By Ken Williams | Editor
University of California San Diego plans to build a new medical center on its Hillcrest campus by 2030 to comply with California’s Hospital Seismic Safety Law.
Located at 200 W. Arbor Drive in Hillcrest, the UCSD Medical Center is a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Regional Burn Center and a Comprehensive Stroke Center — capable of treating victims of major traumatic injuries and the most serious health emergencies. The teaching hospital is renown for its groundbreaking research into cancer, heart disease and other complex health conditions. And its Owen Clinic is considered one of the national leaders in treatment for HIV and AIDS.
The hospital tower will be about 60 years old by the deadline and is one of 175 hospitals in California that the state has declared won’t be repairable or functional after a strong quake.
“These buildings must be brought into compliance with the Alquist Act by Jan. 1, 2030 or be removed from acute care service,” according to a statement in California’s Hospital Seismic Safety Law.
Building a new hospital will be less expensive to construct than retrofitting the aging tower, said Robert Clossin, director of physical and community planning for UC San Diego, during a public forum on June 7 at the San Diego Indoor Sports Club in Bankers Hill.
The existing hospital tower must remain fully operational during the estimated three-year construction phase of the new facility, he said, and work would have to begin no later than 2027 to meet the deadline. The fate of the tower has not been determined, but Clossin said it most likely would be demolished.
Clossin — who was part of the planning team for the $943 million Jacobs Medical Center on the UC San Diego La Jolla campus that opened this year — said it typically takes 10 years to plan and then construct a new hospital.
The big challenge, he said, is that the 56-acre campus has only 25 acres of vacant, usable land. The site has more than 37 buildings of all sizes and ages, comprising 1.1 million gross square feet and accommodating a daily population of 7,000. The campus has only 2,200 parking spaces, but 51 percent of that population is now using alternative transportation to get there.
Building a new hospital is part of the university’s Master Planning Study update for the Hillcrest campus. Goals are:
- Existing conditions analysis.
- Land-use concepts.
- Development potential.
- Open spaces.
- Wayfinding and circulation.
- Parking integration.
- Development phasing.
- Neighborhood identity.
- Utilities and infrastructure.
- Sustainability principles.
Clossin said the master plan would re-envision the entire campus and determine which of the existing buildings would be usable in the future.
The Hillcrest campus is perched atop canyons on three sides, providing sweeping views of Downtown, Mission Valley and Point Loma. Clossin said master planners will look at the site’s potential, celebrate its views, preserve the neighborhood character, improve community access and embrace sustainability as required by the city’s Climate Action Plan.
“We have set carbon-neutrality goals for the future,” Clossin said.
His PowerPoint presentation showed a slide containing the vision statement: “Design a premier academic health campus and lifelong wellness destination with locally focused amenities that enhance community prosperity and wellbeing, maximize the site’s amazing views, and leverage the beauty of the natural environment.”
The master plan study will continue through October 2017. Work on the Long Range Development Plan and the Environmental Impact Report will take place from July 2017 to October 2018, and these key documents will then go to the university’s regents for approval in November 2018.
Among the nuggets of information that was announced at the forum was that the Owen Clinic is in the process of expansion.
Clossin then opened the floor to public comments.
Suggestions by residents
Chuck Kaminski, a local activist, said that because Owen Clinic is so well-known for its HIV and AIDS treatment, the Hillcrest campus would be a better location for San Diego’s proposed AIDS memorial. Currently the AIDS memorial is designated for Olive Street Park, a pocket park proposed in Bankers Hill. A number of community activists are opposed to the out-of-the-way location.
Ann Garwood and Nancy Moors, a couple from Bankers Hill, suggested building a public swimming pool, which would be of great benefit to the entire Hillcrest neighborhood that lacks one. It was even suggested to build and operate a community pool jointly with Scripps Mercy Hospital, which is nearby.
Moors, a founding member of the Hillcrest History Guild, urged “respect for any historic buildings on the campus” and said that “new construction should be complementary to the neighborhood.” She seconded Kaminski’s idea of putting the AIDS memorial on campus, and also spoke about setting aside space for a community garden and for a midweek farmers market to inspire residents to embrace healthy eating.
Roy Dahl, a member of the Uptown Planners and the Uptown Parking District, said he was surprised to see a housing component being considered for the Hillcrest campus. He said the area along nearby Washington Street is zoned for high-density projects. Garwood, though, said she was in favor of putting more density in the area known as the Medical District. Clossin said there is a need for housing for staff and medical students.
A number of speakers were concerned about parking problems throughout the Medical District, where the streets are narrow and some are designed for one-way traffic. Clossin said the Arbor Drive parking structure on the southwest side of the campus eventually would be demolished and planners would build underground parking that was centrally located.
“The No. 1 issue for staff is parking,” he added. “Most of the parking will be underground, out of sight.”
The large parking garage that causes a safety issue along Bachman Drive will be re-evaluated during the update process. Clossin said there may be solutions to the safety problem, such as changing the entrance/exit points or even demolishing the structure.
Other transportation solutions include providing a connection with the trolley at the Fashion Valley Transit Center in Mission Valley; improving existing bus service; and adding retail spaces on campus to cut down on daily trips.
Clossin also cited the need to “brand” the Medical District with signage guiding visitors toward the Hillcrest campus, which is several blocks north of Washington Street.
UC San Diego is currently taking public comments on the Long Range Development Plan that will determine the future of the Hillcrest campus. Visit lrdp.ucsd.edu and click on “Hillcrest Campus Long Range Development Plan” to learn more.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.