Gav at the State Lands Commission meeting. Photo by Steve Rhodes
Gav at the State Lands Commission meeting. Photo by Steve Rhodes

By Tim Redmond

AUGUST 15, 2014 – We solved one mystery today.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom showed up for the State Lands Commission meeting at the Ferry Building, and I was able to corner him briefly in the hall outside. Not exactly a long interview – more me walking briskly alongside the Lite Guv as he tried to make it from the elevator to the hearing room – but I got in the critical question, and got a direct answer:

Yes, Gavin Newsom did vote to sue San Francisco. “We all did,” he said, meaning the three commissioners were unanimous.

And how does he feel about suing his former city, the place that gave him his start in politics? How does he feel about using the power of the state to tamp down the will of the voters in his hometown?

“That’s a ridiculous question,” the Gavster said. “I represent the state of California, and I am upholding California state law.”

There you have it.

Actually, the person who wrote the law that Newsom claims to be upholding, John Burton, says the lawsuit is ridiculous and his piece of legislation was never intended to limit the ability of local voters to weigh in on large development projects on Port of San Francisco land.

But the courts will sort that it, if the case ever gets to court.

The SLC is clearly paying attention. Although Newsom told me this was mostly a staff-driven move, and the commissioners just ratified the decision to sue, the case has created enough controversy that the three state officials can’t ignore it.

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

After the chair of the commission, Alan Gordon, who sits in for state Controller John Chiang, watched a lively press conference in front of the Ferry Building demanding an end to the lawsuit, the members moved public comment from the end of the meeting to near the beginning, and allowed some discussion of the case.

Nothing came of it, but at least Newsom and his colleagues heard how unhappy some San Franciscans are to see the state tell us that we can’t vote to control the future of development on the waterfront.

Jon Golinger, who ran the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign, asked Newsom why it was okay for the Lite Guv to star in TV ads promoting a ballot measure to allow the 8 Washington project when it’s not okay for the voters to approve a ballot measure limiting that kind of development.

Newsom never answered. But the question is out there.

The press conference featured Becky Evans of the Sierra Club, Sup. David Campos, and Potrero Hill activist and supervisor candidate Tony Kelly. They all argued that, as Campos put it, “the voters have spoken” and that Sacramento has no business telling San Francisco whether luxury condos can be built on the waterfront.

Prop. B, which Newsom and his colleagues are suing to halt, doesn’t stop development; it just forces developers to put their big projects to a vote of the people. Good ones (like AT&T Park, which went to a public vote) will win. Bad ones won’t.

It allows full sunshine on development deals, Kelly said, and eliminated backroom agreements made with the Port Commission, which is appointed entirely by the mayor. “One of the people who made these backroom deals,” Kelly said, “is now suing the city.”

48hills and the Lite Guv: Seriously now, who has the better hair?
48hills and the Lite Guv: Seriously now, who has the better hair? Thanks to Steve Rhodes for catching this epic pic