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Stop Home Depot

IT'S A SAD reflection on the state of San Francisco politics that the battle over building a Home Depot on Bayshore Boulevard has become a racially tinged episode pitting residents of Bernal Heights, who don't want the traffic, the air pollution, and the damage to local small business, against a group of Bayview residents who say the giant retailer will bring in badly needed jobs. The truth is, Home Depot has a miserable record on community jobs and economic development: As Cassi Feldman reports on page 19, only half of the workers in the proposed San Francisco store would even have full-time positions, and Home Depot won't make any guarantees to hire any local residents. The company was sued for racial discrimination in Southfield, Mich., and it paid $87.5 million to settle a class-action suit charging that it didn't promote women.

Home Depot (like other big-chain, big-box retailers) also has a long and undistinguished record of destroying small, locally owned, independent businesses (which are ultimately the economic salvation of any city). A 1999 study by two UC Irvine associate professors found that the aggressive entry of chain superstores could actually cost California $1.4 billion a year in lost wages and benefits.

That doesn't do much for the Bayview residents who are out of work – San Francisco has done a terrible job on economic development in that area. But Home Depot won't help and is by no means the only alternative for the giant empty lot that was formerly Goodman Lumber. Smaller-scale retail would work; so would a supermarket.

Sup. Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation that would require all retail outlets of more than 50,000 square feet to get a special "conditional use" permit. That would force outfits like Home Depot (and Target, which is eyeing San Francisco) to go through public hearings and make a case for their projects; it would also give the Planning Commission the ability to attach strict, binding requirements for local hiring, living wages, domestic partner benefits, and the like. (It would also slow down the process, which is moving way too fast. Among other things, the Planning Commission has approved a "negative declaration" on the project, saying that it needs no environmental impact report.) The Ammiano bill would also allow community activists to appeal the Planning Commission's decision on big-box stores to the Board of Supervisors. That makes perfect sense, and the supervisors should approve the measure. If for some reason Home Depot still makes it through the Planning Commission, the supervisors should overturn that decision and stop the project.

But that can't be the end of this issue. The Bayview activists are absolutely right that the site can't be left vacant. The supervisors and the opponents of Home Depot need to work to find another, more suitable project that will provide jobs for the neighborhood. A community forum bringing both sides together to discuss the outlines of what sort of development would make sense, create jobs, and be economically feasible might be a good way to start.