Richmond Starbucks fight tests ordinance

A fight to keep Starbucks out of San Francisco’s Inner Richmond district is the first such battle since voters approved an ordinance in November that made it more challenging for chain stores to open up shop across The City.

Jesse Fink, who heads the Clement Street Merchants Association, which represents about 30 businesses in the Richmond district, appealed a June 14 decision by the San Francisco Planning Commission to allow Starbucks to open a second shop in the Richmond district on Geary Boulevard at Fifth Avenue.

The Board of Supervisors held a hearing on the matter early last month, but voted to continue the discussion to a meeting Sept. 11.

Since San Francisco voters passed the ordinance — which requires the Planning Commission to hold a public hearing for each chain-store proposal — there have been less than a dozen permits pulled for name-brand businesses.

Lawrence Badiner, zoning administrator for The City’s Planning Department, said that although it’s speculation, his gut feeling is that fewer chain operators are attempting to open stores because of the ordinance.

Since the ordinance was passed in November, permits for an Apple and Rugby clothing store have been approved, while permits for an Edible Arrangements and UPS Mail Box have been withdrawn. The applications for five other stores — Pierre Duex, a French furniture store, Batteries Plus, Urban Outfitters, TJ Max and Subway — are in the hopper for hearings. The Starbucks case is still considered active.

When it comes to chain stores, Badiner said neighborhood residents and merchants typically argue against changes to neighborhood character and the squeezing out of locally owned businesses.

“You have to look at each one critically and where they’re located and what other similar uses are around,” he said.

Fink argues that his case has nothing to do with Starbucks. He said it is a “neighborhood issue.”

“When I go to a place like Paris, I go there to see the wonderful little places like the cafés,” he said. “I don’t want people to come to San Francisco and see Borders and Starbucks.”

Ron Miguel, president of the Planning Association for the Richmond, a group that says it represents about 1,600 households in the district, said his organization supported a neighborhood-serving business, ideally a coffee shop, in the location where Starbucks has proposed opening a cafe, which would sit inside a Toyota service center under construction.

Badiner, with the planning department, said Toyota tried to find a locally owned business, but was unsuccessful. Starbucks then stepped in.

“We just thought it was a good location to meet our customers’ needs,” said Leamon Abrams, director of civic and community affairs for Starbucks.

arocha@examiner.com

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