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Judge rules against homeowners trying to stop Embarcadero homeless center

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Condo owners demand that construction stop near South Beach high-rise

A large white tarp cover several beams making up a new homeless center. Workers inside wearing hardhats are affixing things into place. And the luxury Watermark tower can be seen in the distance. Photo by Brock Keeling

Update: Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled against Safe Embarcadero For All (SEFA), the group of homeowners seeking a stay against the Homeless Navigation Center currently in progress at Seawall Lot 330.

While opponents of the temporary housing complex argued that a recent spike in crime in the area coincided with the center’s construction, the judge ruled otherwise.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, “Schulman said in his ruling that ‘crime rates fluctuate’ and it has more to do with seasons and overall city rates than a connection to existing shelters or the planned waterfront homeless shelter.”

A San Francisco Superior Court Judge will hand down a decision today on whether or not to block construction of a Homeless Navigation Center next to the Bay Bridge. Safe Embarcadero For All (SEFA), the nonprofit representing area residents, filed suit in July against the city, the latest move in a fight between homeowners and City Hall

Construction of a planned 200-bed shelter is already underway—the facility will open with 130 beds initially, one of several compromises Mayor London Breed offered skeptical neighbors earlier this year—and the center should be finished by year’s end.

Earlier this month, Judge Ethan P. Schulman declined to issue a restraining order halting construction. In response, SEFA attorney Peter Prows petitioned for an injunction, writing, “Is it better to stop the city now, before 200 people move in, or later, after this illegal shelter is opened?”

Prows argues that “the court lacks discretion to deny an injunction” since “the public trust doctrine is dated to ancient Roman law, and it protects the public’s right to use tidelands for water-related purposes,” and thus “the courts may not second-guess the legislature’s judgment about public use of public-trust lands.”

This bid relates to SEFA’s claim that Seawall Lot 330, as bay infill, qualifies as coastal tidelands and thus is a protected public asset under California law. The claim that the shelter is illegal hinges on the fact that the city would not have authority to develop coastal property this way.

In testimony filed by the city attorney’s office, SF Department of Public Works Project Manager Rachel Alonso warns the judge against stalling construction.

Alonso notes that any delays “would come at a substantial cost the public,” estimating that a one-month hold-up would cost at least $100,000 in additional expenses for security and the cost of keeping contractors waiting.

Alonso also says that an abandoned construction site would risk “urban blight,” predicting that the construction fence could become a target for graffiti and that delays could make contractors wary of tackling city projects that might be cancelled on a whim in a competitive market where construction is in high demand.