The plan to build the largest navigation center in the city on the Embarcadero has once again rankled South Beach residents who’ve opposed the project since its inception.
“The city sought to impose this on us for the next four years,” South Beach resident Garrett Law said at a community meeting, “And now we have to deal with it.”
Navigation centers are temporary, low-barrier residence facilities for unhoused individuals. They offer on-site support services that include case management, connections to medical services and pathways to permanent housing.
First, neighbors attempted to appeal the shelter in June to no avail. Then a group of neighbors calling themselves “Safe Embarcadero for All” (SEA) fundraised to sue and halt the project. Construction has begun nonetheless, and neighbors on Aug. 28 took their concerns about public safety to a meeting, this time held by local representatives and neighbors.
Among the dissidents was SEA president Wallace Lee, who said he intended to spend a lot of money on a ballot initiative opposing the project if it proved unsafe. Such a measure, which he threatened to file for the 2020 election, would attempt to prevent the shelter’s renewal once its two-year trial period ends.
“My concern is that the people coming to this center will be drug users, the mentally ill and sex of- fenders,” Lee said. “Our view is that those people don’t belong in a residential neighborhood.”
After weeks of fierce debate between supporters and opponents of the center, the Port Commission voted unanimously in April to allow the city to build a 200-bed navigation center on a portion of Seawall Lot 330 at the Embarcadero and Beale Street.
Despite Lee’s warning, the latest suggested deadline to submit proposed ballot initiatives for the November 2020 election was Aug. 20, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
“It sounded like he was trying to use the ballot measure as a threat to get us to change our plans or behave better,” said Rachel Alonso, the Department of Public Works’ project manager for the construction of the navigation center. “I think everyone in the city wants to be the best we can be and have the center be the best it can be, so I don’t think the ballot measure will strike fear in anyone.”
Alonso added that the recently signed Assembly Bill 101 could hinder Lee’s proposed measure. The bill requires California cities to support the building of new navigation centers on land that meets zoning requirements and prohibits people from appealing any decision to build the centers.
Tensions surrounding the Embarcadero Navigation Center mounted this month when South Beach resident Paneez Kosarian, 26, was attacked by a man presumed to be homeless in front of her Beale Street condominium Aug. 11.
Kosarian has since advocated against the center alongside SEA, which has used the incident as proof of the center’s unwanted effects on the neighborhood.
“The more homeless people that are there, the more mentally violent people are going to be around,” Lee said. “Those people are going to encounter a lot more people around here than near the other navigation centers.”
An analysis of San Francisco Police Department data last year indicated that navigation centers do not affect neighborhood crime, according to a study published with the Goldman School of Public Policy. Data indicated that the number of crimes committed near navigation centers was roughly the same as the crimes occurring at similar locations without the centers.
There are currently five other navigation centers operating in San Francisco. The Embarcadero site is expected to open in December.