Angry Embarcadero Neighbors Make Good on Threat to Sue City Over Homeless Shelter

The group of largely wealthy homeowners was denied an appeal by the city earlier this month. Armed with lawyers, they're not ready to give up.

Audience members hold signs at a meeting of the San Francisco Port Commission against the proposed Embarcadero Navigation Center on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

Embarcadero’s Navigation Center hit another obstacle on Wednesday as neighbors filed a lawsuit to stop it from being built. 

The group of neighbors, called Safe Embarcadero For All, made good on a long-standing promise to defeat the proposed shelter in court. If they succeed, the city will have to start from scratch to replace the 200-bed shelter south of the Bay Bridge on public land.

“Residents have generously supported homeless services facilities in our neighborhood,” said Wallace Lee, a member of the board of directors of Safe Embarcadero for All. “We did not want to file this lawsuit, but we had no other option when the City decided it was above, and not subject to, the laws of the state and the city itself.”

The suit filed in Sacramento Superior Court argues that the housing required approval from the State Lands Commission and seeks to halt plans until a final legal judgment is made. This comes weeks after the Board of Supervisors unanimously denied an appeal on similar grounds in June

Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Embarcadero, says they followed all the appropriate procedures for the temporary shelter. 

“I don’t know if they have much of a legal argument,” Haney says. “Dragging this out, stopping it for some amount of time, I think, is not going to be helpful in working together and getting people off the streets. This just feels like a delaying tactic.”

Mayor London Breed proposed the shelter in March, spurring neighbors to launch a GoFundMe that month that ultimately raised $102,000 for a legal fund — a jaw-dropping sum that angered many who said it would better serve the thousands of homeless people in San Francisco.

But following a city tradition of counter-campaigns dripping with satire, San Francisco resident William Fitzgerald created an identical-yet-diametrically-opposed GoFundMe to raise money for the Coalition on Homelessness. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff kicked in $10,000, GoFundMe itself donated $5,000, and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey threw in $25,000. All in all, the campaign raised $176,000.

Still, Safe Embarcadero For All appears to have the funds to fight the homeless shelter to the bitter end — plus enough to have Sam Singer, who represented Tetra Tech through the fraudulent Hunters Point cleanup scandal, be their public liaison.

“We support the moral imperative to care for the homeless,” Lee said. “It is also a moral imperative of our government and its leaders to afford due process to residents, families, children, and businesses in this neighborhood and to protect them from harm.”

Haney said they worked to address concerns by reducing the number of shelter beds, including foot patrols, and accountability measures. Instead of battling in court, he wants neighbors to help make the shelter a success so it can open in November before the weather makes life miserable and dangerous for people on the street.

“There’s a lot of assumptions about all these things are going to go wrong,” Haney says. “Let’s make sure those things don’t happen.”

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