UCSF Parking Garage Will Add 230 Spaces in Lower Pacific Heights

2420_Sutter.jpg2420, site of the future garage and right next door to 1701 Divisadero, which has 150 parking spaces for UCSF permit holders. Photos: Matthew Roth.

When the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) counted all the publicly available parking spaces in San Francisco, city planners argued one of the more significant benefits of such a comprehensive study would be to put to rest speculative arguments about whether or not there was "enough parking" in a given neighborhood. Without a baseline of parking supply, the argument ran, the concern of neighbors or advocates about too much or too little parking wouldn’t be based on good data.

So theoretically last night’s announcement by UCSF that it wants to build a 230-space garage on a vacant lot at 2420 Sutter Street near its Mt. Zion facility should have been a good test case of the hypothesis. Unfortunately, the result of the meeting wasn’t so simple.

The garage will be six stories above ground and two underground. The first five levels above ground will be for parking and the top level will house the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis (SFCP), the owners of the property. The architect, Bob Baum of Gould Evans Baum Thornley, Inc., presented numerous design specifications meant to hide the stacks of parked cars and announced they were seeking LEED Silver certification.

UCSF will lease the space from SFCP with the option to buy, an arrangement that takes advantage of UCSF’s state exemption to local planning codes. Planners acknowledged that if it were any other entity proposing the garage, it would have to get a conditional use exemption to add so much parking.

Planning staff clearly anticipated concerns over the proposal, as much of their presentation focused on the many ways UCSF encourages "alternative transportation," such as bicycle riding, shuttles, car-sharing, Zimride carpools, etc. They also focused at length on the aesthetics of the building design and the many ways they would try to hide the parked cars from street view.

Though Baum acknowledged it was a monumental task to get LEED certification for a large garage because of the nature of a garage, he believed he could get it. Baum also cautioned that the story not simply be a debate about parking, but said this was the only option the SFCP could devise that would keep them in operation at the site. Previously they had sought permits to build a retirement home, but the finances never penciled out.

1635_Divisadero.jpgThe Sutter Street entrance to the 1635 Divisadero parking garage, a facility that holds about as many as the proposed Sutter Street garage.

Jon Gledhill, Director of UCSF Transportation Planning, presented a vision for all the travel demand management solutions UCSF uses across its network, saying that over half of its faculty and staff don’t drive to work, but take transit, ride bicycles, and utilize shuttles, van pools, car sharing and carpooling. He was quite enthusiastic about the programs.

When the public, including Streetsblog, asked pointed questions about
traffic impacts of the garage and the apparent need for more parking in the neighborhood, Gledhill and others representing UCSF were less excited.

When asked how they determined the parking shortage, UCSF said they had surveyed current garage usage and made estimates based on expected growth at their facilities. They assumed the neighborhood would be short 280 spaces, so the garage wouldn’t even meet the expected demand.

When asked for the methodology to justify their
number, Lori Yamauchi, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Planning, said she would see how much of the information they wanted to share with the public before the environmental review phase (UCSF government affairs spokesperson Damon Lew said he would be forwarding this information to Streetsblog when it is available).

When asked how many publicly accessible spaces there were currently, especially given the more than 200 spaces across the street at 1635 Divisadero and numerous other garages nearby, UCSF didn’t say.

In the end, Yamauchi reminded the audience that they were voluntarily conducting public outreach meetings and they were making good faith efforts to include the community, though it was clear that the new structure would be going forward over the next year and a half. Their timeline suggested they would be finished and open for parking by early 2012.

One community resident, Howard Ash, told the audience that this was how it had to be done with UCSF, that they weren’t inflexible and they had gone through four significant design changes with their Osher Center construction nearby based on community feedback.

"Through community
involvement like this, I think the project we’re going to get is pretty
nice," said Ash. "This process is
working. There are precedents for success in the process."

Another neighbor living near Mt. Zion also tried to be optimistic about the process. Ned Lawton, the owner of Stretch the Imagination Preschool, said they were working with UCSF to increase open space and play space in the neighborhood. Lawton said he was trying to convince UCSF to lease two parking spaces in a lot they manage behind his school so they could turn the parking into play space.

Lawton said he was also concerned with the new traffic the garage would generate because many of his parents walked their kids to school. Regardless, he struck a conciliatory tone. "We want to work with these guys to make it right," Lawton said.

Lawton also said they needed USCF’s "help to preserve some outdoor space to allow our children
some open space. We’re trying to make sure it’s a

  • A true crime against humanity. Rob Anderson, fight to protect us!

  • turtles

    So, off-hand, this project violates the Planning Code in the following ways: no active use of street space, Trip Generation, and height requirements are not even *considered* by UCSF because they are state?

    …that’s supposed to be a ‘good faith effort’ by UCSF– how, exactly?

  • ZA

    The quality of UCSF’s vanpool service for patients and their visiting families using multiple medical facilities shouldn’t be undervalued, and could probably be expanded and IT-enabled.

  • Nick

    They should put some lipstick on it by allowing the whole ground floor to be bike parking and auto parking for the disabled. Maybe even some retail would work.

    LEED certitification is a joke if the intended use isn’t considered. What’s next? LEED smoker’s lounges? LEED toxic waste facilites?

  • greg

    Sorry UCSF, that’s where my new guerrilla garden is going.

  • LEED certification IS a joke. They have LEED certified buildings in LAS VEGAS, the most unsustainable place to build in the west. LEED is just a branding thing to get you to spend more money and feel good. Kinda like stuff labeled “Going Green” or whatever. It doesn’t require one to change their lifestyle and it is used to one-up the neighbors.

  • david vartanoff

    NO NEW PARKING LOTS! Note the Trolley Coach Wires in the pix on both Sutter and Divisadero. So is the parking for out of towners who can’t figure out transit?

  • Parking lots should be automatically disqualified for LEED.

  • Souper


    Yes, couldn’t this project be designed in such a way as it frees up some on-street parking spaces and incorporates other goodies so that non-drivers benefit too?

    It doesn’t seem that difficult to build a structure that gets cars off the street (surely a good thing) and turns some of that street space over to other uses.

    Many streets that have been pedestrianized in other cities have achieved that by building parking structures around it, e.g. 4th Street in Santa Monica.

  • Alexei

    Given that I count 91 spaces on the top floor of the parking structure across the street at 1635 Divisadero, I imagine that there are a lot more than 200 spots total. 450 or so, at a guess? Some of those are actually tandem double-spots, judging by the two vans, which are the only cars parked on that floor in the Google Maps image.

  • Souper, cars just don’t appear in a parking spot. They have to travel across city streets to get there. Introducing 200+ spots into a dense city isn’t going to help any traffic mitigation, it will only make it worse.

    And do you really think we’ll buy your line of crap that on street parking spaces will be turned over to other uses? Ha. Once the structure is built, you’ll be back here telling us that we can’t do away with on street parking because the residents need to park in front of their home.

  • Also, if Rob Anderson is truly worried about MUNI’s speed, he’d step in to stop this from being built. MUNI will run much slower on this route if 200 more cars are using this street.

  • On the other hand, a parking lot gets cars off the street quickly, since they don’t have to circle around looking for street parking. The garage under the Lucky Market at Fulton and Masonic is a good example. With 400 parking spaces under the store, you never see traffic jams at that intersection, whereas the Trader Joes at Masonic and Geary has inadequate parking, forcing cars to line up to get into the parking lot.

  • julia

    I’m no big fan of parking lots/structures/spaces, nor of driving in general, but I think it needs to be noted for the people reducing this to a “screw parking, take transit” issue, that the UCSF Mt. Zion facility is largely a comprehensive cancer center and a good number of the people arriving by car are very ill. Transit is clearly not going to be a workable option for everyone there.

  • Souper


    Good point. Plus many seeking specialized care are from the suburbs where there really is no alternative to driving.

    I am baffled as to why anyone would object to taking 400 vehicles off the streets. Or force terminally ill patients to wait for a number 38 bus.

  • CBrinkman

    Souper – a new parking garage doesn’t really mean that 400 cars will be “off the streets”. That many new parking spots will actually generate car trips that otherwise might not have been made. Those car trips will use surrounding streets and create impacts in the form of pollution, noise, and congestion. I do agree that a hospital needs some parking, and that parking should be avail for those who need it. But I don’t think we should work to facilitate car trips for everyone who wants to drive. Want versus need should be considered. And I do think it’s stinky that UCSF is simply exempt from planning rules. Talk about your 500lb gorilla.

  • Chris

    I wonder who’s paying for the garage. I have a personal interest in this because my primary care physician is at UCSF Mt Zion, but I don’t drive. Will my health insurance premiums be paying for the garage or will the people who actually use it pay for it? I certainly hope UCSF isn’t using scarce state funds to pay for the thing.

    I also wonder what UCSF does to encourage people to get to Mt Zion other than by car. For example, do its employees get free or below market rate parking? Do they get monthly or other kinds of parking passes that, once purchased, eliminate a financial disincentive to drive? Does it provide financial incentives not to drive, e.g., by providing transit subsidies or parking cash-out?

  • robo

    Bad Project! Besides the obvious reasons that this is a bad idea, add to it that it makes the sidewalk a hostile environment for those same cancer patients and other pedestrians.
    Right around the corner; Observe the garage kaiser garage egress on Geary. A constant flow of peds tangling with drivers entering and exiting the garage, many times stopping on the sidewalk before making their turns. It’s ugly.

  • Sprague

    “Urban renewal” projects transformed the Western Addition in the 1960s and 1970s and created Geary Blvd. as we know it today. This parking garage will only add to the car is king quality of this part of the city. UCSF could instead throw its weight and money behind Geary BRT. As it is now, too many hospital employees drive (solo) into the city adding noise and air pollution to our neighborhoods. This city is a less pleasant and healthy place as a result. Faster and more reliable transit and definitely no new garages are needed to begin to counter this situation.

  • CenturyRider

    I hear a lot of what you are saying back and forth about this proposed garage, but what irritates me about the bashers is that what seems to get lost in the argument is that a lot of the folks that will be using this garage will be seeking medical assistance!

    I ride my bike a lot. I love my bike. I’ve been riding for over 20 years. But what I can’t stand is the self-righteous sub-culture that exists among so many bikers these days. The same bikers that are pissed off about cars cutting them off and clogging up the streets are the same ones that are blowing through stop signs and stop lights as if they are immune to the traffic laws. Step out of your little bubble people and recognize that mass transit just isn’t an option for some people that are terminally ill or require specialized treatment.

  • JL

    Don’t worry, Julia, Souper, and CenturyRider, chemo makes patients all the more aerodynamic for bicycling!

  • Joseph E

    Many terminally ill patients are incapable of driving themselves, and will either be driven or dropped off by friends or family. Many of these trips could be one by transit or taxi instead.

    However, at most medical facilities the majority of the parking is for employees. Large hospitals and treatment centers tend to have multiple employees for every patient on a daily or hourly basis. At the hospitals I’ve worked at, the staff parking lots are 2 to 3 times the size of the visitor parking lot.

    Go ahead and make the parking visitors-only, and charge a high, market-based rate for employees to park, based on the cost of these garages (probably $50,000 per space, or at least $20 per day over 30 years) Suddenly there will be plenty of spaces for patients to use.

  • Jim Wells

    I live ’round here, and NOBODY uses the damned parking lots because they cost $$$. All the doctors, nurses, orderlies, patients – THEY ALL USE UP THE LOCAL PARKING and move they’re cars every 2 hours.

    If 7 stories of parking will free up some space for locals, I’m all for it!

  • 2LeslieYanez

    Excellent commentary , Apropos , you a a form , my business partner encountered a fillable form here http://goo.gl/HGYSwl


So Much Parking It Hurts

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Austin Contrarian counts the ways that too much parking can damage a downtown: Photo by Amber Rhea via Flickr. Parking raises the cost of new development, which means less of it. This may be no big deal for a city with a built-out downtown, but it is a big deal […]