Construction is underway at the Embarcadero Navigation Center site. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF judge rules against homeowners trying to block waterfront homeless shelter

A San Francisco superior court judge dealt a blow Monday to homeowners seeking to block a homeless shelter from opening near them on the waterfront.

Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled against a request for a stay and temporary restraining order by the group Safe Embarcadero, saying they failed to prove that the harm they could suffer would outweigh the harms of not moving forward with the shelter on Seawall Lot 330 near the Bay Bridge.

In making his ruling, Schulman said that the “irony” of the position by the neighbors was that the shelter is intended to “deal with those deleterious effects” they argued the shelter will bring.

Schulman read from a declaration provided by Jeff Kositsky, director of San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, that said if the shelter was delayed or blocked “hundreds of unsheltered people who would have been served by the facility by being offered shelter, services, and a pathway to housing will remain on the street.”

“While living on the street, these individuals are at greater risk of crime, violence and adverse health outcomes,” Kositsky said in the declaration. “Each year over 100 homeles people die on the streets.”

Opponents tried to argue that the announcement of the shelter and its construction were tied to a crime increase in the area. The City argued there was no way to prove that the two are related.

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.

He also said he factored into the decision the likelihood that the group would ultimately prevail in the lawsuit brought against The City.

Schulman provided an oral ruling after listening to arguments from the City Attorney’s Office and attorney Peter Prows, who represents Safe Embarcadero. He will provide a more detailed written ruling that will get more into the merits of the overall case within two weeks.

Wallace Lee, a resident near the shelter site and a member of Safe Embarcadero, said he plans to review the judge’s written ruling before deciding whether to appeal and pursue the case further.

The City plans to open the 200-bed shelter as early as December. It would remain operational for two years with a possibilty to extend it for another two years.

The ruling was consistent with Schulman’s previous remarks when he first heard the matter earlier this month and declined to halt the project and set Monday’s court date to hear arguments.

Prows has argued that The City is required to obtain approval by the States Lands Commission before opening the shelter and that removing the existing parking lot to erect a homeless shelter is inconsistent with the waterfront’s state public trust law.

Schulman sided with The City argument that Seawall Lot 330 is no longer covered by a public trust designation and must only be used to benefit the public trust from revenue. The Port of San Francisco is receiving $400,000 for the lease of the space by The City.

Schulman did not address in his ruling the question of whether the project should have gone before the State Lands Commission.

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