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San Diego committee sends UCSD request to lift deed restrictions on 510 acres to full City Council

A map of the approximately 510 acres for which UC San Diego would like certain city deed restrictions lifted.
(Courtesy)

The San Diego City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee took the first step toward lifting certain restrictions on how UC San Diego uses its land, voting to move the item to the full council.

The committee decided during its Sept. 17 meeting to pass to the City Council a request that the Real Estate Assets Department work with the city attorney’s office, mayor’s office and staff to draft appropriate documents for council consideration to remove city deed restrictions on approximately 510 acres of UCSD land — almost all on the west side of Interstate 5. The majority of the 510 acres is already developed or is protected natural habitat or streets.

Campus officials say lifting the restrictions would allow them to execute projects that will expand the university’s offerings. The proposed projects are east of Interstate 5.

Some in the community are concerned about whether the university would use the opportunity for financial gain.

The city is concerned the change could be an illegal gift. The university says projects it would allow have strong public benefits.

According to a city staff report on the proposal, “during the period of 1961 through 1969, the city of San Diego conveyed approximately 510 acres of vacant land to the regents of the University of California for the purpose of creating the main San Diego campus within the UC system. The city placed deed restrictions on the parcels conveyed, specifying that the land and any improvements thereon would revert back to the city ‘in the event that the property be used for any purpose not deemed to be a university purpose.’”

The university plans to add new facilities over the next eight years — to be funded through public-private partnerships — that are limited by the deed restrictions.

“We have been unable to proceed with these critically required projects because of these deed restrictions,” said Jeff Graham, UCSD executive director of real estate. “While these projects are not classrooms, they are advancing the mission of the university and the health system.”

The projects are extended-stay lodging and a conference center for UC San Diego Health patients, visiting university faculty and academic symposiums; intergenerational housing and a wellness center for retired university faculty; a technology and life-science research space; a wellness center for UC patients and the community; and translational research clinical space.

The issue with the deed restrictions, Graham later told the La Jolla Light, is that they limit funding options for public-private development opportunities.

“Public-private partnerships have been used previously by UC San Diego and they are commonly used by other UC campuses as well as universities across the country,” he said. “Lifting the deed restrictions will make it easier for our public-private developer partners to secure title policies and financing. These projects create jobs and enhance the economic benefits that UC San Diego can bring to the San Diego area. It is estimated that these projects will generate $80 million in revenue for the city of San Diego, as well as more than 11,000 new direct and indirect jobs over 20 years. This is on top of the estimated $9.3 billion in economic benefits that a study last year estimated that UC San Diego brings to the San Diego community every year.”

Committee comments

In stating his support for the request to lift the deed restrictions, committee chairman and District 3 City Councilman Chris Ward cited UCSD’s achievements and said: “I think [lifting the restrictions] should be done with the understanding that these are going to provide strong public benefit … and the ability for creative partnerships going forward to take UCSD where it wants to go. … It could be extremely transformative for the function and vitality for what we want to see for UCSD’s long-range campus planning and vision. We’d want to support that.”

Land Use and Housing Committee chairman and District 3 City Councilman Chris Ward
Land Use and Housing Committee chairman and District 3 City Councilman Chris Ward speaks during the committee’s meeting Sept. 17.
(Courtesy)

Fellow committee member and District 7 Councilman Scott Sherman said he supports lifting the restrictions “with reservations” and asked whether conditions could be placed on where the restrictions were lifted to make sure the city wouldn’t lose potential revenue from fees.

“My main concern is we are not leaving money on the table, that we benefit all of San Diego and not just the campus,” he said.

A representative of the city attorney’s office said she would investigate possible conditions ahead of the full City Council hearing.

Committee member and District 5 Councilman Mark Kersey questioned the housing project for retired faculty and how it relates to the larger housing discussion in San Diego.

Graham said housing for retired faculty is “incredibly common” at universities across the country and that other campuses in the UC system have it.

“The reason why faculty like to retire on campus is they like to have that connection to students,” he said. “And we are an academic medical center, so the site we selected for the retirement center would play a role in the research on healthy aging. The residents of the housing would have the opportunity to participate in research studies in Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases to help make life better as they age.”

He added that the housing is paid for at market price and not given to retirees for free.

Public concerns

During public comments, two La Jolla Shores residents spoke against lifting the restrictions, arguing that the purposes may not be in line with academics.

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson said she and the group “support dorms, we do not support conference centers, ballrooms and other uses. … This land was given to the university by the city with intention of it enhancing the university for education purposes, not financial purposes. You want to be sure that what was intended with these deeds is carried forward.”

Gabrielle Goodman, a homeowner, UCSD alumna and “UCSD supporter,” said: “We have almost no review or input as a community over development of the UCSD campus, although their growth greatly affects us. … Further, I oppose faculty and staff housing on campus land. Taxpayers currently provide UCSD retirees with very generous lifetime retirement and medical benefits which few workers enjoy. We should instead be subsidizing education.”

Graham said UC must show that any use of the land demonstrates or advances the university’s academic research and health mission.

For example, he said, “the regents could not approve a shopping center that has nothing to do with the university. One may question why lodging for a health system is required, but if you look at major health systems around the world, they have a local hotel or lodging or conference facility that patients from out of town undergoing long-term treatment can stay in a safe environment designed for those patients rather than a standard hotel that doesn’t know how to accommodate and take care of those patients.”

With a note that more research and communication were to come, a motion to advance the proposal to lift the deed restrictions passed unanimously.

The item has not yet been docketed for a full City Council hearing. ◆