Despite an initial defeat, the lawsuit filed by opponents of the Embarcadero SAFE Navigation Center at Seawall Lot 330 continues. Exemplifying the continued difficulties the City has in securing sites for shelter, the case also highlights how long-term planning for the bayfront lot has always been complicated.
The opponents failed to clear an initial hurdle last month, as a Sacramento judge refused to grant an injunction against the project. The judge also ruled that San Francisco, contrary to plaintiff wishes, was the proper venue for the case.
The opposition group, Safe Embarcadero for All, was organized by residents of luxury condo communities adjacent to the proposed Navigation Center. Those residents also presented vocal and bitter opposition to the project during the fractious community outreach process earlier this year.
Their lawsuit alleges that the City "unilaterally approved a mega-housing project on San Francisco bayfront land which is burdened by the public trust, which prohibits housing without prior State Lands Commission approval, among other requirements."
According to the pleading, those requirements include review under the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as under City Planning Code sections covering the Waterfront Special Use District.
The plaintiffs also argue that by leasing Seawall Lot 330 from the Port of San Francisco for less-than-fair-market value and by incurring environmental damage related to the use of the property as a Navigation Center, the City is potentially damaging the future value of the property against the intentions of State law.
The lawsuit justified filing suit in Sacramento by citing the involvement of the State Lands Commission and arguing that San Francisco's “unilateral actions” made the City a hostile venue.
That was rejected by Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles, who granted a motion by City Attorney Dennis Herrera to move the case to San Francisco.
“This small group of opponents was trying to conceal what it was doing by improperly suing San Francisco in Sacramento,” says John Cote, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office. “The court saw right through it. There was no reason for this case to be in Sacramento. It was a blatant attempt to avoid not only the court in San Francisco, but the people of San Francisco. Now these opponents are going to have to justify their baseless lawsuit here.”
Despite a seemingly ideal location, the City has historically had difficulty getting Seawall Lot 330 developed. Its fortunes have often been tied to those of Piers 30-32, a highly problematic property encumbered with significant structural and institutional problems. Among the failed projects include a 2006 cruise ship terminal complex, a "Museum of Narrative Art" fronted by George Lucas, and an early iteration of what would eventually become Chase Center.
Most recently, developer and former political consultant Clint Reilly had proposed a San Francisco - themed "Experience Park" and adjacent 160-foot high hotel tower for the sites. The proposal seems ironic, given Reilly’s generous support of a then-new, staunchly anti-development generation of District Supervisors - including current District 3 rep Aaron Peskin - in 2000.
In the end, the continuing availability of Seawall Lot 330 and the increasingly urgent need for homeless shelter space likely made the construction of a Navigation Center on the site inevitable. But by definition, Navigation Center sites are temporary. In another few years, the future of Seawall Lot 330 will likely come back in question.