Residents Rally as Lawsuit Against Embarcadero Navigation Center is Transferred Back to San Francisco

Embarcadero Navigation Center, District 6, Matt Haney, London Breed, Wallace Lee, Port of San Francisco, Oracle Park, Ferry Building, Dennis Herrera, James Arguelles

By Meghan Hall

When San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced the 1,000-bed initiative in October 2018, the City of San Francisco worked to identify sites around the city that could become homes to SAFE (Shelter and Access for Everyone) Navigation Centers to serve those experiencing homelessness. However, the Embarcadero Navigation Center, which is planned for Seawall Lot 330 and has since began construction, is still facing robust community opposition that could stall the project in the coming months if a judge agrees with a motion for a restraining order filed by citizens group Safe Embarcadero for All.

“The main reason that we do not believe that this is an appropriate site for this type of homeless shelter is because of public safety,” explained Wallace Lee, president of Safe Embarcadero for All, a local citizens group. “The Navigation Center is a low-barrier shelter; it is meant for people who are resistant to other types of shelter, other services. Basically, there are a lot of reasons why people do not want to use traditional shelters or services. The shelter is meant to bring those people in, which I think is a good goal, but it is the wrong place for it.”

The site is located just across from Piers 30-32 and is halfway between Oracle Park and The Ferry Building, near the Bay Bridge. The Center will replace 125 overnight mats currently located at Providence Church as well as add 75 beds to the area. In addition to temporary residential facilities, onsite support services, safe storage, 24/7 access and trauma-informed care will be provided.

The Port Commission voted unanimously in April to support the project, granting the city a two-year lease on the 2.3-acre parcel, despite nearly four hours of public commentary preceding the vote. In light of public opposition, city officials made several efforts to assuage concerns about safety, including scaling down the center, which will begin at 130 beds and then increase over a seven-month period to 200. The City also promised to establish a community advisory committee to evaluate the center once it is open. During the first two years of operation, the City will also issue quarterly reports on the unsheltered homeless count, cleaning operations, crime statistics and program utilization and outcomes. The measures, along with a proposed increase in security and presence of beat officers in the neighborhood, did little to assuage residents.

The City has the option to extend its lease with the Port for an additional two years.

According to Lee, however, Navigation Centers should not be located in highly residential parts of town. “Any residential neighborhood is the wrong place for a [navigation center]. The site has 10,000 residents within three blocks, so while people do not normally think of downtown or this area of San Francisco as residential, there are actually a lot of people living here. And the city has really shown itself as being unable to protect public safety.”

Those fears were recently exacerbated when a homeless man was caught attacking a woman as she was entering her apartment building on Beale Street. 

After the San Francisco Board of Supervisors turned down Safe Embarcadero for All’s appeal of the project, the citizens group filed a lawsuit in the Sacramento Superior Court. The basis of the lawsuit, according to public documents, is that the city did not go through proper environmental review or get approval from the State Lands Commission. Safe Embarcadero for All is seeking a restraining order that will halt development on the project until the lawsuit is resolved.

Originally, Mayor Breed had hoped to open the center this summer. While construction is currently underway, the timeline of the project will be based upon the outcome of the lawsuit. If allowed to proceed, delivery is anticipated for November of this year.

At a July hearing, however, Judge James Arguelles granted a motion filed by Attorney Dennis Herrera, the San Francisco City Attorney, to move hearing proceedings back to San Francisco. According to Lee, the transfer of the case is not yet complete, although it is likely a new hearing will be scheduled in the next several weeks.

Despite opposition to the Navigation Center, it is apparent to many that San Francisco’s homeless — and housing — crisis is acute. Mayor Breed has committed to 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of 2020. The need for such centers is particularly important for San Francisco District 6, where the Embarcadero Navigation Center will be located. Overall, a Point-in-Time Count found that there are more than 9,700 people total across San Francisco that are experiencing homelessness. In District 6 alone, there were about 3,659 sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals accounted for on any given night, according to the Point-in-Time Count, the highest throughout all 11 districts in the City.

“We have to continue to move quickly to build more shelters and housing throughout our City because there are too many people suffering on our streets. We especially need more shelters in neighborhoods like the Bayview where there aren’t currently enough resources to serve the people who need them,” said Mayor Breed in a statement. “This SAFE Navigation Center will be a place where people can get the help they need to exit homelessness.”

The Port of San Francisco, as well as the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, declined to comment for this story. District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney did not return The Registry’s request for comment.

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