Amid homelessness crisis, SF residents sue to block new shelter

Remember when we talked about the 30% increase in homelessness in San Francisco? At the time I suggested that some combination of public and private investment might be needed to combat the problem. As it turns out, just such a proposal is moving forward, with construction getting underway on a 200-bed temporary shelter located near the Giants baseball stadium.

Great news, right? You might think so, but a large group of local residents doesn’t agree. Called “Safe Embarcadero for All,” the group raised more than $100K, not to help the homeless, but to bring a lawsuit aimed at stopping construction of the shelter. They’re claiming everything from improper permit approval to a failure to study environmental impacts caused by the project. But to listen to their spokespeople, what they really mean is they don’t want a bunch of homeless people hanging around. (LA Times)

Attorneys for the group — Safe Embarcadero for All — filed the case in Sacramento Superior Court. They argue that the city didn’t gain approval for the project from the State Lands Commission, which has oversight over waterfront development, and is the lead defendant. A spokesperson for the commission declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The site is near the Ferry Building and where the San Francisco Giants stadium is located.

“There’s no question that there is a big problem in the city,” said Peter Prows, one of the attorneys on the case. “But the homelessness problem has to be solved in compliance with the law and that’s what the city is not doing here.”

The group is claiming that the project failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and conduct a study of potential environmental impacts. The city countered by saying the project was exempt from CEQA requirements. But what sort of “environmental impacts” are the residents worried about? The lawsuit specifically warns against, “a significant effect on the environment due to these unusual circumstances, including by attracting additional homeless persons, open drug and alcohol use, crime, daily emergency calls, public urination and defecation and other nuisances.”

Granted, there is obviously going to be some environmental impact, but what it really sounds like is a fear that bunch of homeless people will be using the streets next to the baseball stadium as open toilets and drug shooting galleries. Also, if you take a look at the photo from the protest at the Ports Commission meeting, the signage tells you a lot about what’s going on. Locals are holding up signs that read “Not Good For Residents. Not Good For Visitors,” or “This Is San Francisco’s Front Yard.”

The area is popular with tourists and sports fans. That represents a lot of money for the city. And a big crowd of homeless people is definitely not good for business.

San Francisco is hardly unique in this regard. Every city has to deal with a homeless population, though the ones in more gentle climates attract far more displaced people. Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done to help them, but they don’t want the problem moved into their own neighborhoods. You know… Not In My Back Yard. And meanwhile, the problem continues to grow.