In a city famous for its chain-store battles, the national pet store chain Petco is threatening to sue over a proposed law that would prevent it from moving into the Richmond neighborhood.
With more than 100,000 households reportedly owning pets, San Francisco is a thriving market for pet supply stores. But the healthy marketplace has ignited a fight between independently owned pet supply stores and larger chains.
On Feb. 15, Petco applied for a permit to open a store in a former Walgreens at 5411 Geary Blvd., near 18th Avenue. Supervisor Eric Mar later introduced legislation to ban all pet chain stores from opening up along the corridor between 14th and 28th avenues.
Petco sent a letter to Mar and the City Attorney’s Office calling the proposal illegal. "We believe the proposed ordinance exceeds the city’s police power, infringes on the project sponsor’s equal protection rights and, if enacted, would be invalid under federal and state law," said the letter from Andrew Junius, of the Rueben and Junius law firm, which is representing Petco.
Despite Petco’s legal questions, the bill moved forward in the legislative process with a unanimous vote of support from the Small Business Commission on May 9. "I don’t know if it’s going to get all the way to the Supreme Court ... to find out if it’s legal or not," commission President Luke O’Brien said. "I don’t think that we are going to turn this down because we are afraid that it’s not legal. I think we’ll take our chances on that."
City Attorney spokesman Jack Song said of the proposed legislation that "we are confident that we will reach an outcome that is legally sound and in the best interests of The City."
Mar did not return phone calls for comment Friday but has said the legislation is meant to protect the half-dozen pet supply stores in the area. "According to many small businesses, the game is still played largely in favor of bigger businesses that can hire their lobbying firms and often they can win their six votes on the Board of Supervisors," Mar said.
However, Petco spokesman Kevin Whalen had another view of Mar’s legislation. "It seems to us the ordinance should be significantly amended, or better yet just withdrawn," he said.
San Francisco has increasingly set up barriers for chain stores looking to open up in The City. There are bans on chain stores, defined as businesses with 10 or more locations nationwide, in North Beach, Hayes Valley and a portion of Chinatown. In 2006, voters approved a measure requiring chain stores to go through special permitting that includes an appeals process allowing the Board of Supervisors to vote on whether to grant a permit, known as a conditional-use permit.
2009: Pet Food Express applies for permit to open up for business in a storefront vacated by Blockbuster Video on Lombard and Divisadero streets in the Marina. Planning Commission rejects the application amid opposition from nearby pet shop owners.
2009: American Apparel applies for a permit to open in the Mission district on Valencia Street, but the Planning Commission rejects the application. Hundreds of residents attend the hearing to speak out against it.
2008: The chain 7-Eleven looks to expand in San Francisco, including to a location at Kearny and Clay streets, but the Board of Supervisors enact a ban on chain stores for some parts of Chinatown and special permit restrictions for others.
2007: Starbucks tries to open a location in the Richmond district. Permit is granted by the Planning Department but then yanked by the Board of Supervisors in a 9-1 vote. Residents complained it would ruin the character of the neighborhood.