San Francisco has long been wary of chain stores, which neighborhood activists say detract from The City’s unique character. But bank branches were left out of a 2006 ordinance that subjects other chains to special “conditional use” approval from the planning commission.
That is a loophole that some neighborhood groups and city supervisors would like to close. They came a step closer to doing so on Thursday, when the Planning Commission voted in favor of an amendment to the 2006 ordinance that would classify financial services companies with more than 11 locations as “formula retail.”
“This is not a ban, it just basically gives neighborhoods more of a say,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the amendment. “We have seen a number of different bank branches sprout up very quickly without any process.”
Mar pointed to a Chase branch at Divisadero and Oak streets as an example. The nationwide bank drew the ire of Occupy SF activists and local residents when it took over a storefront formerly occupied by a cheese shop and a chocolate store.
Mar said he hoped the amended ordinance would also level the playing field for small local banks — a rare but not yet extinct species — as well as smaller credit unions.
That was sure to meet the approval of Occupy SF, which has protested outside major bank outposts and encouraged San Franciscans to switch to credit unions.
“Too big to fail — too big is just too big,” said Occupy member Robert Benson. “It’s a definite step in the right direction. It looks like The City’s kind of moving in sync with us instead of against us.”
Neighborhood groups also have lined up behind the amendment.
“Bay Area shoppers come to our neighborhood because they’re not confronted with Peet’s and Starbucks on every corner,” said Russell Pritchard, president of the Hayes Valley Merchants Association, at a hearing before the planning commission vote on Thursday. “It’s important that we maintain that.”
While the commission approved the amendment five to one, sending it on to the supervisors’ land use committee before a final vote, Commissioner Michael Antonini voted against the measure.
“Seniors and disabled do need to have services that are close to them,” he said. “We don’t want our citizens to rely on payday cash checking organizations.”
San Francisco chain bank branches
Bank of America: 42
Chase: More than 30
Wells Fargo: Approximately 50
Source: Bank web sites