Lawsuit Filed Against Proposition that Requires Vote for Waterfront Height Limit Increases

The California State Lands Commission filed a lawsuit Tuesday opposing the city’s Proposition B, which was approved by voters in June and requires proposed building height limit increases along the waterfront be approved by city voters.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris filed the lawsuit in Superior Court on behalf of the State Lands Commission asking the court to declare Proposition B void and direct the city not to enforce the proposition.

The Sacramento-based State Land Commission, with members Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, the State Controller John Chiang and the State Director of Finance Michael Cohen, manages land owned by California and under the state’s Burton Act mandated that the San Francisco Port Commission manage the City’s waterfront lands.

On June 3, Prop B, official called the “Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act” was approved by 59 percent of voters in San Francisco. The measure requires a vote before any height limit increases for development projects on Port of San Francisco property can be approved.

The existing height limit on the waterfront ranges from 40 feet to 84 feet depending on different locations along Port property.

Following the passage of the proposition in June, Jon Golinger, an attorney and proponent of No Wall on the Waterfront, said the vote showed that residents care about “protecting our beautiful waterfront.”

Opponents of the measure, such the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco Labor Council and other labor and planning groups, campaigned to keep the status quo for development projects.

The No on B campaign argued that voters already had the power to oppose projects and that the initiative will set a “dangerous” precedent for other planning projects throughout the city.

The passage of Proposition B codified the existing legal building height limits ranging from 40 feet to 84 feet for development along the city’s waterfront and now requires any proposed height limit increases to be approved by city voters.

Attorneys for the State Lands Commission argue that a 2010 amendment to the California Public Resources Code prohibited local initiatives from exercising authority over bay and coastal public trust lands.

Golinger said that the lawsuit challenges the power of San Francisco voters and their elected representatives to weigh in on waterfront height limits and development decisions.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced that he would “aggressively” defend the proposition and the right of San Francisco voters to have a voice in shaping the city’s shoreline.

Herrera said in a statement Tuesday that the lawsuit implies that “neither voters nor the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, or Mayor have any authority at all” over zoning and development on the waterfront.

Herrera said, “For decades, land use decisions involving San Francisco’s waterfront have included voters, elected leaders and appointed members of our Planning and Port Commissions.”

Golinger said successful waterfront developments in San Francisco include the construction of AT&T Park and the restoration of the Ferry Building.

Herrera said the lawsuit “represents a radical departure in law and practice from land use decision-making in San Francisco and elsewhere.”

Golinger said it is unclear whether the proposition will affect the planning for a development project at Pier 70 by San Francisco-based real estate company Forest City. The project was slated to be voted on under the newly passed proposition.

The preliminary plan calls for a mixed-use housing complex with one building reaching at least 80 feet, which is above the limits for that section of the waterfront.

A hearing for the lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 17 at the San Francisco Civic Courthouse.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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