Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Doing business with a predatory City Hall


Mark Brennan sent the letter below to Supervisor Wiener back in July, 2011, when progressive "activists" were trying to prevent a bank from opening up in an empty store-front on Divisadero. I had a blog item on the issue at the time, but I didn't know the backstory Brennan provides. It was much worse than I thought. This is what it's like for property owners and small businesses when they deal with our predatory, "progressive" city government. (Recall how last year City Hall shook down a woman for $31,000 when she was opening an ice cream parlor on Cole Street.) Some of the usual suspects pop up here: Gillian Gillett, now "chief transit planner" for Mayor Lee, which, if the title means anything, apparently involves implementing the Bicycle Coalition's anti-car agenda on city streets, was an aide to Supervisor Wiener at the time. Recall that David Tornheim was instrumental in "saving" the derelict Harding Theater back in 2005, so that it could continue to blight the middle of Divisadero today. Quentin Mecke, aka "RoboProg," is also familiar to readers of this blog. And Tess Welborn. It's not surprising that there are always so many empty storefronts on Divisadero: 

Supervisor Wiener,

My name is Mark Brennan. I grew up in what is now considered District 8, the Glen Park, Diamond Heights area. My parents still live in the house I was raised in; my brother and his family live close by. As far as I know, they all supported you in your race for Supervisor. Quite frankly, the alternative was too scary to think about. I am now a long-suffering resident of District 5. I hope to escape this cauldron of mediocre supervisorial representation and pony-tailed activists one day.

So far you have been a welcome addition to the Board of Supervisors, calm and measured. Along with Supervisor Farrell, you bring a common-sense approach to the Board. That is why it was disappointing to witness your aide, Gillian Gillett, come to the Planning Commission today to read a letter from you with regards to extending Formula Retail (FR) controls on financial services. I am not sure what you hoped to accomplish by having this letter read into the record. My family owns the building located at 401 Divisadero Street, the site of a soon to be opened Chase Bank. My father, John Brennan, built this building with minimal help when he was between projects. The Oak/Fell Divisadero corners had three gas stations, the site of our building was going to be a fourth, but my father purchased the land and invested in the neighborhood, building an all-commercial building. Something not expected at that time; thirty years ago, this was a fairly rough area in the City. After opening, my father experienced much trouble trying to rent the ground floor spaces and the offices above.

In 2007 a Batteries Plus franchise, owned by a man and wife from the neighborhood sought to do business at this location. Local groups and activists, like attorney Dean Preston, executive director of the state-funded non-profit, Tenant's Together, David Tornheim (has no job as far as I can tell), and Quintin Mecke, aide to Tom Ammiano, rallied against the store. Having more than 11 stores nationwide, the Batteries Plus franchise faced a Conditional Use hearing. As I testified  today, Jim Kirk and his wife, who owned the franchise, hosted a neighborhood meeting at John Adams Community College on Hayes Street. I attended to see what the concerns of the neighborhood would be. I was the only person to show up. A small group of very vocal neighbors had decided they did not need to know anything about Batteries Plus or the Kirks; they were going to do whatever it took to kill the project. Tornheim and Preston collected a petition, and they showed up with hundreds of signatures. On inspection, many were duplicates, one was from Ted Soulis, a former SF Fire Commissioner who had passed away ten months earlier. The Commission voted 6-1 against the Kirks.

A week later, the owner of the Bean Bag Cafe, a few blocks north of us on Divisadero, sent in a  Letter of Intent (LOI) to rent 401 Divisadero. He wanted to leave his current location because we offered parking. His proposed rent was below market value, but the real reason his application was denied was because his cafe collected signatures at the cash register. We soon learned this man lived 30 miles east of San Francisco. When questioned as to why he thought we would rent to him after he collected signatures against a potential tenant, he stated that he was forced to do so by a local neighborhood group. Otherwise they would boycott him.

This site has been vacant for nearly five years. There have been very few serious offers to rent. One such offer was for a Mexican restaurant. However when the architect for the project approached City Planning, he was told that his restaurant would be considered fast food (even though it wasn't) and would require a Conditional Use (CU). The owner quickly backed out of the site. Almost 18 months ago, Washington Mutual came to us. Since then, they have become Chase Bank. Shortly after that, CVS Pharmacy sent in an LOI. On July 26, 2010, a year ago, I received a phone call from Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. He wanted to know what the status of the Chase deal was. I was surprised he knew about it, but he said he had meetings with "higher-ups" at Chase and that his office wanted to help. I asked if he thought the neighborhood would be okay with it, and he responded, "to a bank?" He stated that after the Batteries Plus fiasco, the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association conducted a study to determine which businesses would be desirable for the neighborhood and a bank was number two on that list. With this endorsement, and the fact that Chase did not require a CU as opposed to CVS, we signed a lease with Chase Bank.

Chase did extensive outreach, they hired a local public relations firm and approached the businesses on the Street. They presented the project to the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association and the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ANSA). At the ANSA meeting on November 22, 2010, Dean Preston was present and asked many questions, including: had the lease been signed? (none of his business) And when was the permit filed? (The underlying building permit was filed in October, but not paid for until November 30th.) He knew this, yet decided to appeal a minor alteration permit in January to the Board of Appeals. When asked by Board Member Chris Hwang why he didn't simply appeal the original permit (or file a discretionary review on it), he lied under oath (BOA administers an oath at the beginning of each hearing), stating that he didn't know anything about the permit.

We have nearly 10% unemployment in San Francisco. Undoubtedly, this is higher amongst young adults, those seeking their first job. Nationwide, unemployment among African-Americans 16-19 years old is over 40%. For black men over 20 years old, it is just under 20%. This is an absolute disgrace. I was born and raised in San Francisco. This is a small City, and just because you grow up in Glen Park doesn't mean you don't know what is happening elsewhere. Hayes Valley, the Divisadero Corridor, and the upper-Haight had a large number of black families and black homeowners when I was growing up in the 1980's. Peter Cohen, Russell Pritchard and others testified today how great Hayes Valley has become in the last ten years. I daresay you won't find many black families there anymore. In fact, I doubt you will find many people of color or people on a budget. Walk down Hayes Street and try to do some shopping. I think you will find the prices being charged are quite unreasonable for just about any item. Is this something to be proud of? My father tells the story of having to drive late one night across town to the Evergreen Pharmacy on Geary Blvd. to buy medicine for my older sister, who was a baby at the time. He had to drive cross town because there was no other late night pharmacy open. There was no Rite Aid at the time. The inconvenience and high prices that our parents had to suffer, is that what we want now?

After I testified to the insanity of Formula Retail restrictions in general and to the extension of it to banks in specific, your aide Gillian struck up a conversation with me. I told her I was disappointed with your letter. She stated that on 24th Street there are six banks within a few blocks. It was only later that she revealed that banks are subject to the CU process on 24th Street. So what is the problem? I know that in the Castro NCD, banks are subject to the CU process, so if the major NCD's in YOUR district already have CU protection for banks, why did you feel the need to address the Commission today?

The problem is your letter emboldens the whacko's out there, like Preston, Tornheim, Cohen, and even Calvin Welch and Tess Welborn. To a man (woman) they all stated how happy they were to have you on their side. Your letter was completely unnecessary. These very people are the ones who supported your competitor Rafael Mandleman in D8; these are the same types of people who conspired against you at the DCCC. I'm reminded of when Frank Jordan, candidate for Mayor of San Francisco, could not get Dianne Feinstein to return his calls, but come election night he accepts her offer to use her Hawaii condo. Or more recently, when Lisa Feldstein was running for D5 supervisor, Calvin Welch organized a house party for her---six people attended---yet as soon as Mirkarimi won the election, the first thing he did was worship at the altar of Calvin.

Do you know that the insufferable Commissioner Katherine Moore had the temerity to call out a member of the audience, telling him that in San Francisco we have a delineated area for banks, the Financial District. She stated that people today can do their banking on their phones or on the internet---or they can take our wonderful transit system to Montgomery Street if they need in-person banking! Of course she took the time to thank you for your letter.

Considering that the lack of CU protection does NOT affect your district, I would have hoped you would have taken a more measured response to today's hearing.

There are very real problems in San Francisco. Preventing more banks, in my view, is not one of them. Banks, like grocery stores, often are the only jobs for first time job seekers. My 8 month old son, quite frankly will not be hired at Martini Dry Cleaners. He may get a job at Safeway or Wells Fargo, though. I've called your office regarding one of my former Divisadero tenants, Santos Euan of Five Star Truffle. It took him months and months to open his 300 square foot shop on 18th and Castro. DBI, DPH, Planning all gave him problems, but they collected a huge chunk of money for applications and fees. At one point, a Section 312 Notice was required for a 300 sq/ft coffee/truffle shop! But the problem was the Planner assigned could not get off her rear end to send it out. To this day, he is still having problems with the City bureaucracy. This a disgrace. As far as I know, your office did nothing to help, but you found time to busy yourself with restricting banking options in my neighborhood.


Very truly yours,
 

Mark Brennan

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