Take Lowe’s off the table

Pub date September 3, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The battle over a proposed Home Depot store on Bayshore Boulevard several years ago dominated politics for a while in two supervisorial districts and became a nasty battle over race, jobs, small business, and community development priorities that spread citywide. In the end, with Sup. Aaron Peskin providing the swing vote, the Board of Supervisors approved the giant chain store.

And then — as giant out-of-town chains will do — Home Depot abruptly pulled the plug last spring. After all the tumult and the shouting, the bitterness and bad feelings, the big-box retailer decided it really didn’t want a store in southeast San Francisco.

Since then Sups. Tom Ammiano (who opposed Home Depot) and Sophie Maxwell (who supported it) have met and worked together to create a development plan that makes sense for the big empty lot on Bayshore. The two supervisors involved community leaders and tried to create a public process that would prevent the kind of fight the neighborhoods faced over Home Depot.

It was a hopeful sign — until now. Because the owners of the lot — the Goodman family, which once ran Goodman Lumber there — have come forward with a new proposal that’s almost exactly the same as the old one. This time, it’s Lowe’s Home Improvement.

If the supervisors, the mayor, and the community learned anything from the past few years, it’s that big-box chains can’t be trusted and aren’t an appropriate base for community and economic development in San Francisco. The mayor and the supervisors should make it clear now, before we go through another long, ugly battle, that big-box isn’t part of the future of Bayshore Boulevard.

Big chain stores defy all the basic premises of progressive urban planning. They exist and operate on a car-driven suburban model, with large parking lots that attract drivers. They add traffic and pollution to local streets and are inconsistent with the city’s attempts to be a greener, more sustainable community. They pay low wages (in fact, Lowe’s is the subject of a class-action suit in 11 states charging that the chain makes its employees work overtime without pay). The money they make leaves the community immediately, offering little in local economic benefits. And they destroy neighborhood-serving small businesses.

They are, by their nature, monocrop economic entities — when the entire future of an area depends on one so-called anchor store, then the community is vulnerable to decisions made elsewhere. Home Depot could have opened, then been closed after a year. Lowe’s could do the same.

The Eastern Neighborhoods plan envisions a huge new influx of housing into the area, and city planners admit the result will be a loss of blue-collar jobs. So the city can’t let the Bayshore site sit empty for years while some North Carolina–based megaretailer decides the neighborhood’s fate. And the last thing the Bayview, the Mission, and Bernal Heights need is another drawn-out conflict over a home improvement store.

The Mayor’s Office ought to be working with Ammiano and Maxwell to come up with an alternative plan for the area (solar energy? local home improvement stores?) that creates decent jobs, generates tax revenue — and remains true to a sustainable economic and environmental vision for the city. Step one is to take Lowe’s off the table.