Chase Bank tightens grip on Divisadero location

Well hey Divisadero won't you throw me a bone!

For the folks living in Western Addition who weren't stoked about having Chase Bank move in on an already chain-heavy block of Divisadero (despite creepy ads trying to convince them otherwise), last night was a long one at City Hall. A neighborhood activist's appeal to deny Chase a permit to build on the corner of Oak and Divisadero was denied, and his other tabled pending an absent board member's vote next week on Wednesday, March 23. 

We caught up with the man who'd filed the action against Chase, Dean Preston, around one a.m. as the rest of the hearing's audience -- which included residents on both sides of the issue, including a very vocal contingent featuring Joe O'Donoghue, ex-president of the Residential Builders Association -- was rubbing their eyes and wondering how the hell they had sat in City Hall for the last seven hours. “The Board of Appeals is blindly deferring to the planning department,” Preston told a small assemblage of supporters. “We had hoped that they would uphold the letter of the law.”

Chase's future on Divisadero hangs, as so many things do, on the definition of several ambivalently-coded words in the city's planning screeds. On the Board of Appeals' podium, Preston debated with Christine Griffith, Chase's representative, about the meaning of the city's formula retail law. 

Do financial services fall under the purview of one of SF neighborhood activists' most important tools for fighting back the spread of chain stores within city limits? Preston said yes, Griffith and departmental representatives said no, and the board seems to be siding with the bank on this one – every member present voted to allow Chase to continue building, with the exception of Chris Hwang. 

Board member Tanya Peterson commented that Prop G, which made the formula retail controls applicable city-wide back in 2007, was mainly intended to prevent mom and pop store from competition by big box companies, a phenomenon she found inapplicable to financial services.

Other issues raised in Preston's appeal were square footage concerns. The blueprints for the branch, which would take up three storefronts on the block that were once occupied by Country Cheese and Five Star Truffles (which has since relocated to the Castro), indicate that the bank would clock in at 3,946 square feet – suspiciously close to the 3,999 square foot cut-off after which a conditional use community hearing is required. In addition, to avoid a planning code violation the bank relocated a prospective 24-hour ATM inside the building, potentially bringing the square footage total above the limit. "That's just reflective of the way the company works," said Griffith. “Measuring space according to planning code, there's an art to that,” Preston commented drily. 

But for the Western Addition area residents who stuck it out through the board's many hours of neighbors haggling over dormer window permits and unwanted cell phone company boxes to speak their piece about the new corporation on the block, at issue was more than acreage. Some older residents welcomed the bank to an area that once suffered from financial redlining, and there were a few voices that claimed the neighborhood suffered from a dearth of banking options. 

The balance of voices in the audience was weighted on the side of the opposition, tipped perhaps by organizing around the issue done via Facebook. The block already has a Bank of America on it, and another Chase location lies six and a half blocks away on Masonic and Fulton streets. 

Public commentors cited the already pedestrian-daunting nature of the block between Oak and Fell (two heavily-trafficked one ways), home to two gas stations and already an unattractive, unsafe stretch for the burgeoning small business area's pedestrians and bicyclists. They questioned Chase's motivations for moving into that specific block (“it's a great billboard location”) and reminded the board that San Francisco residents and voters demand community input when a corporate chain, regardless of the business category, moves into a thriving neighborhood. A bar owner wondered whether the wealthy bank's intrusion would encourage other property owners to hold their storefronts empty, waiting for a likewise deep-pocketed tenant to express interest. 

Despite an actual Chase employee's attempt last night to comment during the time reserved to the general public to the contrary, it's not a friend to small businesses. We're not stupid. 

But mostly, it came down to shaping the future of the neighborhood, long plagued by empty storefronts and now experiencing a renaissance of nightlife, retail, and food. “If Chase is too big to fail,” one neighbor summed up nicely. “It's too big to be on Divisadero.”



It would also have big impact on traffic which is already crazy in that area. How many banks does one need? I would like to see the small businesses move in there and make it a nice area to walk through and shop.

Posted by Danclau on Mar. 18, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

This is the most hyperbole filled piece of fiction I have ever read on this site - and that is saying something.

So residents prefer something which will fail?
Tightens grip? is there a neck in this deal? I am pretty sure if it was up to these neighborhood activists, we would be a ghost town where people drove everywhere and empty storefronts abounded.

Provincial. Straight out of an episode of portlandia

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

This is a pretty normal event. It happens quite often. Businesses open, close, move in, move on. So, here's a bank. And cue the usual pathetic shower of obsessive unemployable loser crybabies to moan, whine, protest, and act like they're being made the victim of the worst thing to happen, ever.

It's a bank opening on a busy street. Dry your eyes and get over it. Don't you have something more useful to do with your time than cry over a bloody bank opening a new location? Is there not something you could contribute to the world other than more misdirected NIMBY whingeing about something so utterly mundane?

A bank is opening a new branch. That's all.

Posted by ben w on Mar. 18, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

I have lived in that part of Divisadero and have watched as the entire neighborhood has undergone a renaissance of restaurants and small businesses over the last few years. A national bank branch that takes up three store fronts will totally change the character of the street and would damage the atmosphere created by the flourishing cluster of new small businesses.

I have been a patron of the Country Cheese shop since 1997, a fantastic store where you could fill you bags from bulk bins, healthy non-packaged food cheaper than anywhere else.

They were evicted by that awful landlord. I don't even know his name, but he is about to become famous around here.

For more on this really, really great local store that has been evicted and potentially destroyed by a terrible landlord in collusion with an awful nation bank that by all rights should be bankrupt except for the pensions and educations and health care they stole from us, our children and our grandchildren, check the yelp site:

That a bank like Chase would evict a neighborhood store that contributed so much more to our community than unregulated currency derivatives and trillion dollar bail outs is repugnant and shocking. I am filled with disgust.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

i lived at hayes and divis for 14 years and Country Cheese totally kept me stocked with quality goods before the word foodie was invented (or I knew you didn't need to eat dinner out of a can). Just heard the news that those great peeps are gone ... that's so cold ... I hope they're ok ...

Posted by marke on Mar. 18, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

You'd think someone would want a stable company like a bank to move in, brings in foot traffic, people whot then browse out and about in other stores.

On the other hand--yes, I smell a rat--to evict a mom and pop store for the benefit/rewards of a deep pocketed corporation--it do sound suspicious.

Posted by Guest StevenTorrey on Mar. 19, 2011 @ 7:33 am

No body got evicted. Nobody. Get the facts before you start a witch hunt.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 10:04 am

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