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SF on the verge of banning fur sales despite outcry from retailers

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A man walks by West Coast Leather. Business owners have argued that a proposed ban on fur sales could hurt sales and result in a loss of sales tax revenue and jobs. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco is on the verge of banning fur sales despite business leaders decrying the prohibition and warning of job and tax revenue loss.

The three members of the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee voted Wednesday to send the legislation, which is similar to bans already passed in Berkeley and West Hollywood, to the full board for a vote next week.

The committee’s approval, which included support from Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin, came despite opposition from business leaders, who instead called for regulations requiring more humane practices at fur farms and not an outright ban.

Supervisor Katy Tang, who proposed the legislation, said while she understands the business concerns “we cannot turn a blind eye to what is actually going on in terms of fur farming.”

“More than 50 million animals are killed every year for their fur and 85 percent of pelts are coming from fur farms,” Tang said. “There are so many other alternatives now.”

The legislation reads: “The sale of fur products in San Francisco is inconsistent with the City’s ethos of treating all living beings, humans and animals alike, with kindness.”

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, committee chair, said, “Raising animals for their skins is not right. It is not moral. It is not ethical. We are a city that leads. This is how we change the world.”

The City does not know exactly how much fur is sold in San Francisco but estimates annual sales of around $10.8 million. However the Chamber of Commerce estimates that 50 fur retailers account for $40 million in fur sales annually.

Jim Lazarus, of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, warned of job loss and less tax revenue as shoppers go outside of The City. “Fur and fashion retail is a huge part of San Francisco’s retail economy. It drives worldwide customers to San Francisco,” Lazarus said.

Karin Flood, executive director of the Union Square Business Improvement District, said she represents 30 retailers in Union Square who sell items with fur.

“This is big business for us in Union Square. This will seriously impact us,” Flood said, adding that it comes as “retailers are struggling.”

Tang introduced the proposal in December and postponed committee votes on two previous occasions to try and address business concerns. She said she made a concession in moving the effective date of the ban from July to January 2019.

Among the concerns from businesses was that shoppers would simply shift fur buying to online, but Tang said the City Attorney’s Office has indicated the ban would also apply to online purchases for delivery to San Francisco addresses.

The ban applies to the sale, display and manufacturing of new fur apparel. Fines for repeated offenses can reach $1,000. It doesn’t apply to other animal products like leather or lambskin or wool. Second-hand shops could continue to sell used fur products.

Skip Pas, owner of West Coast Leather in Union Square, expressed concern about the fur ban’s impact on retailers and said that the decision shouldn’t be left up to the Board of Supervisions. “There should be a ballot measure so the citizens of San Francisco can decide this issue,” Pas said.

Mark Pasternak, owner of Devil’s Gulch Ranch, said in an email earlier this year that Tang should “not confuse the use of furs from humanely raised meat animals with those from animals that are raised on factory fur farms.” He said he makes “every effort to use everything from the animals we raise” and he sells pelts or uses the fur for products, such as for hats, gloves or pillows, he and his wife sell at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco.

Tiffany Rose, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said San Francisco should step up and become a leader in a growing trend of saying no to fur.

She said animals at fur farms are kept in “cramped, filthy wired cages on fur farms where they go insane from intense confinement and deprivation. These animals are killed painfully by suffocation and anal electrocution, gassing and poisoning. Many are still alive and in agony when their skin is torn off.”

Most pelts produced are mink. In 2013 there were 275 mink farms operating in 23 states in the nation, which produced about 3 million pelts valued at more than $300 million, according to the legislation.

Rose said that “fur is falling out of favor,” noting that Norway is banning fur farms and luxury designers are increasingly dropping fur from their lines.

As far as the disparity in sale estimates of fur in San Francisco, The City’s number is based on 2012 census data that found $355 million in fur sales statewide and applied San Francisco’s percentage of overall retail sales. The chamber’s number is based on a recent survey and provides high level data, such as how “two large stores” reported annual fur sales of more than $4 million. Actual store names and sales data was not provided, for proprietary reasons.

City Controller’s Chief Economist Ted Egan said that “we believe that the proposed legislation is unlikely to have a significant economic impact overall.”

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