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South Beach residents sue to stop Embarcadero homeless center

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“It is a moral imperative of our government and its leaders to afford due process to residents, families, children, and businesses in this neighborhood”

A mostly empty parking lot in South Beach, with a nearby condo high-rise on the right. Photo by Brock Keeling

On Wednesday, South Beach residents with the neighborhood group Safe Embarcadero For All (SEFA) filed suit against the city of San Francisco to block the incoming homeless navigation center at Seawall Lot 330 near to the Bay Bridge, escalating a months-long conflict with City Hall.

In June, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors threw out attempts by SEFA and two other South Beach groups to appeal the San Francisco Port Commission’s decision to go ahead with the homeless center.

The text of the new lawsuit says that the city and the Port Commission overruled “the overwhelming opposition of neighborhood residents, businesses, and non-profits”

The suit presents a volley of reasons that South Beach homeowners object to the center, among them the claim that “Homelessness centers in the city and county of San Francisco have become magnets for additional homeless persons, open drug and alcohol use, crime, daily emergency calls, public urination and defecation, and other nuisances.”

SEFA lawyers also say that “Seawall Lot 330 is contaminated with dangerous and volatile chemicals” and the approval of the project delays other more valuable uses of Seawall Lot 330. (The land is now used mostly for parking. Big ticket development projects on the site have come and gone over the years but have never broken ground.)

However, the suit’s major complaint hinges on California’s State Lands Commission Act, alleging that the Seawall lot is public trust land that the city lacks proper jurisdiction over.

Per the lawsuit: “San Francisco unilaterally approved a mega-housing project on San Francisco Bay-front land burdened by the public trust, which prohibits housing without prior State Lands Commission approval, among other requirements, and without any environmental or design review.”

The State Lands Commission controls four million acres of “tide and submerged lands and the beds of navigable rivers, streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, inlets, and straits [...] often referred to as sovereign or Public Trust lands.”

Since the Seawall Lot 330 was once a submerged part of the bay—like most of the waterfront the current area was built up artificially by the city—SEFA claims that it should be considered in the public trust, just like current waterways.

In a press release, SEFA board member Wallace Lee said, “It is a moral imperative of our government and its leaders to afford due process to residents, families, children, and businesses in this neighborhood.”

SEFA describes itself as a nonprofit community organization, with an estimated 200 members, “supported by local residents, businesses and other non-profits to voice concerns about public safety on the Embarcadero and San Francisco’s controversial proposal to construct a 200-bed homeless shelter.”

The suit includes a restraining order to prevent construction until the litigation is settled.

The navigation center, which will eventually house 200 residents at a time, is key to Mayor London Breed’s plan to add 1,000 beds to the city’s homeless relief centers. She selected the Seawall 330 site earlier this year.

Last week, the city released final data on its most recent point-in-time homeless count earlier this year. Employing federal guidelines about who counts as homeless, the city has over 8,000 homeless residents in 2019.

But according to a more broad standard employed by just the city, the homeless count is well over 9,700.