Dozens of residents attended a public meeting held by the South Beach Rincon Hill and Mission Bay Neighborhood Association on Monday, where city officials presented revised plans for a large scale navigation center at the waterfront. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

City scales back size of proposed waterfront homeless shelter, promises additional security, accountability

Many residents remain uninterested in compromise on project ahead of April 23rd vote

City officials presented revisions to a controversial proposal for a large navigation center on San Francisco’s waterfront Monday, telling residents at a public meeting that they will start smaller, with 130 beds, and then “scale up.”

If the center is deemed successful by The City six months into its operation, its capacity will be expanded to serve 200 people.

The initial plans announced by Breed in March called for up to 225 beds for the homeless at Seawall Lot 330, a site owned by the Port of San Francisco that currently serves as a parking lot. The proposal inspired nearby residents of Rincon Hill and South Beach to organize in opposition and threaten legal action.

Other revisions made to the plan include a two year lease with the Port with the option of a two year extension, and adding four dedicated foot patrol officers who will be canvassing a designated “safety zone” around the proposed center for a majority of the day.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing will be required to submit reports measuring the center’s impact on the local neighborhood every two months, said Emily Cohen, Mayor London Breed’s policy advisor on homelessness.

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes the site of the proposed center, said that he is on board with the new plan.

“Shortening the lease and having a formal process to make sure that if it is extended, it’s done so [based on] data — these are the things that will hold us accountable to make sure this is a positive thing, not just for the folks that are inside the navigation center but also for the neighborhood,” said Haney, who reiterated that the site’s use as a homeless shelter is temporary.

“It is something that will just be here for a few years, and after that it will be a long-term development, likely housing,” said Haney. “[The center] will need to show results in the first couple of years even for it to continue beyond that.”

But several dozen people who showed up to Monday’s hearing, held inside of a conference room at Pier 1, said the adjustments were hardly a compromise.

“You’ve lost the trust of your constituents in District 6,” said a disgruntled resident.

Robert Rossi, a nearby resident who described himself as a fifth generation San Franciscan, said that he did “not want to compromise.”

“Between piers 50 and 54 or after Pier 80, there’s plenty of space,” said Rossi. “District 6 already has five shelters and two navigaton centers. I’m for helping the homeless but definitely oppose this location. It’s the wrong spot.”

Others pressed Haney to delay a vote scheduled next week at the Port Commission on the new proposal. Haney indicated that conversations to that extent are ongoing.

HSH Director Jeff Kositky on Monday pushed back against concerns from residents over increased drug use and crime around the center, maintaining that 24-hour security and the additional foot patrol officers will discourage loitering, which he identified as the biggest issue at six other navigation centers currently operating in three neighborhoods around the city.

A 2017 point-in-time counted indicated that more than 7,000 people are considered to be homeless in San Francisco on any given night. City leaders and advocates for the homeless agree that the actual number of people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco is likely much higher.

The waterfront center, as originally proposed, would have been San Francisco’s largest navigation center, and sparked instant opposition from nearby residents. Among those opposing the center are residents of the South Beach, Mission Bay and Rincon Hill neighborhoods, with some formally organizing as the group Safe Embarcadero for All.

The proposal also sparked dueling fundraising campaigns in support and in opposition to the center, which combined have raised over $275,000 in less than a month. Tech CEOs, including Marc Beniofff of Salesforce and Twitter and Square’s Jack Dorsey, have weighed in on the debate, donating in support of the center.

“We are moving forward due to the urgency of the crisis in our community,” said Cohen.

But a majority of people who attended Monday’s hearing remained adamant that The City had chosen the wrong location for the homeless shelter, and many expressed their frustrations during a question and answer session with the city officials. A nearby resident who gave his name as Frank suggested that Beniofff open a center inside of the Salesforce’s downtown tower to house the homeless.

Another woman called for the center to be opened in front of City Hall, so that the “mayor can watch it closely.”

Breed attended a community hearing on the proposal held earlier this month, only to be shouted down by angry residents. On Saturday, about a dozen members of Safe Embarcadero for All rallied against what they called a “mega shelter” at the site of the proposed center, holding up signs that read “This is San Francisco’s front yard.”

Maintaining that homelessness is a citywide issue, Haney last week announced that he plans to introduce legislation that would mandate navigation centers in districts that do not yet house them. The ordinance, if passed, would require every district to open one within 30 months.

Haney said on Monday that his legislation has received buy in from four of his colleagues on the board.

“Some of my colleagues have questions about how it will work, how we are going to find sites, whether it makes sense for their community,” he said. “What I’m very clear about is that I think that we all need to step up and be a part of the solution. There’s homelessness in every community, if you look at the count there are homeless people all over the city.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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