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Friday, August 9, 2013

Pet Food Express Spurned By Planning Commission

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2013 at 12:01 AM

click to enlarge Staying neutral... - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Staying neutral...

Pet Food Express is a great company that showers an inordinate amount of money and resources upon rescue animals and animal welfare organizations -- and Lombard Street is a disaster that could use the foot traffic.

Pet Food Express is a chain that could put small pet shops under, and was in 2009 denied permission by the Planning Commission to move into the very same Lombard Street digs it now hopes to occupy -- and has allowed to go to seed in the years since.

And there you have it -- more than 100 public speakers at Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting spent a great deal of time making those points in various manners and at various decibel levels during a lengthy hearing. (After more than two hours of public speaking on this issue Planning Commission President Rodney Fong asked "are there any more speakers?" In the silence that followed, one of his colleagues could be heard to whisper, "Quick! Close it!").

In the end, the commission opted to spurn Pet Food Express for the second time in four years, by 6-1 vote. This is a a major step -- but not yet the concluding one -- in an exceedingly nasty neighborhood development battle covered in this week's SF Weekly.

See Also: Pet Food Express Tries to Be the Most Adorable Franchise in Town

In a column examining process rather than outcomes, your humble narrator examined Pet Food Express' rollout of its second attempt to move onto Lombard Street in four years:


being smacked in the nose by the city in 2009, Pet Food Express heads

into Thursday's hearing with a pack of influential supporters. The head

of the city's Department of Animal Care and Control has been an emphatic

advocate of Pet Food Express to her fellow members of the city family.

The community newspaper that has formed an advertising "partnership"

with Pet Food Express has provided it with fervently positive coverage.

And the newly formed neighborhood merchants association aggressively

pushing Pet Food Express' cause has ties to a paid lobbyist for the

store's attorney.

As a chain store with more than 11 outlets -- it has nearly 50 -- Pet Food Express would have required a "Conditional Use Permit" from the Planning Commission to open up the store on Lombard at Divisadero. While much of the neighborhood drama was discussed by public speakers during the marathon hearing, the commissioners were more focused on outcomes than process.

After the long hours of public testimony -- they eventually "closed it" -- the commissioners held forth. Michael Antonini, unsurprisingly, supported the project, just as he did in 2009. But, in a sign that the day would not be Pet Food Express', mayoral appointee Rich Hillis then said he couldn't back it.

Hillis praised Pet Food Express for its efforts on behalf of rescue animals, but noted that "this debate is more about formula retail -- and Pet Food Express is clearly a formula retailer. There is bias in the planning code ... for diverse neighborhood commercial districts. And against, frankly, formula retail."

Gwynneth Borden cast a plague on both the area merchants -- for insularity and self-interest -- and Pet Food Express -- for allowing the site to go fallow in the past four years. She said Pet Food Express would likely be a "community resource," but is not "necessary and desirable" for the neighborhood -- the requirements of the city's formula retail ordinance. 

Only Antonini was in favor of allowing Pet Food Express into the neighborhood (a more lopsided vote than the 5-2 tally in '09).

The commissioners sided, 6-1, against a motion to approve Pet Food Express' permit. In September they'll vote again, this time on a motion to deny Pet Food Express' permit. Insiders described this pending second vote to SF Weekly as a likely formality. 

This sets up an dicey real estate scenario for Pet Food Express, which entered into a 10-year lease for the site four years back.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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