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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Nonprofit Targets High-Rise Deal on SF Bay

(CN) - California officials cannot push through a 16,000-square foot, 12-story condo and health club facility on the San Francisco Bay, an interest group says in court.

The development is the latest thorn in the side of Defend Our Waterfront, a nonprofit formed in September 2012 after area residents learned that the California State Lands Commission terminated public trust interest in Seawall Lot 351 on The Embarcadero at Washington Street in San Francisco.

California allegedly terminated the public trust interest in Lot 351 in a land exchange with the city of San Francisco that is currently the subject of three pending mandamus actions and a qualified referendum set for 2013.

Defend Our Waterfront says the state approved the land exchange on the basis of a California Environmental Quality Act exemption for "settlements of title and boundary problems."

But it claims that this exemption does not actually apply because there are no title or boundary disputes connected to Lot 351.

Part of the Embarcadero Freeway until the major earthquake of 1989, the property is now a parking lot that belongs to the Ferry Building Mixed Use Opportunity Area of the Waterfront Land Use Plan, according to the complaint. Defend Our Waterfront says this plan developed from a 1990 citizens' ballot initiative.

"Acceptable land uses for Seawall Lot 351 are those that are consistent with the public trust and the purposes of the Waterfront Land Use Plan," the group says.

A high-rise project is allegedly inconsistent with the plan.

Parties with a stake in the land's development include San Francisco Waterfront Partners II, Pacific Waterfront Properties and the California State Teachers Retirement System, according to the petition.

A December 2007 environmental study of Lot 351 found that the project was "not consistent with the public trust," Defend Our Waterfront Says.

The study also allegedly found that California needed legislative action or commission authorization to exchange a portion of Lot 351 for nontrust property. The San Francisco Planning Commission subsequently approved the environmental impact report in March, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal of the approval two months later, according to the petition.

The development plans include a new health club with outdoor pools and recreation areas, 4- to 12-story residential buildings containing 134 apartments, retail space totaling 20,000 square feet and more than 300 underground parking spaces, the nonprofit says.

New public open space will also be included, according to the petition.

Defend Our Waterfront says the commission's decision must be overturned.

"The commission is engaging in a statewide pattern and practice of reliance on an inapplicable statutory exemption from CEQA when approving land exchange agreements involving public trust lands sans title or boundary problems," the group states. "Unless declaratory relief is granted, the Commission may continue to approve such agreements via exemption even when unrelated to settlement of a boundary or title problem, and will thereby circumvent the mandates of CEQA."

The city and county of San Francisco are listed as respondents along with the California State Lands Commission and the Port Commission of the City and County of San Francisco.

Susan Brandt-Hawley, in Glen Ellen, Calif., represents Defend Our Waterfront.

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