It was, to put it mildly, an abysmal deal
EDITORIAL The proposal to build a Home Depot store on Bayshore Boulevard was a textbook example of terrible city planning. The community never asked for a big-box chain store; no city plans ever discussed how big-box retail would help the local economy. Instead, about eight years ago the giant Atlanta-based corporation decided it wanted a store in San Francisco, hired Jack Davis, a political consultant close to then-Mayor Willie Brown, and, after a brutal and unpleasant battle, got permission to build a giant suburban-style outlet of more than 100,000 square feet with a massive parking garage in a city where transit and pedestrian access are considered primary land-use values.
And now that Home Depot has decided, based on its business projections, that the whole thing was a bad idea and is backing out, San Francisco has a chance to turn the big empty lot on Bayshore into something that serves the community. There's a chance to make this a model for city planning, an example of how to do economic development right for a change. The mayor, city planners, and the supervisors need to insist on a credible process.
From the start, the fight over Home Depot was toxic, pitting small business owners, who feared that the discount chain would destroy local merchants, and Bernal Heights residents, who feared the traffic, noise, and pollution a car-dependent outlet would bring to the area, against Bayview-Hunters Point residents who desperately needed jobs. Home Depot lobbyists did their best to push the divide, arguing that employment opportunities at the store would help spur economic development in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Lost in the rhetoric was the fact that the chain promised only about 200 new jobs, and would offer only a "good-faith effort" to hire half of those people from the neighborhood. In other words, at best, an eight-acre project one of the biggest retail developments in the city would lead to 100 new jobs for Bayview residents. That was, to put it mildly, an abysmal deal.
An environmental impact report on the project essentially dismissed all of the neighborhood concerns, even arguing that air-quality impacts from increased car exhaust wouldn't count as an impact. The report tossed aside the fate of small businesses, particularly hardware stores, by saying that the store owners could simply start selling something else. Still, the supervisors voted to approve the project.
But now, after all that bitterness and expense, Home Depot is walking away, citing a sluggish market for home-improvement products. Mayor Gavin Newsom is begging the company not to abandon the plans altogether; he's urging Home Depot executives to put the project on hold until the economy improves. That's tantamount to saying that the Bayshore site should stay vacant for a few more years which does no good for anybody. Instead of whining and begging a big corporation to bestow its blessings on poor San Francisco, Newsom ought to look at this as an opportunity.
Sup. Tom Ammiano, whose district borders on the site and who led the opposition to Home Depot, is calling for a community planning process that would bring the key stakeholders to the table to talk about how that land should be used. Sup. Sophie Maxwell, a Home Depot supporter whose district includes the site, ought to join with him. The goal ought to be a planning process that starts with the right questions: What sort of development does the community want? What use would create the most jobs that best fit the local labor pool and the employment needs of the area? What would benefit the city's economy without damaging small business? Should part of the site be used for affordable housing?
There are all sorts of possibilities, but given Newsom's pledge to be a "green mayor" and the value of new green-collar jobs, one obvious idea might be turning the place into a solar-energy center. Proper zoning, incentives, and public encouragement might attract solar manufacturing, solar installation services, and a solar hardware store with do-it-yourself kits for homeowners.
The city obviously can't dictate what sorts of businesses would want to move to Bayshore, but planners can set criteria to steer development. That process ought to begin now, openly, with every interested party involved and it should have a bottom line: no more suburban chain stores in San Francisco.