Redevelopment referendum tossed — so now what?
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It's been a week since City Attorney Dennis Herrera invalidated the seemingly successful referendum drive challenging the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan, and everyone involved is still wondering what's next.
Can the biggest redevelopment plan in city history just move forward as if more than 33,000 city residents hadn't signed petitions asking to vote on it? Legally, that's where the situation now stands. But even Herrera told the Guardian that the legal question he answered is separate from the policy and political questions.
Should the Board of Supervisors hold a hearing to discuss the controversial issues raised by redevelopment and this referendum? Should it consider repealing the plan and allowing a ballot vote, as some supervisors want?
And if each referendum petition must include a thick stack of all related documents, as Herrera's opinion indicates, won't that make it prohibitively expensive for a community group to ever challenge such a complex piece of legislation? Have the citizens in effect lost the constitutional right to force a referendum on a redevelopment plan?
"I can't speak to what the practical effect will be. I can just tell you what the state of the law is," Herrera told us, noting that referendum case law clearly indicates that the petitioners should have carried the 62-page redevelopment plan and all supporting documents, not simply the ordinance that approved it.
A "TERRIBLE" DECISION
Four supervisors — Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, Gerardo Sandoval, and Ross Mirkarimi — voted against the plan in May. All have expressed concern about Herrera's decision, but none have yet called for a hearing.
"Whether you agree or disagree with this opinion on the validity of the redevelopment referendum, it raises some grave concerns that this process — a democratic, grassroots process — was overturned," Mirkarimi told us. Daly called the decision "terrible."
Yet given that they need the support of at least two more supervisors to reconsider the plan, Mirkarimi conceded that the next step will probably have to come from a lawsuit by the petitioners, a move referendum coalition leaders Willie Ratcliff and Brian O'Flynn say they intend to pursue if political pressure fails.
"It's unclear what the next steps are to dislodge this from the legal shackles that knocked it down," Mirkarimi said. "Something doesn't smell right, and it's difficult to trace the odor completely without the courts getting involved."
But Ratcliff hasn't given up on forcing a political solution, which he is pushing through his coalition and the San Francisco Bay View newspaper he publishes. The paper last week ran a story on the decision under the hyperbolic headline "City Hall declares war on Bayview Hunters Point."
"We're talking to lawyers, but to us the last resort is going to court. We feel we can pull it off politically," Ratcliff told us. "What this did really was unite this community. If the city will pull this kind of thing, how are we going to have any faith in this plan? We're going to flex our power.... People are ready to fight now."
One gauge of Ratcliff's support in the community will come on the afternoon of Sept. 27, when he will lead a march and rally on the issue. The event is tied to the 40th anniversary of the so-called Hunters Point Uprising, when a teenager was shot by police and the resulting community backlash was violently quelled using National Guard tanks and police sharpshooters.
"With the 40th anniversary of the Hunters Point Uprising of Sept. 27, 1966, only days away, this sounds like a declaration of war against the same people who protested then and are protesting still against police brutality and for jobs, economic equity and the right to develop our own community and control our own destiny," Ratcliff wrote in a front page editorial.
Ratcliff told us, "We're going to have a big march out there to show the city that we oppose this plan."
THE PLAN IS IN EFFECT
Herrera's opinion on the referendum was requested by Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, and Sup. Sophie Maxwell.
Redevelopment Agency director Marcia Rosen told the Guardian that fears of redevelopment stem from how badly it was handled in the Western Addition in the 1960s, but that the agency and the political climate of the city have changed. She said the agency is approaching Bayview–Hunters Point in an incremental, community-based fashion. She said the plan should go forward and will eventually prove the fears are unfounded.
"The plan was adopted by the board and signed into law by the mayor, and there is no further action needed, so the plan is in effect," she told us.
Maxwell and Peskin each said they're inclined to just let the redevelopment plan go into effect, although Peskin said, "I'm not going to stop any supervisor from having a hearing on any subject."
"It's important to understand that this plan is a living document, so there will be changes and people talking to each other," Maxwell told us. "It's certainly not the end of anything."
She told the Guardian that the referendum campaign used paid signature gatherers, money from a developer from outside the area, and distorted claims about eminent domain and other aspects of the plan — misrepresentations that signers could have checked if the plan was readily available as legally required.
"The democratic process has to be taken seriously, and democracy is not easy," Maxwell told us. "The decision was about preserving the democratic process, and people need to have facts at their disposal. There has to be a process and there has to be a standard."
That's certainly true — and O'Flynn is a contractor who lives in the Marina. But it's hard to imagine how carrying around thick stacks of paper filled with complex land-use plans would have made a difference. Most signers would never have stopped to take several hours to read it all.
John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California School of Law, said that referendum case law has been built around a few courts validating actions by civic officials to strike down citizen movements.
"The sad fact is it looked like elected officials are trying to keep measures off the ballot and looking for ways to support that," Matsusaka told the Guardian. "Preventing the people from voting is really not going to bring harmony to the community." SFBG
The Defend Bayview Hunters Point Coalition's Sept. 27 march begins at 3:30 p.m. at the Walgreens at 5800 Third St. and Williams and continues up Third Street to Palou Street, where there will be a press conference and rally at 4:30 p.m.