A parking lot on Embarcadero between Bryant and Beale streets is the site of a proposed navigation center. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Residents balk at plans for waterfront Navigation Center

Residents flooded public meetings Tuesday to object to plans to build a large homeless shelter on a waterfront parking lot near the Bay Bridge.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing presented plans Tuesday to the Port Commission and to neighborhood residents for what is being billed as a Shelter and Access for Everyone Navigation Center on Seawall Lot 330. The Embarcadero property is currently a parking lot with 307 spaces, just across the street from Piers 30 to 32.

Mayor London Breed announced plans for the center, which will include between 175 and 225 beds, earlier this month.

While The City currently operates a number of navigation centers, shelters with fewer barriers to entry and additional services, most of them have between 100 and 150 beds.

The larger size of the proposed new center is part of an effort to bring the most effective services to more people for less money, according to Jeff Kositsky, director of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. This in turn would provide a model for navigation centers to “scale up their success.”

The scale of the proposal alarmed many residents of the Rincon Hill and South Beach neighborhoods who spoke at the standing-room only commission meeting and at a community meeting later Tuesday evening.

“Applying the navigation center concept at a large scale is an experiment,” said resident Rebecca Mina. “It should not be done in the area where the failure would cause major spillover effects affecting thousands of residents and visitors daily.”

Many said the neighborhood was not the appropriate place for a homeless shelter.

“This is not a place for a navigation center. It is a place to recreate, it is a place for families,” said resident Marsha Spencer.

Some residents, like Chris Curtis, say they would leave the neighborhood altogether if the proposed navigation center is approved.

“We would likely move,” he said. “I have a 20-month-old daughter. We will not raise her in that atmosphere, she walks that block every day, multiple times a day.”

The proposal also drew support, with members of the housing advocacy group YIMBY Action and others urging residents to overcome their fears.

South of Market resident Sabeek Pradhan spoke of walking past the homeless every day on his way to work and said he was “excited” about the shelter proposal.

“If you want to get the homeless off the street, you need to give them a better place to go. You need to build shelters and navigation centers,” he said. “Let’s do our part to take bold action to confront our homelessness crisis, and let’s call on the rest of the city to do the same.”

“I’ve heard a lot of ‘nos’ tonight, and I’d like to ask folks to find your ‘yes,’” YIMBY Action Executive Director Laura Foote said. “Even if you can’t say yes to this, even if you can’t bear to say yes to homeless people finding housing in your neighborhood, say yes to something.”

Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the neighborhood, said he supports the proposed center. He expressed concern Tuesday, however, with the proposed four-year lease agreement with the Port Commission, which is longer than those of other Navigation Centers.

He noted that the district already has navigation centers and shelters, and called for Breed to commit to proposing another navigation center in a different district before this one is approved.

“I think there is a general concern when there is a navigation center of this size in a district that continues to shoulder most of the responsibility of serving and sheltering our population that is experiencing homelessness,” said Haney.

In an interview, Kositsky said no illegal activity, including prohibited drug use, will be tolerated within and around the proposed navigation center.

The opposition from residents did not surprise Kositsky, who noted that when it comes to homelessness, “there is a lot of misinformation.”

“Most homeless people do not use drugs,” he said. “About a third maybe.”

He said “there is no evidence” that the navigation center would increase crime in the neighborhood, and noted that a University of California at Berkeley study on crime rates and property values around homeless shelters had found no significant impact.

The proposal’s community outreach plan calls for a series of meetings with advisory groups and one more community meeting that is yet to be scheduled before the Port Commission votes on the proposal on April 23rd.

If approved, the SAFE navigation center will help Breed reach her goal of opening 1,000 shelter beds for homeless residents by 2020, with a more immediate target of 500 beds by July. Since she announced this goal in October The City has opened 212 beds, according to city officials.

A parking lot on Embarcadero between Bryant and Beale streets is the site of a proposed navigation center. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Laura Waxmann contributed to this report.

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