Breaking the chains - Page 3

Rival measures updating SF's formula retail controls stir controversy and debate

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Philz Coffee is a homegrown chain that would be exempted from proposed formula retail controls.
PHOTO BY KENNEJIMA/FLICKER (CC)

"Right now, we would treat Philz the same way we treat Starbucks," Burns said, noting that Starbucks has more than 20,000 outlets.

"Can't you cut a break to the businesses that started here?" was a question that Rodgers says helped shape development on the regulations. The Strategic study found that about 5 percent of the retail establishments in the city had 11 to 20 outlets, while another 4 percent had 21-50 outlets. "We're just trying to find the sweet spot."

Yet Peskin said the change doesn't make sense, and it's just a way to give special treatment to a handful of local companies with political connections, and which have more resources to go through the conditional use process than a true small business.

"They're basically finding another way to satisfy San Francisco Soup Company, a stalwart member of the Chamber of Commerce," Peskin said.

Asked how she can seemingly circumvent the will of the voters, Rodgers told us, "It was a voter initiative, but it says the Planning Commission will establish further details." In fact, Prop. G simply relies on the formula retail definitions that had already been adopted by ordinance started with a measure by then-President Matt Gonzalez in 2004.

But Peskin said the proposal to increase the threshold to 20 is an affront to popular local controls on chain stores, one that has little chance of becoming law.

"I don't think the Board of Supervisors is crazy enough to go and undo one of the most successful pieces of legislation from the early part of this century. And if they do, then the voters won't stand for it," Peskin said, pledging to personally work on the campaign to protect existing formula retail controls.

Mar also said he will defend the current threshold. "The 11 that was written into the legislation was the result of a compromise," Mar said, noting that Gonzalez initially placed the threshold at four stores and compromised with the business community on 11. "We're going to do our best to work with our coalition to hold it to 11."

 

CORPORATE CONTROL

Mar was also critical of the Planning Department proposal for not looking at corporate ownership of subsidiaries, something that his legislation does, stating that companies with a 50 percent or more ownership stake in an outlet get included in the formula retail designation.

"Our proposal has been attacked by people who think we're over-regulating and those who think we're under-regulating," Rodgers told us.

Yet as the June 9 Small Business Commission hearing made clear, supporters of the proposal predictably came from the same business groups that have opposed formula retail controls from the very beginning: San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Association of Realtors, and San Francisco Building Owners and Managers Association.

Representatives from each of those three groups were the only people who spoke in favor of the proposal, each of them declaring it a "balanced" and "data-driven" compromise that they support, even as they argued for loosening the restrictions even more. But the vast majority of speakers were neighborhood activists critical of the proposal.

"Going from 11 to 20 makes no sense at all. Who picked out this number?" Susan Landry, owner of Animal Connection in the Marina District, told the commission. "Please have a conscience and vote for independent businesses."

But Small Business Commissioner Kathleen Dooley said the vote was just the latest example of a commission stacked with mayoral appointees (including two bankers) doing the bidding of downtown rather than advocating for small business interests.