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Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

State Agency Settles With San Francisco in Land Dispute

A California state agency settled its dispute with San Francisco over who gets to say what is built along the city’s iconic waterfront — and how high.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (CN) - A California state agency settled its dispute with San Francisco over who gets to say what is built along the city’s iconic waterfront — and how high.

Wednesday’s settlement brings to an end to a lawsuit first filed by the California State Lands Commission against the city of San Francisco over Proposition B — approved by city voters in 2014 — which stipulated that no buildings could be built higher than current zoning allows without voter approval.

State Lands argued it was the true owner of the land, which is managed by the San Francisco Port Commission, meaning Proposition B was an illegal exertion of authority by the city and its residents over property it didn’t control.

The city maintained Proposition B was legal and that city residents could and should have sway when it comes to the land use decisions over its iconic waterfront area.

“This agreement protects the will of San Francisco voters,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “It ends this lawsuit while ensuring that voters continue to have their voices heard when it comes to the use, access and enjoyment of San Francisco’s waterfront.”

The settlement means the commission agrees to withdraw the lawsuit while the city plans to ensure future development proposals will fully consider the impact to all California residents and not exclusively city residents.

The State Lands Commission had maintained the lawsuit and subsequent settlement was necessary to ensure the San Francisco waterfront was managed to the benefit of all Californians and not just city residents.

"Through this agreement, we've accomplished the State Lands Commission's objective in bringing this litigation: to prevent Prop B from creating a precedent weakening environmental protections statewide,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who chairs the State Lands Commission. “And I'm pleased that we've been able to accomplish this in tandem with upholding the will of San Francisco voters and shielding taxpayers from further unnecessary legal costs."

The settlement will also uphold voter-approved height limits for two waterfront development projects at Pier 70 and Mission Rock, contains funding for the construction of a large seawall to withstand earthquakes and sea level rise and plans for affordable housing development.

The San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, the State Lands Commission and the San Francisco Port Commission must all vote to approve the settlement before it becomes final.

Proposition B earned overwhelming support from voters in 2014, with 59 percent of those casting a ballot saying voters should have a say in enforcing height restrictions, which vary from about 40 to 80 feet depending on the area.

The 7 and a half mile stretch of land overseen by the port commission contains many lands that are part of the public trust.

Public trust lands is a legal concept derived from common law.

When California became a state in 1850, it acquired right, title and interest to all tidal and submerged lands and the beds of navigable riverways. These trust lands have management restrictions and, except for rare restrictions, are not for sale to private entities.

The California State Legislature has passed hundreds of laws that grant such land to local municipalities as trustees.

The California State Lands Commission said the settlement is an important precedent relating to how such municipalities can regulate trust lands.

“Key elements of the settlement are that the city agrees to education and transparency measures relating to its responsibilities as a fiduciary trustee of state-owned public trust lands,” the commission said in a Wednesday statement.

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Categories / Government, Regional

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