Making good on his frequent threats to sue the city if delayed or denied in his quest to transform a laundromat at 2918 Mission St. into an eight-story, 75-unit tower, landowner Robert Tillman today took San Francisco to court — in an abuse-of-discretion claim he described as “a $17 million lawsuit.”
At issue was the Board of Supervisors’ June decision to delay the construction of his project, pending studies that would analyze potential shadows the tower could cast upon an adjacent school’s playground — at hours when the playground would be open if it was participating in the city’s nascent San Francisco Shared Schoolyard Project. Which it is not.
It was a surreal moment in public governance: A city official later likened the scene of the board scrambling to devise a means to delay Tillman’s project to a desperate man frantically digging through his couch cushions in search of loose change. This move came on the heels of Tillman being made to fund a 137-page, $23,000 study to determine if his laundromat was a historic resource (two-word synopsis: It isn’t).
“I’m just gonna sue them,” Tillman told Mission Local in June. “I’m not paying for any more studies. I’m done.”
Tillman, who is taking advantage of the since-altered city and state laws to push through a housing development composed of a scant 10.6 percent affordable units, accuses Supervisor Hillary Ronen of acting in cahoots with extortionist neighborhood activist groups — namely the Mission Economic Development Agency and Calle 24 — to thwart his agenda.
“In this case, a single Board member allied with special interest groups in the Mission district seeking to acquire the property at a below-market price, or otherwise to block it entirely, single-handedly killed the project after the Petitioner refused to sell the property to the activists at the discounted price demanded by those groups,” reads his suit. “Throughout the administrative process Supervisor Ronen maintained a close alliance with the project’s opponents, supporting those opponents’ effort to buy the property at a discount and attacking [Tillman’s] refusal to sell the property at less than its fair market value.”
The suit seeks to invalidate the board’s June action and its July ratification of that action. Additionally, it seeks to preemptively bar the city from demanding a higher affordable-housing requirement for a future project in the event Tillman prevails, yet fails to meet a Dec. 7 deadline to obtain a site permit.
Tillman argues that a project’s shadows are not identified within the California Environmental Quality Act, “nor its Guidelines,” as “creating a potential environmental impact.” He claims the city is additionally failing to follow its own rules regarding shadows as set forth in the Eastern Neighborhoods plan.
In doing so, Tillman argues, Ronen has created a new precedent — not just for his potential project, but all future school-adjacent, would-be developments.
“Petitioner is informed and believes the Planning Department now requires all new projects to include nearby schoolyards in the CEQA shadow impacts analysis even if they are not now and may never be part of the Shared School Yards Program,” the suit contends. “Over 250 schools are located in the City, thus numerous pending and future housing projects in the City may now be blocked in contravention to the concerns of the State Legislature and the City’s former and current Mayors regarding the critical shortage of market rate and affordable housing.”
The complaint charges that the board essentially allowed Ronen to control this action. “Supervisor Ronen’s admitted prejudice against the Project, combined with the Board’s supervisorial prerogative pattern and practice, prevented Petitioner from receiving a fair hearing. … At all relevant times, Supervisor Ronen’s intent has been to defeat the Project by creating unreasonable delays.”
Tillman’s suit lists 11 separate causes of action. A dollar figure is not stated in the “prayer for relief” or elsewhere. But, in an e-mail to Mission Local, Tillman described his “$17 million lawsuit filed today.”
Messages left for the City Attorney’s office have not yet been returned. When informed of the lawsuit, Ronen replied, “What can I say? I look forward to the court deciding which is more important: a developer’s profits or children’s access to sun on a playground.”
Update, Tuesday Aug. 21, 10 a.m.: City Attorney spokesman John Cote writes: “We’ll review the lawsuit once we’ve been served with it. We’re not going to comment on the specifics of something we haven’t been served with. In all matters, including those involving environmental review, the City takes great care to ensure that the law is followed.”