A lawsuit by the State Lands Commission challenging whether voters can weigh in on waterfront height-limit increases in The City will proceed, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
In response to a motion by the City Attorney’s Office for the court to dismiss the lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Proposition B, a measure that puts height-limit increases along San Francisco’s waterfront before voters, Judge Suzanne Bolanos opted to give the State Lands Commission an opportunity to disclose the potential economic harm of Prop. B.
“The State Lands Commission properly pleads a cause of action for violation of public resources,” Bolanos said.
The commission, comprised of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Controller John Chiang and Finance Director Michael Cohen, asserts that while the waterfront is managed by The City’s Port Commission, the state Legislature retains ultimate authority of the property, per the Burton Act of 1968.
But City Attorney Dennis Herrera contends that the Burton Act actually calls for local control of the waterfront because the state granted authority of San Francisco’s “tidelands and submerged lands” to The City through a harbor commission.
Supporters of the State Lands Commission characterized Wednesday’s ruling as a victory and said the next hearing on May 20 will allow evidence to be presented showing whether Prop. B causes economic harm to The City.
“We’re optimistic that the one argument that was repeated on both sides in varying ways is [that] a very thin slice of California has taken control of public trust land. This land belongs to everybody in the state,” said Tim Colen, executive director for the Housing Action Coalition and a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit that sought to block Prop. B last year.
Jon Golinger, co-chair of the No Wall on the Waterfront coalition, said that Prop. B remains in effect and has already been put to its first test — an initiative in November that asked voters whether the height limit could be raised at Pier 70 from 40 to 90 feet. That measure, Proposition F, passed with 72.85 percent.
But the ongoing case against Prop. B only adds to uncertainty about the measure and the future of The City’s waterfront, Golinger noted.
“This actually creates more uncertainty for developers and the Port rather than making clear what the rules are and moving forward,” he said.
Both sides are due back in court May 20 for a status hearing.