Chain-store law in San Francisco could apply to banks, supervisor says 

Supervisor Scott Wiener is not against banks. But he said a neighborhood with too many banks, closed at night and most of the weekend, can be just plain boring — and very un-San Francisco.

Wiener sent a letter to The City’s Planning Commission on Thursday calling for bank branches to be included among other chain retail locations subject to special “conditional use” approval from the commission and scrutiny from residents.

The Planning Department does not consider banks in the category of formula retail under Proposition G,
passed by voters in 2006 to require chain stores in most of The City to undergo the extra planning process.

Debate over whether banks are chain stores came up when a Chase branch secured a location on Divisadero and Oak streets in the Western Addition. Residents packed a Planning Commission hearing Thursday to say they would rather see local businesses at the location.

Greg Endom, Chase real estate market director, told the commission banks are rightly not considered in the chain store regulations.

“Rite Aid put out the mom-and-pop pharmacists. Starbucks put out the mom-and-pop coffee shops,” Endom said. “There are no mom-and-pop banks.”

Wiener said he’s hoping the Planning Department will reinterpret banks to be part of its retail category. If not, he’ll consider legislation to make the change, possibly by redefining the definition of retail to include banks.

Since Prop. G went into effect, the commission has approved 22 of the 37 permits sought by chain stores. Nine have been rejected or withdrawn, and six applications are active, according to planning staff.

“San Francisco is not friendly to chain stores and I would say that’s something most people in The City are proud of,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research think tank. “But certainly, we know a lot of San Franciscans shop at chain stores, and if they need to drive outside of The City to get there, we are losing those sales tax dollars and we’re also putting a lot of cars on the road.”

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