Tensions stoked by the increasing wealth inequality of San Francisco have become the subject of a heated (and well documented online) legal debate over the last several months. After it was announced this April that opponents to the city’s largest homeless shelter, the Embarcadero Navigation Center, were determined to undermine the project through a lawsuit they had crowdfunded for, the overseeing San Francisco Superior Court judge decided not to issue a halt to its construction.
The project in question, a 200-bed homeless shelter, is already underway on 2.3 acres in The Embarcadero, the strip of land along the city’s eastern shoreline facing Berkeley, and it is projected that it will be finished by the end of this year. The center’s construction first caught the attention of the non-profit group Safe Embarcadero For All (SEFA), which argued that the construction of homeless housing in that location would cause “irreparable harm” to the residents of nearby condominiums (one SEFA attorney cited an act of assault against a Watermark resident on August 11th of this year to prove their claim). They then filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Planning Commission, the state of California, and the city’s Homelessness and Supportive Housing division.
Despite their efforts, Judge Ethan P. Schulman claimed that their charges were unfounded and dismissed their case last Monday. The judge found that the construction and operation of the building would not cause harm to the wealthier residents of the neighborhood, as SEFA’s attorneys claimed it would, but instead would provide the homeless community with a safe environment to call their own. In response to several other issues SEFA have taken against the project, Deputy City Attorney James Emery stated that “the project is temporary” and “should the courts ultimately determine the project is unlawful, the site can be restored to its prior use.”
Though the future of the homeless shelter remains unclear, the judge’s recent decision makes its completion much more likely than it has been in several months. However, with the sixth-highest income inequality of any U.S. city, tensions between housing shortages and increasing homelessness rates in San Francisco will likely inspire similar litigation as other homeless shelters are considered in its future. Additionally, SEFA may still get there day in court; although the motion to stop construction on the center was denied, the judge has scheduled a follow-up hearing for September 23.