July 21, 2014 Housing Action Coalition
On Tuesday 7/15, the State Lands Commission (SLC) filed a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco, challenging the legality of Prop B, the waterfront height limit initiative, passed by the voters in June. The SLC’s position basically says that Prop B gives the voters of San Francisco the right to make zoning decisions on public waterfront land that do not belong to them. The state’s position is that Port properties are under the jurisdiction of the SF Port Commission and held in trust for all the people of California.
As you may recall, SFHAC took a strong position against Prop B, which emerged from the November 2012 battle over the ill-fated 8 Washington project. There are strong similarities between the two measures. They both contain strains of a persistent backlash to the building boom of the past two or three years and both had significant support from the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and the Sierra Club, two potent, local anti-growth organizations.
A key difference between the 8 Washington and Prop B campaign battles, however, was the two themes that the campaigns used to motivate voters.
The 8 Washington campaign included a strong opposition to building “housing for millionaires” (while ignoring consideration of the enormous project payments that would’ve built 55-60 permanently affordable homes). The Prop B campaign, on the other hand, centered around the idea of simply giving the voters the right to decide the question of waterfront heights on a case-by-case basis.
The SFHAC was part of a pre-election legal challenge to Prop B that was turned down in both Superior Court and the Court of Appeals in May. It is important to note that the challenge was not rejected because of the merits of the complaint. Rather, the judge said it was not appropriate to prevent the voters from deciding. She was silent on the arguments themselves. The lawsuit by the SLC means that the objections to it will finally be heard in court.
The pre-election challenge, written by the law firm Remcho Johansen & Purcell, contains two broad arguments. The first is the issue of jurisdiction, essentially who has authority to make decisions over the Port’s properties. And the second is the question of whether Prop B violates the SF Charter. Interestingly, the complaint by the SLC, a state agency, only includes arguments regarding the first. It remains to be seen who will submit arguments against issues about the SF Charter.
Finally, there remains the question of what Forest City will do regarding their Pier 70 project. Following passage of Prop B, the developer submitted a ballot initiative to win approval of their large waterfront project. However, the legality of Forest City’s initiative has been called into question by the SLC’s challenge to Prop B (read SLC’s letter to SF here).
We do not yet know the process or timing of how SLC’s legal challenge will proceed. The SFHAC will keep you posted as this unfolds. Prop B, Remcho Johansen & Purcell