The future of the Wholesale Flower Mart may be in the hands of The City's voters come next year.
On the heels of a pending sale of half the site at Brannan and Sixth streets, a group of flower vendors, florists, wholesalers and concerned citizens plan to file paperwork with The City today to get a measure on 2015's ballot that would protect the San Francisco wholesale flower market from a planned tech office development.
With roughly 100 vendors, the more than 50-year-old covered market connects growers with buyers from across Northern California and beyond and is the nation's second-largest flower wholesaler. In the early-morning hours, trucks delivering flowers unload their wares for sales inside the large airy building. To many, it is a San Francisco icon whose presence is part of The City's fabric.
The San Francisco Flower Mart Protection Act will make it impossible for The City to give any planning exemptions, which might facilitate turning the site into a tech campus or other office space.
According to draft language of the measure, any zoning changes or height-limit exemptions must be preserved at that location and could not be changed unless it went before the voters again.
As it stands, any proposed development would need exemptions to build on the site since it is zoned for light industrial, not offices.
“We thought we'd take it to the voters of San Francisco,” said Patrick McCann, a vendor at the site. “The Flower Mart has a long history of being heard and it should stay here.”
Like the development plans for 8 Washington St., a condo project along The Embarcadero that was shot down by voters in 2013, and June's successful Proposition B, which gave voters a say on all waterfront projects that seek to expand existing height limits, this move could again put planning decisions into the hands of voters.
And a recent poll indicates voters may be on the side of such a ballot measure in the case of the flower sellers. The Tenants and Owners Development Co. commissioned poll found that 78 percent of San Franciscans said saving the Flower Mart was “very important” or “somewhat important.”
Public efforts to protect the Flower Mart began in August when a group of local politicos, including former Mayor Art Agnos and former supervisors Aaron Peskin and Quentin Kopp, held a news conference announcing their fight to save the more than 80 local businesses located there.
Those efforts were meant to notify the public about a pending sale of the site and keep working-class jobs in The City.
Despite such protests, on Sept. 11, a majority of the San Francisco Flower Growers Association voted to sell their half of the Flower Mart to Kilroy Realty Corp. The price, according to opponents, was $26.6 million.
Kilroy, which plans to construct a tech campus on the site, has promised to include flower sellers in any future space. But many fear they will be excluded, at worst, and left without a home for years of construction, at best.
As it stands, many long-term leases at the site expire at the end of the year, and no guarantees beyond vague promises have been given to the tenants, McCann said. Thus far, no communications have been made to tenants by Kilroy, McCann added.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed Sept. 11 by David Repetto, a shareholder of the SFFGA, alleging that the association's board of directors breached its fiduciary duties by secretly brokering the sale and merger of the SFFGA to Kilroy. It is asking for the court to invalidate the board's actions.
Before the vote to sell, the SFFGA filed a proposal in 2013 for a 160-foot office building on the site and have until January to file a development proposal.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the district, has also introduced legislation that would postpone construction of offices on land zoned for light industry and distribution until a full-fledged rezoning of the area is complete, a process still several years away.
Next steps for moving the ballot measure ahead include circulation of the petition to San Francisco voters in order to qualify for the ballot.