State wades into S.F. waterfront height-limit fight

By John Coté : sfgate – excerpt

State land-use officials are questioning the legality of a proposed San Francisco ballot measure that would require voter approval to exceed height limits along the waterfront.

The measure, which supporters are trying to qualify for the June ballot, would affect at least three major waterfront development projects that are a central part of Mayor Ed Lee‘s vision for growing the city’s economy, including the Golden State Warriors‘ plans for a waterfront arena just south of the Bay Bridge.

The ballot measure is of “questionable validity,” according to a letter sent Monday to City Attorney Dennis Herrera by Mark Meier, the chief legal counsel for the State Lands Commission. The agency, which has authority over state lands, including the San Francisco waterfront, has “concerns about the legality of this proposed initiative” because it would supplant the city’s decision-making authority – which is supposed to be exercised on behalf of residents of the entire state – with a vote of the local citizenry…

‘Fatally flawed’

A separate legal analysis by Robin Johansen – an attorney at Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, which specializes in election law – contends the ballot measure is “fatally flawed” and runs afoul of both state and local law, in part by trying to take away authority from the Board of Supervisors granted under the City Charter without going through the much more difficult process of amending the Charter itself.

The city attorney’s office declined to comment, saying it was long-standing policy not to comment on measures that are before voters…

The Warriors are proposing to build a 125-foot-tall arena on a pair of conjoined piers where there is a 40-foot height limit. The project also includes building a 175-foot condominium tower and two 105-foot mid-rise buildings for a hotel on a lot owned by the port across the Embarcadero, where there is a 105-foot height limit.

The San Francisco Giants are proposing a pair of slender towers that could rise to at least 320 feet as part of an urban village with buildings of various sizes on a 16-acre site near AT&T Park that is currently their main parking area, which they lease from the port and which is zoned as open space.

Pier 70 plans

At Pier 70, a group of developers is preparing to restore about a dozen battered industrial buildings while adding as many as 1,000 housing units and 2.5 million square feet of commercial space, including two towers up to 230 feet, on port property where height limits vary from 40 to 65…

All of the sites are on property that was entrusted to the city in 1968 by the state under the Burton Act, which allowed the city, through what is now the Port Commission, to manage the day-to-day activities on what had been state land…

Under a tenet of common law that dates to Roman times, the waterways of California, including waterfront property, are held in trust by the state for public benefit and maritime use. The state “still remains the ultimate trustee of these granted lands,” Meier wrote in his letter as the top attorney for the State Lands Commission, a three-member panel that includes former San Francisco Mayor and current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

Proponents of San Francisco’s measure, though, say they are looking to ensure that the rules that are already in place – height limits – remain, unless voters decide there is a compelling reason to change.

“All this measure does is give the people the right to protect that waterfront,” Golinger said. “Anything the politicians can do, the people they work for can certainly do too.”… (more)




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