesses. However, he agreed that the life sciences and technology industries are bringing in a population willing to spend money. “In that respect, I think it’s beneficial to our neighborhood,” he said, adding that a transit line connecting Potrero Hill to Mission Bay could increase commercial traffic that might help businesses in both communities. He noted Mission Bay’s desertedness during evening hours, which caused the few businesses currently in the area to suffer.
Goldstein and Woods are concerned about tech companies like Zynga providing in-house cafeteria and other retail services to employees that keep them at work, rather than purchasing from local businesses. “My fear is that the biotech industry will have again a campus environment where people won’t come out…and we’ll have a deserted environment when people go home from work at night,” said Goldstein. “I think that’s a concern across the board.”
Others worry that the biotech and life sciences industries may offer few low skill, entry-level jobs for local residents. “We have to see with development, once it’s up in operation,” said Hatter. “How is access? What is [UCSF] doing with entry-level employment? Are they working with the workforce development program? What entry level opportunities are being made available for low income residents to get a leg up into employment?” Douglas Crawford, Ph.D., California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences’ associate director, pointed-out that Mission Bay’s research buildings “have dozens of glasswash, security, maintenance, all sorts of trades. It goes up the full spectrum.” Goldstein added that healthcare “hires from a different type of demographic, and there are probably more jobs for less trained people.”
Hatter is concerned about how many workers Mission Bay enterprises will hire from Southside San Francisco, where unemployment rates are the highest in the City, especially among African Americans. UC is exempt from local hiring rules. However, following a three-day strike by unemployed workers near the medical center construction site last year, UC officials announced voluntary local hiring targets. According to López, in 2012, the university is working to reach a voluntary goal of allocating 25 percent of total construction hours to San Franciscans. Construction-related jobs for the new medical center are expected to reach a peak of approximately 600 this fall.
Hatter said that part of the problem is that many vocational and trade education programs complete training courses years before projects begin. “Then those people have all kinds of problems in those years…losing licenses, being incarcerated,” said Hatter. “‘I got the training, I don’t have any work, I have to survive. In the local hiring arena, that is a constant, ‘Here, go through the training program,’ and then you wait.” “UCSF will do the outreach and the best they can, and so will Kaiser, and at the end of day when high schools eliminate programs like job training for trades, that’s the problem,” said Boss. “It has to do with our education system. You have to educate people before you put them into the work force.”
Some residents are concerned that life sciences and healthcare jobs will displace the area’s historical blue collar industries. “They’re certainly not encouraging blue collar jobs here,” said Askenasy. However, others view the shift as a citywide concern. “What used to be M-2 [heavy industrial] was rezoned throughout entire Eastern Neighborhoods to PDR,” said Woods. According to the San Francisco Planning Code, PDR, or Production, Distribution, and Repair, was intended to “encourage the introduction, intensification, and protection of a wide range of light and contemporary industrial activities…[prohibit] new housing, large office developments, large-scale retail, and the heaviest of industrial uses, such as incinerators.” “It’s the zoning that’s going to control what happens,” said Woods. For instance, some of the areas rezoned as part of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan don’t permit biosciences laboratories, and protect industrial activities.
Biotech companies’ – many of which are start-ups – desire to remain in Mission Bay to receive university support may also check the spread of biotech and healthcare throughout Southside. “The further away you are from the university, the less engaged you are in the community here,” said Crawford. “I think the Navy Shipyard at Hunters Point will grow up to be a competitive community, but it’s hard to imagine a [life sciences] corridor that extends continuously. The community is saying, ‘We really don’t want to see big pharma come and take over our neighborhood,’ but I don’t think many would really object if they knew them as the three 27-year-olds trying to cure cancer.”
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