Newsom’s lawsuit against SF goes to court this week – 48 hills

Lite Guv wants to overturn local control over waterfront development

A San Francisco Superior Court Judge will hear arguments Wednesday/28 in a lawsuit filed by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and his State Lands Commission colleagues that seeks to undermine local control of the waterfront.

The suit would overturn Prop. B, the June 2014 ballot measure that requires a vote of the people for any increase in waterfront height limits.

Protesters ask Newsom to call off the suit against SF
Protesters ask Newsom to call off the suit against SF

It could have dramatic statewide implications: If Newsom, who chairs the commission, succeeds, developers could ignore local concerns and build more easily on waterfront lands all over California.

The commission oversees some 4 million acres of tidelands along 1,130 miles of coastline, as well as submerged lands, and the beds of rivers and lakes.

The San Francisco Bay Estuary is part of that mandate, but in 1968, the state Legislature gave the city control over its waterfront, subject to the Port Commission.

Now, Newsom is arguing that that legislation (sponsored by then-Assemblymember John Burton and known as the Burton Act) only allows the Port Commission to make decisions on waterfront land – and that those decisions can’t be reviewed, changed, or directed by a voter initiative.

Newsom was a big supporter of the 8 Washington Project and appeared in ads for that luxury condo complex. He opposed Prop. B.

Burton argues in an amicus brief filed in opposition to the lawsuit that he never intended to prevent the voters of San Francisco from exercising jurisdiction over Port land. The Charter is clear: The voters, through the initiative and referendum, have the authority to enact or overturn anything that any elected or appointed body does, and that includes the Port.

In fact, there have been numerous ballot initiatives regulating waterfront development over the years, and until now (in the wake of the defeat of 8 Washington and Prop. B) nobody at any level has challenged their legality.

Newsom, who likes to portray himself as an environmentalist, is taking some political hits from the suit: The Los Angeles Times recently noted that Newsom was “facing a backlash” in the fight. His leading opponent in the governor’s race, Antonio Villaraigosa, issued a statement this week telling 48hills that he opposes the Lands Commission suit.

“The voters of San Francisco have spoken clearly on this issue,” Villaraigosa said, “and their will should be the last word.”

Meanwhile, in a new podcast, former KTVU Political Editor Randy Shandobil discusses the lawsuit with former Mayor Art Agnos. Agnos has harsh words for Newsom:

Randy Shandobil: So why do you think Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco, the Lt. Governor, and as we all know he’s running for Governor, why do you think that Gavin Newsom is so enthusiastic about this lawsuit against his former city.

Art Agnos: It’s about campaign contributions. The developers are big supporters of Gavin Newsom, they were when he was Mayor. The same developers who did Eight Washington, the high rise development along the water that triggered all of this action, were big supporters of his. Simon Snellgrove has given over $2 million dollars to politicians in this city in various campaigns. He’s given thousands and thousands of dollars, as have his allies, to Gavin Newsom to run for Lt. Governor, to run for Governor today, and so it’s very clear that it’s pay to play for Gavin Newsom. Which is a complete contradiction to what his lip service is as a candidate for Governor who says he cares about economic inequality. Yet in his campaign, he’s taking money from the richest people so support projects that only improves situations, in housing at least, for rich people.

R: So you’re basically saying that the former mayor of San Francisco is taking money to sue his former constituents.

A: That’s my impression, and that’s what the records show that throughout his career, he’s taken money from these developers who are seeking to get rid of the people’s right to vote on issues that affect their land in this city.

R: So, obviously this bothers you. What does this say about Gavin Newsom that he’s doing this?

A: It says to me that he is the greatest political one night stand that I have ever seen. And what I mean by that is he will come to an audience, and look good, sound good, and say all the right things. But when it comes to campaign donations, he’s taking money from people who are seeking to deny those citizens the right to vote on issues that affect their city on their public land.

The court hearing starts at 2pm in Superior Court, 400 McAllister, Dept. 504, before Judge Susan Bolanos.

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