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Judge decides not to block Embarcadero homeless center construction

Waterfront residents alleged “irreparable harm” if construction continues through December

Two workers in hardhats and orange vests up on a cherry picker as they work on the roof inside the in-progress homeless center.
Crews working to affix industrial tarp over beams at the shelter site.
Photo by Brock Keeling

On Monday, the San Francisco Superior Court judge overseeing a lawsuit where Embarcadero homeowners sued to block the construction of a 200-bed homeless shelter right by the Bay Bridge declined to issue a temporary restraining order to stall construction, which is already in progress.

Safe Embarcadero For All (SEFA), the non-profit suing the state of California, the SF Planning Commission, and the city’s Homelessness and Supportive Housing division on behalf of residents of nearby condo buildings, asked for a stay on September 6, arguing that “irreparable harm will result without a stay or injunction.”

The “irreparable harm” being the construction of the homeless navigation center, which will most likely to finish by year’s end.

Attorney for SEFA Peter Prows writes, “Absent a stay or injunction, serious irreparable harm to the people of California will follow. Since this project was announced in March, violent crime has spiked [in the neighborhood...]. This project will drastically increase the number of mentally ill and drug users in the immediate residential area.”

But on Monday, Judge Ethan P. Schulman tossed the complaint, finding that SEFA’s attorneys didn’t meet the burden of proof.

Schulman pointed out that since the supposed damage to the neighborhood would stem from homeless residents occupying the building, there’s nothing about the construction itself—during which the center remains unoccupied—that causes real harm.

Prows’ petition for a restraining order attempted to argue that the construction itself attracts crime to the area.

SEFA specifically cites an August incident in which a man attacked a resident of the Watermark building at 501 Beale—less than 1,000 feet from Seawall Lot 330, where construction on the homeless center is speeding along—right outside the building lobby.

The group’s spokespersons have made numerous public statements since the assault, alleging that the construction draws criminality to the neighborhood.

Deputy City Attorney James Emery told the court in response that “the project is temporary” and “should the courts ultimately determine the project is unlawful, the site can be restored to its prior use,” therefore the alleged harm is not really irreparable.

The lawsuit, filed in July, hinges on a reading of the California State Lands Act of 1938.

Since Seawall Lot 330 was once a submerged part of the bay, SEFA argues that it should be considered part of the public trust that protects California shores and waterways, and thus the city lacked proper authority to build the nav center there.

The San Francisco Port Commission approved the homeless project on a 5-0 vote in April. The Board of Supervisors threw out a pair of appeals in June.

If completed, the center will initially serve 130 residents, eventually increasing its capacity to 200.