How catering to motorists makes groceries more expensive
For its part, HVNA compiled a list of potential non-chain store candidates and proposed creative ways to make the site work for a locally owned business, with perhaps some space allotted to a hardware store or other neighborhood-serving shops. HVNA also proposed reducing the parking at the site in order to make the store affordable.
The Market and Octavia Plan, which includes 555 Fulton, allows a grocery store to have less parking than the 77 the developer wants, and even zero parking. The developer could eliminate some or all of the parking, reduce construction costs, and reduce the asking price for a lease. This area is flat, incredibly walkable and proximate to thousands of existing residents, with thousands more on the way.
A car-free or car-lite grocery store can deploy innovative ways of delivering groceries, such as a jitney service or delivery vans, for those who need such service, and to limit the amount of store parking to a small number of car share and disabled parking stalls. This kind of grocery store would be at the cutting edge of truly sustainable urbanism, while also providing more affordability to all residents of the community.
Yet another Shoup axiom is "Planning for parking is more a political than a professional activity." Instead of being creative, Fulton Ventures balked at the parking ideas and employed divisive race-baiting to push its profit-driven agenda. It financed a quiet campaign to accuse anyone supporting the formula retail ban and reducing parking as racist and elitist. It leaned heavily on City Hall and somehow got the Planning Department to suddenly retract its support for upholding the chain store ban. Sup. London Breed, who remained publicly detached, insisted that all she cared about was an affordable supermarket, but she offered no path to achieve it.
In a confusing Oct. 3 hearing, supporters of Fulton Ventures LLC made below-the-belt public comments that seemed to come straight out of a Tea Party playbook. It was tough to watch. Their position was that a chain store with excessive underground parking was the only way to an affordable grocer — anything short of that was racist. The commission voted 4-2 to lift the ban.
By lifting the formula retail ban, the city lost leverage for making the store affordable while also providing fresh food for thousands of people within walking distance. And the many car-free households of the Western Addition and Hayes Valley will get to breathe the car fumes from upscale shoppers. The commission gentrified food.
All is not lost though. The damage done by the Planning Commission can be overturned or fixed at the Board of Supervisors. Breed states she cares about affordability, local small business, and the city's transit-first policies. She can put conditions on this project that reduces the parking, or decouples the parking from the lease for the commercial floor space, thus making the project economically viable for an affordable grocer. She can demand other creative and sustainable solutions which planners so far have not considered. She doesn't have to give it away to a chain store. And if you care for affordable groceries with less driving, and want to stop the gentrification of food, write her and let her know.