A controversial proposal to extend a gas station lease on city-owned land for decades is drawing mixed reactions from candidates vying to represent the area on the Board of Supervisors.
As the board is scheduled to vote on the lease Tuesday, the San Francisco Examiner asked the seven candidates in this November’s District 7 supervisor contest to take a position on the proposal.
The winner will take office in January to succeed termed-out Supervisor Norman Yee, who is asking the board to approve an up to 30-year lease extension — an initial 25 years plus a five year option — with Twin Peaks Petroleum, Inc., otherwise known as Twin Peaks Auto Care, at 598 Portola Dr.
The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from some environmental and affordable housing advocates who argue the deal is not in keeping with San Francisco’s goals to address climate change and the housing crisis.
What do the District 7 candidates for supervisor think?
“I do not support renewing a gas station lease on public land for 25 years,” said candidate Joel Engardio, vice president of Stop Crime SF. “That is too long when we will certainly be driving in very different modes a quarter century from now.”
Engardio said that “public land is a limited resource in San Francisco and we must carefully consider its best use, whether that’s senior housing, a community garden with native plants, or an area for people and their pets to enjoy the outdoors.”
Candidate Emily Murase, a former school board member, made the distinction that she supports a lease extension with the gas station but not for 25 years.
“If we have ambitious goals to reduce cars by 2030, the lease should be no longer than 10 years,” Murase said, noting that her position is based on the fact that “the neighbors support it.”
“I understand the environmental concerns and the need for affordable housing,” Murase said. “The City will need to determine the use of the adjacent property, the Juvenile Justice Center and Juvenile Hall, which is slated to close by the end of 2021. I would urge developing a master plan for the area, including the gas station parcel.”
Candidate Myrna Melgar, former president of the Planning Commission, said she opposed the lease as proposed but would like to see a lease renewal that ends within 20 years instead.
“We must help our immigrant-owned, local small, legacy businesses like this one adapt to our ambitious climate change goals,” Melgar said, adding that “many Westside residents and families depend on this business.”
“Working with this small business owner to transition away from fossil fuels is smart,” Melgar said. “I support a shorter lease renewal that ends before the 100% electric vehicle goal of 2040.”
Twin Peaks Auto Care owner Michael Gharib acquired the site’s Mobil Oil franchise in 1985. He has contributed to one candidate in the contest, $500 to Melgar’s run for office, campaign finance filings show. Gharib has said he needs the long-term lease to help him finance the state-required replacement by 2025 of the underground fuel storage tanks.
Candidate Vilaska Nguyen, a San Francisco public defender, was supportive of the lease as proposed, as were candidates Ben Matranga, a tech investor, and Stephen Martin-Pinto, a firefighter.
“I believe strongly in community-based planning, and a large portion of our District 7 residents rely heavily on Twin Peaks Auto Care as a means to fill up their cars for their commutes to work,” Nguyen said. “Twin Peaks Auto has been an integral part of our district for decades and it’s important to ensure that our longstanding business owners are supported.”
He said that “until we achieve efficient and accessible alternatives to gas-operated cars, we need to make sure that our residents have access to the forms of transportation that they use currently.”
Matranga said he supports the lease “as it will make needed improvements to meet environmental standards and small businesses need certainty before they make significant capital investments.”
Martin-Pinto said his “grandmother uses it for her car because she lives nearby and it has some of the most affordable gas in the city.”
“We still need gas stations. Until such time as we have developed a fully networked, modern light rail and subway system that gets people across the city in less than 30 minutes, we still need to consider working class people and seniors who still need their car to travel around,” Martin-Pinto said.
Candidate Ken Piper, an operations consultant for financial firms, said he was for continuing the lease with the gas station, but said he lacked details to decide if 25 years was the right amount of time.
“Although affordable housing is a worthy cause, we need to be sure that we have services throughout the city that meet the needs of the citizens. This includes gas stations,” Piper said. “The location is appropriate for a gas station.”