Tents in the Tenderloin were the subject of legal action which alleged The City was using the area as a “containment zone” for homelessness. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisors approve UC Hasting lawsuit settlement 7-4 despite misgivings

After great debate, San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday approved a settlement with University of California, Hastings in which The City agreed to clear encampments from the Tenderloin.

The settlement itself cost no money, but some supervisors feared it would offer a blueprint for other neighbors with means to sue San Francisco into action on homelessness.

UC Hastings, with some merchants and residents in the Tenderloin, filed the suit in May over a boom in tents that tripled to more than 400 since the pandemic. The City reduced capacity at shelters to allow for physical distancing and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Mayor London Breed and UC Hastings announced the settlement in June that required San Francisco to move people in 300 tents to a hotel room or city-run sleeping site. The City also agreed to prevent more people from setting up in tents and to use enforcement if they did not accept an offer to relocate.

Since then, seveal others lawsuits have been filed against The City over encampments. Some Haight residents and business owners also filed suit in May to stop the launch of a city-run encampment at 730 Stanyan St., which ultimately opened, while competing petitions seeking action on homeless encampments have sprung up in Hayes Valley.

The copycat suits left some supervisors concerned the Hastings settlement could set a bad precedent and encourage more lawsuits. The settlement was debated at last week’s Board of Supervisors and delayed to Tuesday in closed session.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen had expressed frustration that Breed had refused to implement unanimously-approved legislation requiring The City to procure 8,250 hotel rooms for homeless residents, which Breed deemed unrealistic.

“Unless there is meaningful action in neighborhoods where conditions are abysmal — like the Mission District, like the Tenderloin, like Bayview, like parts of the Castro, like parts of Haight — these lawsuits are going to continue to be on our agenda,” Ronen said last week. “The cost to our city will be enormous.”

Ultimately, supervisors Ronen, Shamann Walton, Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin voted against the settlement in a 7-4 vote.

The suit and settlement did not involve groups that work directly with San Francisco’s homeless residents. Advocates have previously criticized UC Hastings for not using the litigation to require The City to procure more hotel rooms or take other steps to provide permanent housing.

As of Wednesday, 1,903 hotel rooms are occupied by vulnerable populations out of 2,734 acquired hotel rooms and trailers combined.

“In approving the settlement the Board of Supervisors cleared the way for a dehumanizing ‘zero tents’ policy with ‘enforcement measures’ set against the reality of over 1,600 unhoused now left in the [Tenderloin] without alternative housing resources,” the Coalition on Homelessness said in a statement. “Further, the board hereby approves of the now normalized precedent of litigating away the unhoused, with property owners deploying lawsuits against San Francisco’s unhoused.”

Many of the agreements in the settlement had been fulfilled by the time it reached the Board of Supervisors. But without the settlement’s approval, a potentially costly decision would be left to the courts.

“It seems the best thing to do is to approve this settlement,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, last week. “I took the advice of our attorney in terms of what liability we might have and the risks involved.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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