Here’s an odd little story for you this weekend which I ran across in the local press out of San Francisco. It really wouldn’t merit much national attention were it not such a sterling example of enshrined, liberal tribal beliefs being carried over in the real world to the point of self-ridicule. This story in the SF Weekly deals with a commercial property in the Haight-Ashbury district which became a local bone of contention after some redevelopment work. The address on Steiner St. was, for many years, the home of a locally owned coffee shop called “Bean There.” (Très adorable, n’est-ce pas?) It was popular with the locals, but following some earthquake mitigation work by the owner of the property, the lease to the coffee shop owner was not renewed. There’s some debate over why that took place, but that’s not really the story here.
What came next was an ongoing fight to see what business would replace Been There. A profitable looking bid came in for a different coffee shop operated by Blue Bottle Coffee. As the linked article explains, having another coffee shop there wasn’t going to be acceptable if it wasn’t the right kind of coffee shop, if you know what I mean. Local community activists leapt into action without delay.
But behind the scenes, a battle against corporate coffee moguls was being waged…
The process hands a fair amount of power to nearby residents, who are allowed to petition to the Planning Commission for or against a formula retail business moving in.
With this bit of power, Lower Haight got fired up. Neighbors United, a group formed by former District 5 supervisor candidate Dean Preston and his deputy campaign manager Jen Snyder, worked closely with the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association (LoHMNA) and local resident Hal Fischer to flyer the neighborhood and alert residents about the plan. On Thursday people flooded the Planning Commission meeting, voicing an overwhelming distaste for the chain coffee shop’s attempt to move into Bean There’s old spot.
And in the end, they won. The Planning Commission voted 2-4 in favor of the opposition. A final motion to officially block Blue Bottle will be held at a future meeting.
The locals apparently have the power to petition the planning commission and stop any development which doesn’t fit in with the “flavor” (oh… pardon me. I’m sure that’s probably flavour) of the Lower Haight neighborhood. They are also on the lookout to prevent “gentrification” and they certainly don’t want one of those big, international chain operations moving in and diluting the local culture. So they shut down Blue Bottle’s bid. The people rejoiced over this great victory.
“This is a huge victory for preserving the character of our neighborhood,” said Fischer, who led a petition drive that gathered more than 1,300 signatures.
Congratulations, community organizers! You kept out that big, nasty, soulless international chain store. Except for one thing. Blue Bottle is a boutique coffee outfit which was formed pretty much next door in Oakland. Their mission statement tells you all about their horrible corporate philosophy. It was started by, “a slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic.” He created the brand specifically to rebel against major chains like Starbucks and bring people freshly ground coffee made from (and this is the important bit) “responsibly sourced beans.”
And how big is this massive international chain which the locals were too exclusive to have in their neighborhood? They have a total of 34 stores. But that’s more than the eleven which the local ordinance allows before you are considered a major international player, however. So Blue Bottle’s bid was shut down. And what did this “victory” deliver for the sensitive, socially woke residents instead? The property sits empty, as it has for over a year with the exception of a brief, failed attempt to open up a hair salon there. So the neighborhood used to have a coffee shop where people could gather for a cup of joe and mingle. Now they have an empty eyesore which is generating zero profit or tax revenue.
Well played, folks. You’ve certainly struck a blow for hipster culture everywhere. You’ve also managed to squeeze out even more of the remaining incentive to attempt to engage in capitalism in California. But what’s the difference if you drove down the property values and stopped someone from providing some jobs to local folks and possibly making a profit? You managed to ward off the scourge of “gentrification.” Thank God you were there to save the union from falling into disrepair.