Flower Mart developer announces new deal but opponents cry foul 

click to enlarge Flower Mart developer Kilroy, joined by vendors, makes the announcement for the future plans for the site. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Flower Mart developer Kilroy, joined by vendors, makes the announcement for the future plans for the site.

The short but contentious fight over the future of the San Francisco Flower Mart, The City's more than five-decade-old flower wholesale market, has pulled into its vortex players big and small.

Grandstanding politicos, a tenants' lawsuit, back-channel talks between the Mayor's Office and developers, and a possible ballot measure blocking any development are the many twists the struggle has thus far taken.

On Wednesday, there was another wrinkle.

Kilroy Realty Corp., which hopes to build a tech campus on the site, and the head of the California Growers Association, whose members voted recently to sell their portion of the site to Kilroy, stood in front of the media to announce what it said was a good-faith deal that will keep the Flower Mart as part of any new development at Sixth and Brannan streets.

With colorful mock-ups of a potential future Flower Mart underneath an office tower, Kilroy and Flower Mart operators guaranteed that the tenants and the Flower Mart will have a future home.

As part of the deal's sweetener, the joint Flower Mart operators -- a recently formed conglomerate of the two former site owners, the San Francisco Flower Growers Association and the California Flower Market -- said they have just offered five-year leases to all the current market tenants.

As to where the tenants will go during the new development's construction, that remains to be seen, but plans are apparently underway.

"This is actually not a deal," said former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who has been working with tenants worried about their future. "These are empty promises."

A signature drive will start at month's end for a ballot measure filed earlier this year, and refiled with a new name Thursday -- the Flower Mart and Jobs Protection Act. The measure would prevent anything from operating other than what is currently zoned for the Flower Mart site. Kilroy hopes the central SoMa rezoning will upzone the area so its project can be approved.

If and when real guarantees for tenants come, Peskin said, the ballot measure might then be dropped. But thus far, no legally binding guarantees have been given, he said.

According to Kilroy and Steve Oku, president of the California Flower Growers Association, the agreement will give vendors, shareholders and the developer what they want: a tech campus with a state-of-the-art flower wholesale onsite.

Meanwhile, a cloud remains over Kilroy's frontman for the project, Mike Grisso, who worked for The City's Redevelopment Agency and successor agency until June of this year and then soon after took a job with Kilroy.

This week a complaint was filed against Grisso with the city's Ethics Commission for allegedly lobbying city departments and colleagues, and without officially signing up to be a lobbyist. If true, both accusations are violations of city rules against insider lobbying. City rules bar people from lobbying former colleagues and departments for a year. Similar rules require that all lobbyists register with The City.

Grisso defended his actions working for Kilroy, among them crafting language with the Mayor's Office on media questions about the development, and said that he expects the accusations against him will be found baseless.

"I don't think there's anything improper" about my actions, Grisso said about his communications with The City about Kilroy's Flower Mart development plans.

To people like Flower Mart vendor Melanie Ann Tom, Grisso is at the heart of the matter when it comes to taking Kilroy's guarantees at face value.

"When Kilroy uses it deep pockets to buy influence in the planning department, that's corruption," Tom charged.

For Victor Lassen of Lassen Ranch, a Flower Mart tenant, the dilemma is clear.

"A guarantee would be a contract," said Lassen. "I haven't seen a contract."

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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