Judge Partially Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Voter Approval of Waterfront Development

A San Francisco Superior Court judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed that could invalidate a 2014 voter-approved ballot measure, known as Proposition B, which requires developers to seek approval from voters prior to construction of any project that exceeds height limits on port property.

The lawsuit, filed by the California State Lands Commission against the City and County of San Francisco, after the measure was approved in the June 2014 election, aims to invalidate the voter-approved measure that gives San Franciscans a right to vote on height increases for new development on waterfront property managed by the Port of San Francisco.

On Wednesday, Judge Suzanne R. Bolanos dismissed portions of the suit, but allowed the parts dealing with state interests to proceed, according to the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

The ruling upholds the power of San Franciscans to determine building heights on the city’s waterfront, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday.

Herrera said he is pleased that the judge dismissed the commission’s claim that the measure conflicts with the city’s charter and that judge acknowledged that the measure is consistent with the Burton Act.

“This ruling upholds the power of San Francisco and its voters over building heights on the City’s waterfront, and is in keeping with over 45 years of land use regulation in San Francisco,” Herrera said.

However, Bolanos denied the City Attorney’s motion to dismiss the entire case and she granted the State Lands Commission an opportunity to prove that the passage of Proposition B harms state interests on San Francisco’s waterfront.

Herrera said his office is prepared to show the court that Proposition B is currently not so burdensome to the Port of San Francisco as to be preempted by state law.

Jon Golinger, an activist with the group No Wall on the Waterfront, which supported Proposition B and maintains that San Franciscans deserve the right to weigh in on what gets built on their waterfront, expressed his pleasure with the judge’s ruling.

“Now the burden will be on the State Lands Commission and developers to provide the judge with facts that prove their claim that the state’s interests have been somehow undermined by reasonable height limits,” Golinger said.

“Since San Francisco voters just overwhelmingly approved the Pier 70 project’s height limit increase in November, how the state will prove its case is a mystery, but we will see,” Golinger said.

In November 2014, voters approved Proposition F, the Pier 70 Redevelopment Initiative, which allowed the developer to increase the height limits on Pier 70 from 40 feet to 90 feet.

Golinger said the developers did exactly what his group had hoped. He said the developers had a much taller proposal, they scaled it down and added affordable housing, and voters approved it.

Sheri Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the California State Lands Commission declined to comment on the judge’s motion, explaining that the Commission is unable to comment on pending litigation.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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