Guest Column                                       Return to "News Stories about LHH and SFGH" Index
Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods Newsletter
August 2008

SFGH Plan Does Not Hold Up Under Scrutiny
by Eileen Bodken

Yes, San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) does save lives.  But, the question is, because they save lives should they be given a free ride, or should their project actually hold up under scrutiny?  The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors seem to think SFGH should be given a free ride, and have moved forward a plan that does not hold up under scrutiny.

The state mandate for seismic safety in hospitals (SB1953) was passed 14 years ago.  SB1953 specifies the process for creating seismic safety categories.  It also specifies the process for creating deadlines for plan submission, starting construction, and completing construction.  These are artificial deadlines that have been pushed back several times and could be pushed back again.

Unlike San Francisco, San Mateo County was proactive and completed its rebuild in 2002, which is just when SFGH started planning in earnest with its Blue Ribbon Committee.  In 2002 that the Blue Ribbon Committee recommended a comprehensive needs assessment for SFGH, but the Department of Public Health (DPH) did not actually commission the Lewin Group study until 2007.

The SFGH planning process appeared to look at a number of alternatives, such as retrofitting the existing hospital or co-locating with UCSF at Mission Bay.  But rebuilding at the Potrero Campus appears to have been the pre-determined outcome, even though pre-determined outcomes are prohibited by CEQA.  Locating at the Potrero Campus would maintain the status quo.  This option was chosen even though the Potrero Campus is already overbuilt and the rebuild project would bring more than 1,000 additional persons to the campus daily.

Once the decision to rebuild at the Potrero Campus was made, the SFGH planning process was still all over the map.  In 2005, their proposal was to tear down part of the existing hospital and rebuild it. In 2007, the proposal was to rebuild on the open space facing Potrero Avenue with a rectangular building.  In 2008, the rectangular building became a more costly oval building with a floor-to-ceiling glass façade. SFGH costs would be $3.1 million per hospital bed, compared with $2.0 million for the St Luke’s project.

The proposed project adds only 32 beds above the present amount, even though DPH’s own study conducted by the Lewin Group shows that there will a 24% (533 bed) shortage of hospital beds in San Francisco by 2030.  This study was issued in 2007 and SFGH ignored the results. In response to community groups inquiring about the study, SFGH has stated that they hope “others” will make up the difference.

The proposed project would be wedged between two historic structures that have not been seismically retrofitted.  The new hospital would be in the fall zone of these historic buildings. In an earthquake, the hospital would remain standing but might not be operational due to damage from these adjacent buildings.  SFGH has admitted that it has no funds currently to retrofit these buildings.

The site contains soil with naturally occurring asbestos, which poses challenges in construction.  The soil sampling for the EIR was done to a depth of only 11 feet even though the excavation for the foundation would need to go down 45 feet.

The proposed project would result in a permanent net loss of between 387 and 400 parking spaces, increased traffic congestion, and back-ups from the Potrero on-ramp onto Route 101.  Although SFGH says it intends to encourage bus ridership, the Transportation Effectiveness Project (TEP) will eliminate the 33-Potrero and the 27-Bryant lines and reduce the #9 route.  This will make it much more difficult to reach the hospital by public transportation.

The project cost of over $887 million is just the tip of the iceberg.  There would be an additional $639 million in interest costs.  SFGH has also stated that they would use Certificates of Participation to cover other project costs.  This would bring SF’s General Obligation Bond debt to the $2 billion mark and would increase property taxes by $59 per $100,000 of assessed value for the next 20 years.  The Bond also stipulates that tenants shall pay 50% of the proposed property tax increase.

To trace the roots of this failure of planning and fiscal responsibility, the best source is the Civil Grand Jury report of 2002.  The Civil Grand Jury expressed concerns about the planning process and outcome for the SFGH rebuild.  The response they received from DPH was that “DPH staff is sanguine about obtaining voter approval of a bond measure for the SFGH rebuilding project; they have indicated that they cannot envision possible voter rejection of what may be the largest bond measure yet presented to citizens of San Francisco.”

This demonstrates not only the Department’s arrogance, but also their contempt for the voters of San Francisco.

Each and every project should stand on its own merit.  Voters should hold SFGH’s feet to the fire and insist that they develop a cost-effective plan that meets the needs of San Franciscans both now and in the future.  Voters need only look at the past and current fiascos at the Laguna Honda Hospital rebuild to be reminded of what could happen at SFGH.

Vote NO on the current plan to rebuild SFGH and its bonds.

Eileen Bodken

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