The Big 'If' in UCSF's 'Support' for Golden State Warriors Arena

An architect's rendering of the Golden State Warriors' proposed new arena on San Francisco's Mission Bay waterfront.  (MANICA Architecture)

Officials at UC San Francisco, the institution that may be the biggest obstacle to the Golden State Warriors' plan to build a grand new hoops palace in Mission Bay, say they'll go along with the arena proposal -- if the city can resolve their concerns about the flood of traffic the new facility is expected to unleash.

In behind-the-scenes negotiations going back to last summer, UCSF has insisted the Warriors and the city provide guarantees that arena traffic won't interfere with patients and emergency vehicles trying to get to university hospitals. In return, UCSF would support the plan, which would plant an 18,500-seat arena and office complex at the corner of Third and 16th streets.

Monday, with the public comment period on the city's environmental impact report for the arena about to close, the university said that it's on the verge -- within millimeters, if not microns! -- of bestowing its blessing. It's feeling so good about the new basketball/concert/show venue that it's even launched a website, WinWinSF.com, which features a very cheerful-looking pediatric care nurse opining rather daringly, "If we can bring the Warriors to San Francisco but also provide a safe environment for patients, I think it would be a win-win for both of us."

The site then lays out its vision of what the "win-win" looks like: "a binding agreement" that would lock the city, the San Francisco Giants (whose AT&T Park would be just up the street from the new basketball pleasure dome) and the Warriors into a long-term plan to manage scheduling at the venues and figure out a sane way to deal with traffic when games or concerts or monster truck events are slated at both sites simultaneously. The EIR for the project contemplates a total of 225 events each year at the arena; that total includes 41 regular-season home games and about 60 other "full capacity" events.

UCSF's "win-win" sounds rather conditional -- what a wonderful world it would be if we could all watch basketball and avoid traffic jams! -- and UCSF officials who spoke Monday didn't really sound like they are all in for the arena. Case in point: Barbara French, the school's vice chancellor for strategic communications and university relations.

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“While UCSF welcomes the 2015 NBA Champions to San Francisco," French declared strategically, "our support is contingent on achieving a binding agreement to ensure meaningful and lasting solutions to traffic impacts.”

French told KQED's Alex Emslie that the university could envision a workable relationship with its prospective new NBA neighbors.

“We’re fine with the Warriors being across the street," she said. "We think we can live together. There’s instances around the country where sports arenas live near a hospital. I’m not sure there’s instances where they’re directly across the street. But we think with good planning, with good traffic mitigations, there’s several major infrastructure projects that are to come online about the time the Warriors are to be here or shortly thereafter. We think that as a city, we need to be on the traffic, and as a hospital, we need to be sure our patients can get here.”

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, who's been working on getting the city and the Warriors to commit to a traffic plan for the better part of a year, is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, "I am confident that meaningful and lasting solutions can and will be worked out. The city and the Warriors understand that patient safety must be secured.”

Hawgood said the kind of binding "win-win" agreement UCSF is looking for is still a month or two away.

It would be interesting to know what San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Warriors management and the Giants -- who have to be really happy to be dragged into this -- might be offering as traffic solutions. The mayor, for one, has expressed interest in tearing down the northern end of Interstate 280. That would seem to complicate automobile access to the neighborhood. Public transit will be offered as a solution, but BART, Caltrain and Muni all face serious capacity issues. Has anybody proposed an armada of self-driving electric taxis?

While UCSF talks semi-optimistically about transportation solutions that have yet to emerge, one mostly anonymous group of wealthy San Franciscans is saying through its hired gun, PR maven Sam Singer, that there is no way to mitigate traffic to and from the new arena.

UCSF is "focusing on the Warriors games, which are in the evening," Singer said Monday on behalf of the Mission Bay Alliance. "There’s 185 more events. That’s an event every other day 1,000 feet from a major American emergency room and hospital. Muni runs 20 percent on time. BART is at 99 percent capacity. The city is making promises that it can’t possibly keep. ... We hope as time goes on, the city, the Warriors and the community will ultimately realize that this is a fatally flawed project."

The alliance, which describes itself as "UCSF stakeholders, donors, faculty, physicians and the working men and women of San Francisco" (and has been described elsewhere as anonymous "big-bucks donors to UCSF"), has said it will sue to block the arena.

On Monday, Singer promised something more colorful, veering from basketball to Dante-esqe ice hockey metaphors to describe the group's battle plan.

"As we explain the actual demerits of this project to the public we are going to win this battle," Singer said. "Right now this game is in the first minutes of the first quarter. By the time the Mission Bay Alliance reaches the championship, we’re going to beat the owners of the Warriors. We’re going to wipe the court with them. ... We are going to fight the Warriors proposal until hell freezes over, and then we’re going to fight them on the ice."

Of course, there's one place the Warriors wouldn't have to go through all this: that place in Oakland where they've had 123 regular-season sellouts in a row. Folks over there might actually welcome the idea of a new arena.

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Alex Emslie of KQED News contributed to this post.

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