A spirited hearing before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday [Mon/7] on the San Francisco Design Center’s application for landmark status  kept social networking site Pinterest out of the building, for now.
A number of tenants facing eviction from the building appeared before the committee, with a large contingent voicing its opposition and concern over the application and a separate group favoring the proposal for its alleged revitalization of the Showplace Square district.
The proposal -- which was tabled by the committee, effectively killing it unless district Sup. Malia Cohen has a change of heart -- would have declared the Design Center a landmark, which would have allowed the new owner to get around its Production, Distribution, and Repair zoning and allow in more lucrative office tenants, ostensibly to fund renovations with their higher rents. But with the committee rejected the application, with Cohen in particular expressing concerns about the loss of PDR-zoned properties in her district and around the city.
Prior to the lengthy public comment period, members of Bay West Development, the management firm representing building owner RREEF Property Trust, spoke to the committee about the support that would be put in place for the evicted tenants, conceding, “We recognize the communication with the tenants has not been perfect.”
That support would include relocation funding, lease extensions, and hiring commercial realty brokers for the evictees, according to Bay West. When asked by Chair Scott Wiener how realistic it would be for evicted tenants to stay in the district, Bay West didn’t provide specifics, assuring the committee, “There is good quality space in this district and there are tenants who will find homes in adjacent properties.”
That response didn’t satisfy many worried tenants, including Jim Gallagher, who called the Design Center a “shining example of what PDR services should be.”
Though one speaker mentioned Pinterest’s unfairly negative portrayal in the issue, the overwhelming message from the tenants and Cohen was that the “virtual pinboard” company wasn’t necessarily at fault. Rather, the displacement of longtime residents and the loss of PDR space was the main concern for many.
Former Mayor Art Agnos also made an appearance at the hearing, calling the ordinance a “commercial version of the Ellis Act,” the state law that allows residential building owners to evict tenants. Agnos said the proposed ordinance was “replacing people working in blue and white collar jobs” and urged the committee to “close the loophole, kill it, and come back to the issue.”
Some tenants voiced support for the measure, reasoning the addition of Pinterest—and the elimination of what one supporter called the “exclusivity of high-end design”—would revitalize the district and be the “best of both worlds,” with new and old economies coming together.
But Nancy Morgan, a tenant who was previously evicted elsewhere, opined that displacing the tenants would mean that the same customers wouldn’t continue to come back. She also noted that some would be displaced under the nearby freeway, which could be dangerous in addition to driving away customers, although a Dogpatch resident scoffed at this claim.
Cohen gave her own thoughts, saying she ultimately agreed that the Design Center deserves landmark status because it was “impeccably maintained through the downturn,” but she felt uncomfortable going forward with the plans to displace the longtime tenants. She believed the decision wasn’t necessarily about the designation of the building, and that displacing long-term residents wasn’t in the spirit of the code or the landmark legislation.
“This decision today sets an important precedent,” Cohen said, calling it “an added layer of certainty in a world of uncertainty.”