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Friday, February 6, 2009

American Apparel Planning Commission Meeting: The Play-by-Play

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 8:11 AM

click to enlarge Thursday's Planning Commission meeting was the hottest club in San Francisco.
  • Thursday's Planning Commission meeting was the hottest club in San Francisco.
Update: Click here for a full slideshow from the AA meeting.

Ok, now that we know the anti-formula- retail faction successfully thwarted American Apparel's efforts to build a branch on Valencia Street, I figure you're all dying for a blow-by-blow of the six-hour Planning Commission meeting where the final showdown took place. Well, let's get on it, shall we?

The initial crowd started gathering outside room 400 of City Hall around 12:30, an hour before the meeting was scheduled to commence. Early birds included a representative from local human-rights organization Global Exchange, and Ryan Holiday, a PR representative from American Apparel.

Once the doors opened, the crowd quickly swelled past capacity. You have to wonder whether the Planning Commission is usually attended by such a young and well-dressed audience: High leather boots and decorative scarves were the order of the day. The commission was well aware that the large turnout was due to the review of American Apparel's request to set up shop on the Valencia corridor, which was slated at item No. 12 on the agenda and euphemistically referred to as such for the remainder of the meeting, as in: "Those of you who are here for Item 12 might like to wait in the overflow room."  Many attendees did choose to watch the proceedings on a flatscreen TV in the overflow room.

At 2:15, when Item 12 had yet to be reached, some people showed up with snacks. The elated denizens of the overflow room quickly had their spirits dashed when they were told that, actually, the snacks were not for them and that the room had been booked and would they please leave. I saw some people walking around with plates of snacks later. They looked pretty good.

By the time Item 12 was called, I'm pretty sure we could have put

together a rad 'zine compiling all of the doodles completed by the Item

12'ers and journalists in attendance. (Not that the preceding hours

weren't without their shining moments: When Planning Commission Vice

President Christina Olague called into question the legality of

Medjool's rooftop club, you could almost hear thousands of hearts

thudding against shiny button-ups.) The item was introduced, and Holiday spoke on behalf of the project.

He informed the audience that American Apparel had received quite a bit of

hate mail, some suggesting that rocks would be thrown through their

windows, which was met by giggles from the audience. "Also," he added,

"I'm sure Chicken John

is a very nice person, but he wrote that we were full of shit."


went on to dismiss rumors that the store would be paying upward of

$9,000 in rent, saying that it was paying market rate. He also

stated that one of the reasons AA had decided to build the store was

because so many of its customers were commuting from the Mission to

buy at other locations. Okay, point taken.

He then said that

one of the reasons AA had chosen the space was that it was

accessible by BART. Predictably, this point was laughed at by a

following speaker who sniffed, "All of San Francisco is accessible

by public transportation."

The floor was then opened to public

comments. Thick handfuls of

neon-green comment cards were held aloft and everyone was warned that there were enough to

fill three hours. The comment limit was shortened from three minutes

to two and implored speakers to simply say "for" or "against." His plea

was not heeded.

Speaker after speaker took the mike to rail

against the store Valencia. It was a who's who of

Valencia Street and Mission area business representatives: Eileen

Haasi, owner of Ritual Roasters, and Sean Quigley, owner of Paxton Gate,

both spoke. Representatives and employees from Artists' Television

Access (whose storefront is adjacent to the one AA had dibs on),

Retrofit, City Art, Therapy, Inverted Eye, Needles & Pens, Radio

Habana Social Club, City College of San Francisco, Borderlands Books,

and others all took turns. (The representative from Borderlands was met with hissing when he suggested that American Apparel was better

suited for Mission Street, where formula retail has already crept in.)

A  representative from the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA)

also spoke out against the store. Opponents expressed concern for the

corruption of Valencia's unique character and the potential for

higher rent on an already very expensive street.

Only a handful

of people spoke on behalf of the store. Several were Bay Area

American Apparel emloyees. (A few people who spoke at the meeting said

that American Apparel employees were paid to attend and speak on

the store's behalf. Holiday told the Snitch that this was not the case: Store managers were asked to attend the meeting, and since they are salaried employees, they were technically being paid. But

no additional funds were offered to store employees in exchange for

their support.)

Peter Glickshtern, a 30-year San Francisco resident and

five-year Mission resident raising two kids in the neighborhood,

voiced support, touting the company's employee health benefits and

dissing Ritual Roasters, saying that he wondered if, when the store

opened, Valencia really needed another coffee shop. Larry Griffin, who

called himself a native San Franciscan, was also in favor of the store,

saying that it would bring much-needed jobs and that he was thinking of

his "Latino brothers" who were waiting on the street to be picked up

for day labor. "Yeah," scoffed the guy next me, "Those guys are going

to get jobs at American Apparel."

And then there were the more colorful commenters. A disheveled man took the microphone and gestured wildly at

Haasi with a dirty white baseball hat, proclaiming angrily that when he

woke up every morning, his house smelled like coffee. (Note to Crazy

Hat Guy: I will totally trade houses with you. I'll bet it smells

delicious.) He was asked to stick to the topic at hand, and the dingy

bell which signaled a speakers' time was up was liberally dinged.

(Which raises the question: Who wields the awesome power of the Shut-Up


Walter Paulson, who sings his opinions during meetings,

made an appearance and warbled out a tune about freedom and American

Apparel that ended with the line, "Oh God bless American Apparel and

their ability to be free." This basically made my day. (Also: I wish

American Apparel was free. That shit is expensive.)

Perhaps the

strangest talk of the night came from a guy who called himself Dustin

Catalaast (when I asked him if he spelled the end of his name with two

As, he said, "Uh, yeah, sure, two A's for American Apparel.") He showed

up wearing a hat, a ripped jacket, giant sunglasses, and a baseball

mitt, which for some reason a security guard asked him to remove.


told the audience that he had been paid by American Apparel

representatives in L.A. to come to the meeting and distribute fliers that

read "Legalize Valencia," and then wrapped up his ludicrous speech by

stating, "I'd like to end with an Obama quote. Spread the wealth

around." The AA representative gaped at him. I think it's safe to

say that if anyone has ever paid Big Glasses Baseball Mitt to do

anything, it wasn't American Apparel.

Public comments wrapped

at 6:08 p.m. At this point, the commission members took turns voicing their

opinions. They basically laid the smack down on American

Apparel. Gwyneth Borden called the company out for not doing adequate

outreach in the community, at one point saying, "They screwed up." This

was echoed by other members of the commission.

Olague and Antonini aknowledged that this was probably the largest turnout they had ever seen for a Planning Commission meeting, and added that

they had also received about 400 e-mails regarding the store. The board then voted unanimously that the implementation of the American Apparel

Store at 988 Valencia would not proceed.

This was met with a lot

of cheering and clapping -- and well-dressed folks stampeding from the premises to procure


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Andy Wright


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