New California Law Streamlines Process for Building Navigation Centers

The law, which was signed by Governor Newsom last week, specifically tackles the type of appeal filed by unhappy neighbors over the Embarcadero Navigation Center.

A state bill that streamlines the approval process for Navigation Centers was quietly signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this week, potentially marking an end to the types of tactics being used to stop a homeless shelter from opening along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. 

Under State Bill 48, which was tucked into Assembly Bill 101, cities will be required by the state to support the construction of new Navigation Centers on any land that meets the zoning and building requirements — as long as the sites center housing and supportive services. 

It would also block neighbors from filing the types of appeals and suits currently being employed by a group of residents called “Safe Embarcadero For All.” In an attempt earlier this summer to block the shelter, the neighbors and their lawyers tried to argue that it shouldn’t be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) — a process that would at the very least delay construction while an environmental investigation of the project took place. 

But AB 101 now states that “CEQA does not apply to an action taken by a public agency to lease, convey, or encumber land owned by a public entity or to facilitate the lease, conveyance, or encumbrance of land owned by a public agency, or to provide financial assistance to, or otherwise approve, a low barrier Navigation Center constructed or allowed by this bill.”

At its core, it’s a nitpicky piece of legislation, but it could have sweeping effects. Pressure is mounting in City Hall for more neighborhoods across San Francisco to build Navigation Centers, but plans are slow to emerge, in part due to fears that neighbors will follow Embarcadero’s suit by filing appeals and dragging city attorneys to court.

And in the meantime, the homelessness crisis on city streets only gets more dire with each passing year.  

State Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced SB 48, told the Chronicle that part of the motivation in drafting it was to make sure that money freed up for homelessness can actually be spent. “The last thing we wanted was to make this huge investment to try to move the needle on homelessness, and the money can’t be deployed because we’re having a thermonuclear war over every single siting decision,” he said. “I want to make sure the city of San Francisco has all the tools it needs to solve his problem, and this is one of those tools.”

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