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Villaraigosa attacks Newsom over 'elitist' suit to block voter limits on San Francisco waterfront buildings

 (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Antonio Villaraigosa called on gubernatorial rival Gavin Newsom on Friday to drop a lawsuit challenging the right of San Francisco voters to set height limits on new buildings along the city’s scenic waterfront.

Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, chairs the State Lands Commission, which filed the complaint.

The lawsuit seeks to nullify the Sierra Club’s Proposition B, passed by 59% of the city’s voters in 2014. It requires voter approval for any new waterfront building that exceeds the city’s height limit.

“The State Lands Commission's legal argument that the people of San Francisco are too uneducated on ballot issues to make a decision about height limits is both elitist and condescending,” said Villaraigosa, a former Los Angeles mayor.

Unlike Newsom, he said, “I trust the voters of San Francisco's decision to protect their own waterfront.”

Newsom and the Lands Commission argue that California law bars voters from playing a direct role in the use of public waterfront.

The Sierra Club and its allies disagree, saying a Lands Commission victory threatened to block voters statewide from passing ballot measures to restrict coastal development and oil drilling, as Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach and other communities have done for decades.

Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click said the suit was “pivotal to protecting public lands from being plundered by big developers and polluters,” he said.

He also attacked Villaraigosa for backing a Mojave Desert water project opposed by environmentalists.

Newsom, now lieutenant governor, and Villaraigosa are the leading Democrats vying for governor in the June primary.

Jennifer Lucchesi, the Lands Commission’s executive officer, said the suit would ensure public waterfront is accessible to all Californians.

“The commission believes all Californians, including the people of San Francisco, are the most educated and well-versed voters in the country,” she said Friday. “Any statement otherwise is misdirected.”

Updated at 9:47 a.m.: This post was updated with a comment from the Newsom campaign.

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