Audience members hold signs as Jeff Kositsky, Jeff Kositsky, Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, speaks at a meeting of the San Francisco Port Commission on the proposed Embarcadero Navigation Center on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Neighbors file appeal of Embarcadero Navigation Center

Residents say they expect to file a lawsuit

Waterfront residents opposed to a 200-bed navigation center for the homeless on the Embarcadero have filed an appeal seeking to overturn its approval.

The San Francisco Port Commission in April unanimously backed The City’s plan to first build 130 beds and then increase the center’s size over a seven-month period to a total of 200 beds. The original proposal by Mayor London Breed called for up to 225 beds near a residential stretch of the waterfront, on a Port-owned site called Seawall Lot 330.

Safe Embarcadero for All, a self-described coalition of residents, businesses, and nonprofits, alleged in an appeal filed with the Board of Supervisors Thursday that the center is in violation of City code due to its proposed size. The group has been outspoken in its opposition to the project, which it argues would bring crime and drug use into the neighborhood.

“San Francisco Administrative Code…imposes certain requirements on navigation centers, including generally limiting them to 100 residents at a time, which are not met here,” the group said.

“The City has failed to—and may not ever—meet any of the state’s and its own regulations,” said the coalition’s attorney, Peter Prows of the law firm of Briscoe Ivester & Bazel, in a statement. “No other project of this size and controversy has ever been approved in San Francisco within a two-month period [and lacking] due process, appropriate regulatory procedure, and public input.”

In an effort to appease opponents, the proposal was modified to place additional beat patrol officers in the area and to scale up the number of beds gradually.

But the appeal argues that several layers of review were skipped in order to move the plan along more quickly, including review by the State Lands Commission and by the Port’s Design Review Committee, and that the proposal should have been subject to an environmental review. The coalition has stated that it is prepared to sue should the board reject the appeal.

“The City is moving so quickly and ignoring a lot of concerns from the community and various environmental regulations concerning the status of the port property,” said South Beach resident Wallace Lee, who lives near Seawall Lot 330. “It’s property that came from the state and it is subject to a bunch of rules …and The City is pretty much just ignoring these rules.”

After the center was proposed in March, The City held several large scale public meetings on the plan, including one at which Breed was booed after making a surprise appearance.

City leaders, including representatives from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, also met with homeowner associations and other groups to gather feedback.

The final hearing at the Port Commission last month offered both supporters and opponents of the plan unlimited public comment, stretching for more than five hours.

“It’s not the number of meetings they hold, it’s whether they listen and address our concerns,” noted Lee.

More than 7,500 people are homeless on the streets of San Francisco on any given night, according to The City’s most recently available data. Six navigation centers currently operate in San Francisco.

In its appeal, the coalition said that District 6 already disproportionately houses many of The City’s homeless services, and adding a large-scale navigation center would have “significant” impacts on the community.

“I think there would be an acceptable configuration but I don’t know what it is. I haven’t heard a proposal,” Lee said. “I would not be nearly as concerned if it was a 20 bed- navigation center.”

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