Pet food outlet proposal renews fight over chains 

click to enlarge Pet Food Express
  • Camila Bernal/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Pet Food Express, which already has a store in the Castro along with dozens of other locations in Northern California, wants to open a Lombard Street site.

Four years ago, a pack of pet food store owners mobilized to defeat a Pet Food Express store that was trying to open in a vacant building on Lombard Street. Now, after years of the former Blockbuster Video site sitting empty, the proposal for the chain store to open has resurfaced.

The time has done little to quiet the bark of opponents who say allowing the store to move into the 2460 Lombard St. location would jeopardize their businesses. And for city officials charged with making a decision, the debate is a challenging one.

That was made clear Monday when the Small Business Commission postponed until July 8 a decision on whose side to take in the fight.

"The thing about Pet Food Express is they started out as a small business here in San Francisco," Small Business Commissioner Stephen Adams said. "I feel like they are being punished because they are successful."

Pet Food Express founder Michael Levy has built a thriving company with 48 locations in Northern California, from San Jose to Petaluma. He is no stranger to the challenges of San Francisco's restrictions on chain stores, which outright bans them in some neighborhoods. In others, like Lombard Street, it requires a conditional use permit that can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

In 2010, Levy prevailed in a long battle to open up a third San Francisco store at 3150 California St. In that case the board voted in a 6-5 decision to deny an appeal of a permit.

Levy and his supporters called on the commission to give them more time to plead their case.

"We really care about our stores and what we do in the community," Levy said.

Commissioner Mark Dwight said he was troubled by the "predatory nature" of the company leasing the empty site for four years while building community support.

The debate is also seemingly made more complicated by the company's close ties with The City's Animal Care and Control Department.

Commissioner Kathleen Dooley said it was one of the company's "ploys" to tout their charity to the agency. And she said that "it's also frankly inappropriate for a city agency to be lobbying in anyway for any type of permit in the city."

In response, Rebecca Katz, head of Animal Care and Control, said, "With all due respect commissioner Dooley, I do want to say that I am not lobbying."

Katz said they have little resources to care for 10,000 animals annually and support from companies like Pet Food Express is a great help.

The Planning Commission may vote on the permit application as early as mid-July.

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