Critics blast proposed decades-long lease with gas station on public land

Proposal moves to full Board of Supervisors for vote despite objections

A proposed 25-year lease renewal of a gas station on public land advanced toward approval Wednesday despite objections from a number of residents who blasted it as flying in the face of San Francisco’s climate change and affordable housing goals.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee postponed a decision last week on the lease with Twin Peaks Petroleum, Inc., otherwise known as Twin Peaks Auto Care, at 598 Portola Dr.

But on Wednesday the committee voted 3-to-0 to send the proposal to the full board, which is now scheduled to vote on it next week. It’s unclear if it has the six votes needed to approve it.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman agreed to vote to send the lease forward to have the full board consider it, but he did not recommend approval.

Last week he signaled he would support the lease, but on Wednesday, in the face of mounting opposition, he said he has changed his stance. He referred to The City’s own climate goals of having 25 percent of private vehicles electric by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040.

The 25 year lease includes a five-year option that would bring it to 2050.

“I don’t think I can support a lease that on public land contemplates the sale of fossil fuels past the goals that we have set,” Mandelman said. “And I don’t think we can rely on the market to solve this. I think we have to send the direction to the market to change behavior.”

He suggested he may be able to support the lease if it expressly banned the sale of fossil fuels after 2040.

Board President Norman Yee, who represents the area of the gas station, called on the committee to support the lease, which also has the support of the adjacent Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association.

“It’s been somewhat of a fixture for the community for a long time,” he said of the gas station. “It’s really a fiber of the community.”

Yee has argued that the business owner will adapt with the times and phase out of gasoline if the market moves in that direction.

In 1972, the Board of Supervisors first approved a 15-year lease with Mobil Oil to run the gas station on the site at the intersection of Portola Drive and Woodside Avenue, according to the budget analyst report. The current owner, Michael Gharib, acquired the Mobil Oil franchise in 1985.

Under the terms of the lease, the rent will increase from $113,586 in annual rent to an initial base rent of $200,200.

“He’s been there for a long time. He wants to stay in business and serve the community whether it’s continuing to do the repairs that they do over there or whether he needs to switch over to some other form of energy,” Yee said.

“I am really going out to bat for him,” he added.

But many residents said they want the supervisors to go to bat for the environment and affordable housing.

The City’s 2013 appraisal of the property found the highest value of the property, at $1.8 million, was as a residential or mixed commercial and residential development of up to 26 units.

Christopher Pederson, a resident of Yee’s supervisorial district, said, “The City is facing an affordable housing crisis and the world is facing a climate calamity, so it really is astonishing that The City is seriously considering a 25-year extension of a lease with this fossil fuel dispensary.

“If The City is serious about addressing the affordable housing crisis and the climate crisis please deny this proposed lease extension,” he said.

Still, Supervisor Sandra Fewer cast doubt on the feasibility of building affordable housing “on such a small site.”

“We should value a small business. This is one of the last independent gas stations in San Francisco,” Fewer said. “If we don’t renew the lease, that would probably be an empty site for decades to come.”

Opponents, however, said support of the lease renewal conflicts with the board’s unanimous approval last year of a resolution introduced by Mandelman declaring a “climate emergency” in San Francisco.

Patrick Traughber, a resident of San Francisco for the past 10 years, said public land should have a better use and called for “affordable housing, a park, a school — something more productive than a gas station.”

“We have aggressive climate goals and we need to make them more aggressive,” Traughber said. “Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is just not the path we should be going down. There are five other gas stations within a five-minute drive of this gas station.”

Part of the reason for the decades-long lease is to help the owner fund the state-required replacement of underground fuel storage tanks by 2025.

Gharib has estimated the cost of the replacement at $750,000.

Shanti Singh, a tenant organizer, argued the site is perfect for social housing, which is on the ballot in November.

She said the board shouldn’t consider the vote a “small decision.”

“It may seem like a small decision,” Singh said. “Every time we do this, we are kicking the can down the road for all of these issues that we claim that we care about.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, which advocates for making places more transit and pedestrian friendly, said, “We are urging you to reject this lease.”

He pointed to voter approval of Proposition K in 2015 that called for using “surplus” public lands for affordable housing.

“We need you to use every bit of public land wisely,” Radulovich said. “This should be a thing of the past. There’s plenty of gas stations in San Francisco.”