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Beautiful view of business center in downtown San Francisco at sunset. (Photo: f11photo/Shutterstock)

University of California Announces No New Campus in San Francisco

UC cites budget issues, lost state funding as reasons for not continuing proposed project

By Evan Symon, June 24, 2024 5:16 pm

The University of California (UC) declined to build a new campus in Downtown San Francisco after nearly a year looking into it, ending one of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s best chances in revitalizing the downtown area.

Since the beginning of the decade, San Francisco’s downtown has been in a downward spiral. Work from home levels have remained high in the city since the COVID-19 pandemic. Tech companies have been eliminating tens of thousands of jobs, as well as hundreds of thousands across the Bay Area, in the past several yearsMore and more retail businesses have been leaving the city. Office vacancy rates, which were near 0% in 2019, are at around 36% right now. Crime is high and a major concern. The budget deficit nears $800 million for the city.

Seeking some sort of revitalization as both residential and commercial plans were not working, Breed decided to bank on education instead and wrote a letter last year to consider a new UC downtown campus. In January, it was revealed that UC was actually considering the idea. Needing a downtown revitalization victory, Mayor Breed immediately began developing it.

By March her plan was set: 30 for 30. Using the proposed UC campus as well as attracting more tech companies, specifically AI companies, to the downtown area, the 30 for 30 plan aimed for getting 30,000 new residents and students downtown by 2030. In April, she even expanded on it, saying she was also looking at Chinese partners as well.

“Downtown has always been the economic engine that funds the services we care about, and its post-pandemic difficulties are the driving reason for the deficit we now face,” said Breed in March. “We are recruiting new businesses and continuing to see new leases signed led by AI, which alone is projected to add 12 million square feet of office space by 2030. And it won’t be AI alone. This is one of the most beautiful urban environments in the world, with an unrivaled pool of talent, of builders and dreamers, and the largest collection of deployable capital in the country.”

“We are working with thought leaders, business folks, and educational institutions to make Downtown a hub, a Center of Excellence. We’ve invited the University of California and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to join us, and some are coming as early as this summer. We’re working with other universities, and our existing anchors, UC Law, USF and San Francisco State University. Imagine that!  Students, professors, researchers, and employees walking from dorm room to classroom, from startup to conference space, from the Ferry Building to City Hall. Cross-pollinating ideas, cross-pollinating companies. We will be leading the way in AI, climate tech and biotech and things we haven’t even yet imagined. Housing, students, innovation – that’s our future!”

“I’m tired of the people who talk about San Francisco as if our troubles are inevitable and our successes a fluke. Our successes are not a fluke, and they’re not fleeting. They’re the product of years of hard work, collaboration, investment, creativity, and perseverance. They’re the output of thousands of people, in government and out, who believe in service not cynicism.”

However, what Breed did not expect was that the UC system would be taking a budget hit. With California’s state budget being slashed because of a massive deficit in the tens of billions of dollars and UC losing over $100 million in state funding, it became clear in the last few months that UC would not being to afford such a new campus. Over the weekend it became official when UC spokesman Ryan King said that the new downtown campus would not be happening due to financial issues.

“Given the outlook for state appropriations and the financial capacity of our campuses, the university is not considering establishing any new campuses or other new facilities in the City of San Francisco at this time,” said King. “We look forward to continuing to consult with Mayor Breed and other regional leaders on future educational and research opportunities for UC students and faculty in San Francisco and across the Bay Area.”

The end of downtown SF UC campus plans

In a statement on Monday, the Mayor’s office finally responded, with spokesman Jeff Cretan saying in response, “While we know they aren’t moving forward with a proposal at this time due to their budget situation, they’ve expressed interest in continuing the conversations in the future. This is a long-term effort and we will continue to engage with UC on opportunities that arise for them to participate in the future of downtown.”

However, many experts were not surprised that the 30 for 30 plan failed. Stephan Hayes, a city planner who has been part of city revitalization efforts of cities in the United States and New Zealand, told the Globe on Monday, “San Francisco is trying to do anything to get some sort of revitalization effort going. Right now, all they really have going for them is tech making something of a return. Specifically, AI companies are moving in and taking up some of those offices in San Francisco.”

“But they also needed people, small businesses, and really enough people to spark growth. But a new college isn’t the way to do it, especially in a downtown location. That’s a lot of money going into rented or bought buildings in a place where traffic snarls regularly happen and where bringing in people with public transportation would put severe stress on the system. Oh, and that campuses don’t bring as much economic incentives as people usually think. Plus, what would access be like at a downtown campus. San Francisco has a severe homelessness and crime problem. Would they close off buildings and public spaces?”

“But, coming down to brass tracks, the UC system just does not have the money. And putting a campus in a city is a very expensive project. No wonder UC announced it with little fanfare. They could not afford it and San Francisco lost one of the things they had been banking on for future growth.”

More on the status of possible other downtown education tenants, such as a Chinese University, is expected to be announced soon.

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