Flip charts, planners, and the ongoing attack on industrial land in SoMa

Planner Steve Wertheim explains how a forum on Soma planning will work.

48 hills, November 21, 2014

On Tuesday, November 18, from 6-8 pm, the San Francisco Planning Department held an open house on the draft Central SoMa Plan at SPUR’s spiffy headquarters at 654 Mission.

The controversial plan envisions a massive upzoning (more height and density) and a corresponding amount of highrise, high-rent development in the area, as this map from TODCO, Tenants and Owners Development Corporation, makes clear.

48hillstodcomap

The proposed drastic changes have recently been highlighted by the controversy over Kilroy Realty Corporation’s proposal to build a highrise office tower at 575 Sixth Street, part of the site of the San Francisco Flower Mart.

The threat to the Flower Mart encapsulates the plan’s larger, most disputed feature: the displacement and likely destruction of at least 1,800 blue-collar jobs.

I started covering the plan in October 2013. Since then, this is the planners’ first effort at community engagement about their proposal. I’m always curious to see how public officials handle citizen participation. To what extent do they encourage in-depth discussion of the issues at hand? How much control do they seek to exercise over that discussion? The usual answer to the first question is, not much, and to the second, a whole lot. More

Landlord tells tenant organizer to move his business

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Jim Gallagher at his shop Garden Court Antiques

October 17, 2014, 48 hills

Last summer Jim Gallagher organized his fellow tenants at the San Francisco Design Center in their successful fight against their successful fight against displacement by social media phenomenon Pinterest

But all is not well.

Since 2008 the shop he manages, Garden Court Antiques, has been on the first floor of the building at 2 Henry Adams. From 2002 to 2006 the business was also a Bay West tenant at 5 Henry Adams. Gallagher’s been there all along.

On Monday he was shocked to learn that the company that manages the building, Bay West, is going to move Garden Court Antiques from its prime location to the back of the 4th floor of the Galleria Building across the street. Bay West manages both properties for the giant Chicago-based real estate investment firm, RREEF. He’s been given 30 days notice. More

Will the “growth wars” ever end? Well, maybe not

SPUR's Gabriel Metcalf asks if the growth wars will ever end

SPUR’s Gabriel Metcalf asks if the growth wars will ever end

October 13, 2014, 48 hills

Every month, the law firm of Reuben, Junius & Rose hosts a lunchtime forum called the Real Estate Roundtable at the City of Club of San Francisco.

(Regular readers of 48 hills will recall the company’s aggressive representation of the owners of 660 3rd St., who’d illegally converted their industrially zoned property into tech offices, and with principal Andrew Junius’ recent attack on Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposed interim moratorium on PDR-into-office conversions in SoMa.)

The speaker at this month’s forum, which took place on Oct. 9, was Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, formerly known as the San Francisco Urban Research Association, the urban think tank. Metcalf’s topic: “Peace in Our Time? Will San Francisco’s Growth Wars Ever End?”

The title alone, with its paraphrase of Neville Chamberlains’ infamous 1938 pronouncement about the Munich Agreement with Germany, was worth the $65 price of admission to the lunch, and 48 hills sent me on assignment.

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A ballot measure for the Flower Mart

Florist Katherine Dooley talks about a ballot initiative to save the Flower Mart

Florist Katherine Dooley talks about a ballot initiative to save the Flower Mart

October 2, 2014, 48 hills

The fight to save the San Francisco Flower Mart ramped up yesterday, as the coalition supporting the flower vendors filed paperwork at City Hall to place a measure on the November 2015 ballot —provisionally titled the San Francisco Flower Mart Protection Act — that would preserve the current zoning and thereby prohibit the high-rise development proposed for the site by Los Angeles-based Kilroy Realty.

The move was announced at a press conference held at Repetto’s Nursery stall in the Mart and attended by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, former Mayor Art Agnos, former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, Small Business Commissioner and florist Kathleen Dooley, who filed and signed the initiative petition, vendor Patrick McCann, fellow vendors and florists, and their allies.

The Save the Flower Mart campaign was launched at a rally held in the same space, exactly five weeks earlier to the day. Soon afterward a petition circulated by the vendors garnered nearly 10,000 signatures in a week.

On September 11, 68% of the stockholders of the San Francisco Flower Growers Association, which owns the portion of the Flower Mart site where McCann and over 80 other vendors rent their space, voted to approve a merger with Kilroy. On the same day, vendor Dave Repetto, who’s also an SFFGA stockholder, sued the organization for breach of fiduciary duty.

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The fight to save industrial space continues

David Repetto is suing to block the sale of the Flower Mart

Dave Repetto is suing to block the sale of the Flower Mart

September 18, 2014, 48 hills

There’s lots of news on the light industrial/PDR (Production, Distribution, and Repair) front.

  • On September 9, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim introduced a bill that would prohibit office or residential conversions of property zoned for light industry, a.k.a. PDR in the Central SoMa (né Corridor) Plan area for 45 days

Bounded by Market St. on the north, 2nd St. on the east, Townsend St. on the south and 6thSt. on the west, the plan area lies wholly within District 6.

The Central Corridor map

Stating that “recent economic trends,”—“the current economic boom cycle” and associated “development pressure”—are making PDR-zoned property “particularly susceptible to displacement and outright loss,” the bill seeks “to provide stability to the neighborhood during the time that the draft Central SoMa Plan is under development and public.”

The intention is admirable. As always, however, the devil is in the details. A few questions, then, about some of the bill’s details:

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Willie Brown denounces SF government, SF electorate, democratic process at Chamber of Commerce event

From the left: Leslie Wong, president, San Francisco State University; Kim Majerus, vice president, U.S. Public Sector, Cisco Systems; former Mayor Willie Brown; Nancy McFadden, executive secretary, Office of the Governor of California; and Kofi Bonner, president, Lennar Urban San Francisco.

From the left: Leslie Wong, president, San Francisco State University; Kim Majerus, vice president, U.S. Public Sector, Cisco; former Mayor Willie Brown; and Kofi Bonner, president, Lennar Urban San Francisco

September 11, 2014, 48 hills

Yesterday morning the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce hosted Wells Fargo’s ForecastSF 2014, described in the program as “the region’s leading economic forecast and job summit.”

For me, as, I suspect, for many of the 300-plus attendees at the Merchant’s Exchange Building in the Financial District, the most compelling presence was former Mayor Willie Brown, who appeared as a previously unannounced panelist, and who managed to upstage everyone else, including the two featured speakers, Wells Fargo chief economist John Silvia, and Brookings Institution Vice President Bruce J. Katz, simply by being his own, unapologetically venal self—though Silvia gave him a run for his money.

Moderated by Kofi Bonner, President of Lennar Urban San Francisco, the panel discussion also included Kim Majerus, vice president, U.S. Public Sector, Cisco Systems; Nancy McFadden, executive secretary to Governor Jerry Brown; and Leslie Wong, president of San Francisco State University.

Here follows a selective account of the proceedings.

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Turn the Flower Mart into tech offices? Say it’s not so.

Former Mayor Art Agnos speaks at a rally to save the Flower Mart

Former Mayor Art Agnos speaks at a rally to save the Flower Mart

 August 29, 2014, 48 hills

The Flower Mart, a beloved San Francisco institution, is in danger of falling victim to the City Hall-stoked tech real estate boom.

The wholesale market for flowers, a staple for local florists at Sixth and Brannan since 1956 that Martha Stewart once called the “best flower market in the country,” could soon be bought by a real-estate developer, meaning the tenants may face eviction since the property is far more valuable if it’s turned into office space.

Although the headline in the July 25 Chronicle—“Developer acquires S.F. Flower Mart”— suggested that the market is doomed, the Mart can still be saved, and with it a big piece of the city’s old, industrial, blue-collar base.

But that will take a prompt and vigorous show of public support and political muscle. 

The beginning of a campaign to save the Flower Mart was on view this week, as Mart tenants, joined by florists, flower market enthusiasts and advocates of an inclusive San Francisco, gathered for a noontime “Save the Flower Mart” press conference and rally in Repetto’s Nursery at the site.

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How light-industrial space can be saved: the lesson of 2 Henry Adams

August 19, 2014, 48 HIlls

One of the top San Francisco business stories of early summer revolved around the question: Would the city allow Pinterest, the insanely successful—10 million monthly active users in the U.S., a $5 billion dollar valuation—4-year-old, online bulletin board company to move into 2 Henry Adams Street, a.k.a. the San Francisco Design Center last June and push out dozens of the designers and dealers who tenanted the four-story, 311,000 square-foot, brick building? Pinterest had already signed a lease with Bay West Development, which manages the property for its owner, the global, Chicago-based real estate investment firm RREEF; and many of the existing tenants had been placed on month-to-month leases. Given the tech industry’s sway over San Francisco real estate, Pinterest’s popularity in the mayor’s office—Lee celebrated the company’s 2012 move from Palo Alto to San Francisco—and the immense money behind the Pinterest proposition, this may have seemed like a slam dunk for the social media phenomenon and its hulking, would-be landlord. It turned out to be anything but. More

San Francisco’s Anti-Displacement Movement: Progressives against Progress?

Posted online July 17, 2014, by The Nation and published in the magazine’s August 4-11 issue under the title “How Silicon Valley Millionaires Stole Progressivism”

On a Saturday afternoon in early February, more than 600 residents of San Francisco gathered at the Tenderloin Elementary School for a citywide tenants convention. The attendees—a mix of old and young, veteran activists and political newcomers—came from neighborhoods all over town. They joined together to fight the soaring rents and mounting evictions that have accompanied the tech incursion into San Francisco, and that are threatening to turn a city famed for its inclusive, liberal character into an enclave of wealth and privilege.

These days, San Francisco has the most expensive housing in the nation. In late March, 43.5 percent of the homes listed for sale in the city were priced at $1 million or more, by far the highest such percentage in the United States. Residential rents are soaring: as of last October, the median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $3,250—also the highest in the country.

The backlash against dispossession has earned national and international notice via the blockade of Google buses, the mammoth vehicles that transport about 35,000 tech workers every day between their Silicon Valley workplace and San Francisco home. But the media have paid relatively little attention to the less showy tenants movement, which has become a major political force in the city.

The San Francisco Chronicle didn’t bother to send a reporter to the convention. But the day after the meeting, the paper’s lead editorial fretted:

So here we are again, staring at the seeds of a cultural and political revolution, with the old guard and new guard trading places. This time, the old guard is not the buttoned-down bankers and pillars of blue-blood society, but the progressives who are fearful that a dramatic infusion of new wealth is chasing out the city’s residents and distorting its values. This time, the new guard is not the hippies and gays who are transforming neighborhoods and challenging society’s mores but tech-savvy young minds who are drawn to a city that nurtures avant-garde thinking and lifestyles.

As the Chronicle recognized, the current conflict is not just a struggle about social justice; it is also a fight over political and cultural legitimacy—one that shakes up the conventional wisdom about progressivism, if not progress itself.

The paper would have us believe that the left’s identity is the only thing on the line, its supposed vanguardism and liberality contravened by the dynamism of the tech industry, whose beneficence the editorial takes for granted. But the antagonisms unleashed by the tech industry’s latest descent on San Francisco also unsettle assumptions about conservatism: defenders of democracy are denounced as reactionaries, while agents of global capital are lauded as revolutionaries.

This ideological churn embodies profound yet elusive shifts in historical consciousness, enabling aspersions from the right while compromising the left’s customary stands. Throwing these transformations into high relief, the discord roiling San Francisco merits the scrutiny of progressives.  More

The Wild West of zoning: Go ahead, create DNA-altered glow-in-the-dark roses in SoMa. Nobody’s watching

July 11, 2014, 48 hills

In recent weeks 48 hills has revealed that the Planning Department’s lax enforcement of San Francisco’s zoning laws has allowed the illegal conversion of hundreds of thousands of square feet of industrially zoned space into offices, thereby destroying scarce, irreplaceable venues for production, distribution and repair businesses and blue-collar jobs and squandering millions of dollars in development impact fees for Muni and affordable housing.

But it gets worse: The city’s so uninterested in enforcing zoning laws that nobody seems to know or care that there’s a startup company inside a biotech incubator making glow-in-the-dark roses in SoMa.

Situated at 665 Third Street, the biotech lab is in an area that’s not zoned for laboratories or life science facilities. And it’s engaging in what is, to say the least, a controversial scientific practice, one referred to as “genetic engineering on steroids.”

Here’s the story:  More