April 24, 2002




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by gerardo sandoval

Why I back Home Depot

SEVEN MEMBERS OF the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to require a conditional-use permit for retail stores of more than 50,000 square feet. This "big box" legislation was aimed at stores like Home Depot. Four supervisors, including myself, voted against the legislation. Because Mayor Willie Brown vetoed the ordinance, many, including the Bay Guardian, have asked me to change my vote and provide the eighth vote needed for a veto override.

From phone calls, e-mails, and personal contacts, I have concluded that my constituents in District 11 overwhelmingly favor Home Depot. Some reliable polls suggest that 80 percent of my constituents want the store. The seven principal neighborhood groups in the district all want Home Depot.

The really amazing thing is that even deeply progressive people I talk to want Home Depot. Like plastic bags at the supermarket and NAFTA, they know it's bad for them. Yet they still go out to Colma's Home Depot for big-ticket items. I know small contractors and skilled tradespeople who listen to KPFA-FM – and who regularly shop at Home Depot in Colma. Young progressive couples and families are also moving into old homes and fixing them, via many trips to Colma.

I have not been afraid to vote against the wishes of my district when the interests of the city as a whole were more important. I voted to restrict tenancies-in-common (TICs), against the $85 million dollar business-tax settlement, for transgender medical benefits, in favor of banning live-work lofts, and for municipalizing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. In past elections the district voted against restricting TICs, against a statewide gay marriage proposal, against public power, and three to one in favor of Willie Brown over Tom Ammiano for mayor.

Supporters of big-box legislation note that the ordinance does not ban Home Depot but merely requires a conditional-use permit. That is true. What is also true is that many of the supporters of this legislation want to kill Home Depot altogether. They will use the conditional-use process to do that. So when we talk about big box, we are really talking about whether we want the store at all. On that score, you have to admit that if there is any part of San Francisco where big boxes are appropriate, it is Bayshore Boulevard.

There are others that say Home Depot will open the floodgates to Target and every giant chain store in the country. This is a red herring. The same seven supervisors who voted for big box voted against a compromise amendment that would have required all big boxes except Home Depot to go through a conditional-use process. The legislation could have passed unanimously. This compromise legislation will likely be back before the Board of Supervisors and should pass.

A conditional-use process would allow residents of Bernal Heights to articulate neighborhood concerns. But those concerns can be partially addressed through the environmental impact report process now underway and the hearings that will take place. The bigger problem is how to balance Bernal's concerns against what Bayview-Hunters Point has been working toward for several years.

Remember: We blocked Home Depot once already, from the Schlage Lock site up the street. I think Bayview-Hunters Point residents are correct when they complain that the entire city has ignored the huge number of unemployed youth in that community. Even if you argue that Home Depot does not provide quality jobs, it's hard to point to anything the city has done to address community revitalization. We ignore the issue until the people of Bayview-Hunters Point come up with a plan of their own. Then we say we know better.

We may know better, but so far no one has proposed an alternative that provides any jobs, or housing, or gets rid of this industrial eyesore, or generates any tax revenue, which the city could badly use.

Gerardo Sandoval is the supervisor for District 11 in San Francisco.