San Francisco: wealthy opponents of new shelter claim homeless are bad for environment

Vivian Ho in San Francisco
Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

The wealthy San Francisco residents who launched a crowdfunding campaign to block construction of a new homeless shelter in their waterfront neighborhood are employing a new tactic: arguing that homeless people are bad for the environment.

In a lawsuit filed against the city of San Francisco and the California State Lands Commission, the residents called for the project to undergo an environmental review before breaking ground.

“This project will have a significant effect on the environment due to these unusual circumstances, including by attracting additional homeless persons, open drug and alcohol use, crime, daily emergency calls, public urination and defecation, and other nuisances,” the lawsuit states.

Opponents of infrastructure and affordable housing projects often call upon the California Environmental Quality Act as a stalling ploy to delay construction. The law requires developers to explore any environmental effects a project might have, and take steps to reduce them.

Attorneys for the residents, paid for by the more than $102,000 raised through the GoFundMe campaign, argued in the lawsuit that the project did not undergo a full environmental review process.

Related: San Francisco approves homeless shelter despite backlash from wealthy residents

The city has argued that the project – a 200-bed temporary homeless shelter – is exempt was from such reviews.

“I question if this a legitimate concern or a last-ditch attempt to block the shelter by any means necessary,” said Kelley Cutler, the human rights organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness. “Methane emissions are bad for the environment, and this smells like bullshit.”

The residents’ fight against this homeless shelter comes as San Francisco’s homeless population surged, with city officials tallying more than 8,000 during the last homeless count. More than 1,400 wait for temporary shelter spots to open up each night, and the city has promised to increase the number of shelter beds by 1,000. Homelessness in San Francisco has reached the level of a humanitarian crisis, fueled in part by the tech boom supercharging the housing market.

Opponents of the shelter have long said that their ultimate concern is public safety, a point that homeless rights advocates have argued was bigoted and dehumanizing. In addition to the environmental concerns, the lawsuit states that the project is “likely to decrease the fair market value” for any future projects in that location.

The city is reviewing the lawsuit, said John Coté, a spokesman for the city attorney Dennis Herrera, but the project has already undergone all required environmental review and the Board of Supervisors has denied several appeals under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“San Francisco has a homeless crisis on its hands,” Coté said. “The city is ready to put roofs over people’s heads and get them indoors. Others are filing baseless lawsuits to keep people out in the cold. Rather than trying to shift the problem to someone else’s backyard, everyone needs to do their part.”