Reining in the UC

Pub date December 18, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The deal that’s slated to turn a former University of California campus into a private housing development in San Francisco is another demonstration of a long pattern of problems between the UC and local governments. Put simply, the university is a bad neighbor and a bad actor — and it’s time the State Legislature did something about it.

The history of local communities fighting the UC is legend in this state, dating back at least to the People’s Park battles in Berkeley in the 1960s, and today that city is fighting the school’s plan to build a new sports stadium. In San Francisco the UC has tried to run over local planning laws to build a garage at Hastings College of the Law, is angering neighbors with its expansion plans at Mission Bay — and is now in the spotlight at 55 Laguna Street, the site of an old UC Extension campus.

The university wants to let A.F. Evans Co. build 440 units of housing — much of it high-end, with an average rent of $4,000 per month — on the 5.8-acre site. Only 15 percent of the units would be available below market rate.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has been trying to increase the number of affordable units but has run into a giant obstacle: the UC is demanding $18 million for the land, and it won’t budge an inch. In fact, the university has told him it’s prepared to drop the whole deal and walk away (leaving the campus empty and crime-infested and angering its neighbors) if the city tries to get a penny of that lease money.

We recognize that, like every other state agency, the UC desperately needs cash — but we’re sick of university officials acting arrogant, refusing to deal in good faith, and threatening to use the power of a state agency to bypass local land-use laws. While San Francisco struggles to make the 55 Laguna project work, the State Legislature ought to find a way to force the UC to work with local governments — and remove its ability to circumvent local laws.