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State axes legal challenges for homeless navigation centers

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Previously defunct bill revived by budget process

A mostly empty parking lot in South Beach, with a nearby condo high-rise on the right.
Seawall Lot 330, where the city is still fighting with homeowners over a new homeless center.
Photo by Brock Keeling

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on extra additions to the state budget, including a rider for the sake of San Francisco homeless advocates—a trailer bill that makes it faster and easier to create new homeless navigation centers in California cities and more difficult to challenge or delay homeless center development.

SF-based State Sen. Scott Wiener penned the legislation (known as Senate Bill 48 originally, but later spun off into Assembly Bill 101 for reasons of legal arcana), which bars certain types of appeals to new development when it comes to homeless centers like the ones San Francisco wants to create Bayview and South Beach.

According to the text of the new law:

This bill would require that a Low Barrier Navigation Center development be a use by right. [...] The bill would define “Low Barrier Navigation Center” as a Housing First, low-barrier, service-enriched shelter focused on moving people into permanent housing that provides temporary living facilities while case managers connect individuals experiencing homelessness to income, public benefits, health services, shelter, and housing.

The bill would define the term “use by right” in this context to mean that the local government’s review of the Low Barrier Navigation Center development may not impose certain requirements, such as a conditional use permit or other discretionary review or approval.

Qualifying projects would be exempt from certain kinds of challenges—or, as Wiener’s spokesperson said, “no appeals, no CEQA, and no CEQA-related litigation.”

The law applies to the entire state of California, but Wiener specifically cited the ongoing fight over the incoming homeless navigation center at Seawall Lot 330 near the Bay Bridge as part of the mandate for the new law; however, the original bill was created prior to the South Beach brouhaha, introduced last December.

Homeowner groups in South Beach are in the process of suing the city in an effort to stop the new homeless center near the Embarcadero.

Like so many of this year’s housing-related bills, SB 48 looked dead in the water after being held up in committee in May, but folding it into the budget bill gave the plan new life.

In emailed comments, Wiener said, “Access to shelter shouldn’t depend on where you live, yet in California today, it does. Too many parts of California have either no shelters or inadequate shelters.”

The bill includes a sunset rider that expires in 2027.