The public policy issue that has more lives than a Google-enhanced cat is back in the news today, as the California State Lands Commission has sued the city of San Francisco to overturn Proposition B, which city voters passed in November. The Commission is arguing that the law, which requires any new construction along the waterfront that exceeds existing height limitations to face a city-wide vote, is an infringement on state-owned land along the waterfront.
The Commission's lawsuit says that Prop B "targets state-owned tide and submerged lands over which the Legislature has expressly precluded the right of local initiative." Opponents of the proposition, including developers, had sued before the election to remove Prop B from the ballot, an attempt that a Superior Court judge rejected, allowing the vote to go forward. However, the suit by developers is still pending, and may be combined with the new legal challenge.
The State Lands Commission—which is made of Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Controller John Chiang, and the state's Financial Director Michael Cohen—is arguing that the tidal lands along San Francisco's waterfront were transferred from the state to the city in 1968 on the condition that they be managed by an autonomous Port Commission, something that they say Prop B violates.
The suit has drawn fire from activists and city leaders. Jon Golinger, the North Beach political figure who ran the Prop B campaign and the earlier Prop C campaign had harsh words for the Commission, saying it was a "rogue state agency trying to make a power play." City Attorney Dennis Herrera vowed to defend the Proposition in court, calling the suit, "a radical departure in law and practice from land-use decision-making in San Francisco and elsewhere."
City voters have weighed in on developments along the water since at least 1990, when voters passed a ban on new hotel construction and required the city to adopt a development plan for the region. If the suit were to succeed, it's not clear if it would simply overturn Prop B, or if it would wider effects on other voter-mandated development controls.
One thing is clear: This isn't the last story to be written about the waterfront development fights.