The malling of San Francisco - Page 4

National chain stores are flooding into a city that once led the nation in protecting neighborhood businesses and setting limits on commercial spaces

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The Metreon mall is being revived by a huge Target scheduled to open this fall. Will it put the city in chains?
GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN


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The increased malling of San Francisco isn't simply the result of official neglect. Often, the city's policies and resources are actively encouraging the influx of chain stores. A prime example is the massive redevelopment project on Hunters Point and Candlestick Point that city voters approved in 2008 after mega-developer Lennar and most San Francisco political officials pushed the project with a well-funded political campaign.

"If you're selling the land to Lennar for a dollar, and then building all the automobile infrastructure for people to get there, then that's a massive public subsidy," Radulovich said of the big-box mall being built on what was city-owned land on Candlestick Point.

That public subsidy creates a cycle that makes San Francisco less intimate and livable. Creating commercial spaces on the city's edge encourages more people to drive on congested regional roadways. These spaces are filled with national chain stores that have a direct negative impact on small, locally owned stores in neighborhood commercial districts all over the city, causing some of these businesses to fail, meaning local residents will need to travel further for the goods they once bought down the street.

"Those neighborhoods are going to be less walkable as a result," Radulovich said, noting how the trend contradicts the lip service that just about every local politician gives to supporting local businesses in neighborhood corridors. "There's a certain schizophrenia to San Francisco's economic development strategy."

Sup. Eric Mar has been working with Jobs with Justice San Francisco and other groups to tweak city policies that have allowed the chains to proliferate. Last year, Mar held high-profile hearings in City Hall on how national chains impact local businesses, which pointed to the need for additional protections (see "Battling big box," Jan. 3).

This year, he's working on rolling out a series of legislative initiatives designed to level the playing field between local interests and those of Wall Street and the national chains it champions.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved Mar's legislation to add banks to the city's formula retail controls, a reaction to Chase Bank and other national banks snapping up vacant stores in neighborhood commercial corridors such as Divisadero Street.

Now he's working on legislation that would mandate minimum labor and community benefit standards for chain stores — including grocery outlets such as Fresh & Easy — and study how chains affect San Francisco's overall economy.

"There should be good neighbor policies when they come into a neighborhood," Mar said. "Some neighborhoods are so distressed they may want a big box grocery story coming in, but we need to try to mitigate its negative impacts."

One of his partners in that effort is his brother, Gordon Mar of Jobs with Justice, who argues the city needs to have a clearer picture of how national chains impact local communities.

"We've definitely seen an increase in corporate chain stores coming into San Francisco in the last year, and nobody has really been tracking it," he said.

While the Planning Department's quarterly pipeline report shows that applications for retail outlets has held steady at about 3 million square feet on the way in recent years, it doesn't break out how much of that is national chains — let alone how that impacts the city's economy and small business sector.

The city's Legislative Analyst is now studying the matter and scheduled to release a report later this summer, which Gordon Mar said will be helpful in countering the narrow "jobs" rhetoric that now dominates City Hall.

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