The Creamery, a cafe located a few blocks from Oracle Park for 12 years, is coming to the ground floor of a new apartment complex at 1801 Mission St., on the corner of 14th Street.
After an hour of comment and debate, the Planning Commission approved the project unanimously but asked the project sponsors to do more community outreach and hire locally — an agreement made after The Creamery’s opponents filed for a "discretionary review," a formal opposition that brought the matter in front of the commission on Thursday.
During its time on the corner of 4th and Townsend streets, The Creamery was widely regarded as a hub for tech workers and venture capitalists. It hosted some of the meetings that led to the founding of AirBnB, said Creamery owner Ivor Bradley, an immigrant from Ireland.
When the lease for his business in SoMa expired last August, Bradley closed up shop in anticipation of a new housing development that would displace his business.
Stephen Antonaros, architect of the new apartment complex at 1801 Mission St., submitted plans on behalf of Bradley to take the building’s ground-floor commercial space and switch the land’s use from retail to limited restaurant use, which is already permitted by the zoning.
"They actually had that space on the market for two years, and nobody took it," Antonaros said.
Once the plans were submitted, members of Cultural Action Network, a community organization that’s been around since at least 2015 and is a member of United to Save the Mission, a neighborhood coalition fighting gentrification, submitted a request signed by member Ben Terrall for the discretionary review, essentially asking the Planning Commission to review the project and potentially alter it.
"There are already mom-and-pop restaurants and cafes in the local vicinity that are struggling during this pandemic," Terrall wrote in the request. "This new, large, upscale competitor is not what these local businesses need."
During the resulting Planning Commission hearing on Thursday, members of Cultural Action Network, Calle 24 and United to Save the Mission repeated that argument that the project would displace nearby businesses and contribute to the gentrification of the area.
Some of the dozen or so callers who spoke in opposition (none spoke in favor) also alleged that Bradley and his representatives did not make any outreach efforts until after the request was filed against the project in January.
"It would be detrimental to the community, and to serving the people that are living in the Mission," said George Salameh, who has owned New Star Market on the other end of the same block since 1988.
When the commission asked Bradley and Antonaros about their outreach efforts, they said they tried to meet with those community members after it was filed.
"[Bradley] was basically told there was nothing he could do to make this proposal palatable to the activists who brought this DR request, because he’s not a person of color," said Antonaros.
"That sort of ended the conversation."
In a presentation to the commission on the subject, Planning Department staff member Rich Sucre recommended that commissioners reject the discretionary review request and approve the project on the basis that it was principally permitted, meaning there are no rules or regulations barring that type of business from operating in that location.
Opponents to the project cited the Mission Area Plan, a Planning Department guide that outlines development goals for the Mission, which commits to "ensure the Mission remains a center for immigrants" and "protect and support Latino and other culturally significant local businesses."
Commissioner Rachel Tanner acknowledged the vulnerable state of local businesses and the need to protect them, but pointed out that it is the commission’s job to "look at the use, and not the user, and we can’t say, ‘well, this person isn’t an immigrant of color and therefore their business isn’t allowed to open.’ I would note that he is an immigrant; granted, from a European country."
"I’m also conflicted," said Commissioner Deland Chan, who lamented the amount of anxiety around displacement from immigrant small business owners.
"I’m very sympathetic to the DR requestor’s argument here, and I do think the commission is constrained, because this type of retail is principally permitted here," Chan said.
Commissioner Frank Fung questioned whether the discretionary review was warranted at all without any exceptional circumstances, but Tanner responded that the pandemic was an exceptional and extraordinary circumstance.
Chan suggested approving the project with conditions that project sponsors do more outreach to the community, and commit to hiring from within the Mission.
Antonaros said that Bradley would first have to offer jobs to the workers who lost their jobs when The Creamery closed last year, but they could prioritize Mission residents for new hires.
It is unclear how these added conditions will impact the opening of The Creamery, and Ivor Bradley could not be reached for comment.
Cultural Action Network representative Ben Terrall did not return a request for comment.
Juan Carlos Lara
Juan Carlos Lara covers business and development in the Mission. Juan Carlos, a San Francisco State alum, is as much a photographer as he is a writer and previously worked as the campus news editor at... More by Juan Carlos Lara
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So the main objection was that this new business would provide competition to some existing local restaurants?
Somehow all those restaurants on Valencia seem to do well despite the density of them.
Nice to see that common sense (and the existing rules and regulations) prevailed in this case. The city would do well to make DR a much more cumbersome and expensive process for the requestor when the project is explicitly within the existing rules and regulations.
I liked The Creamery, but do we really need another fancy coffee shop in the neighborhood? I mean there’s already Four Barrel, Flying Pig, and a few others within a block or two…
And New Star makes a pretty good cup of old school drip style coffee at a reasonable price…
Don’t need it? Don’t like it? Don’t frequent it
Jerry and I lived in the Mission for 40 years and I taught at Horace Mann for 20. We retired and moved to Mission Bay and have been been here ever since (14 years). We loved the Mission and still do. Fortunately, we were 3 blocks from the Creamery, a dilightful and funky spot…not at all cookie cutter. Then the property was taken by a high rise developer and the coffee shop had to close. Fortunately, for us, the second Philz ever is a block away from our home. I am a bit saddened by the travail and expense caused by the DR. I wonder if the opposition ever visited the Creamery of yore before it closed? I believe you will find the organization to be a good neighbor.
Sooooo the planning commission approved this without community outreach? Big surprise .
Oh I forgot , they’ll build first and then do community outreach. Sure . So tired of the entire city being held hostage to the tech industry and the wealthy.
I mean, it’s a mess. Between an immigrant business closing in one area and reopening in another wanting to do right to its employees first, I can see why it’s a tougher call. However, in this case, the fact that it’s an existing business trying to survive, I’m glad "principally permitted" wins out.
I’ll add that while the cafe might be "upscale", cafes, in general, are more affordable than full service restaurants.
Thank you planning for standing up to race-based discrimination.
I swear that these nonprofiteers are trying to goad government to gut DR in service of their YIMBY "partners" by filing legally spurious DRs against a plan that their agencies supported and from which they materially benefit.
Corruption all around including defrauding Mission residents of honest representation.
A city where people argue seriously that the official plan of an entire neighborhood prevents non-Latinos from opening businesses there. What a joke.
I think the comment that applicant was not a immigrant or of the right colour said it all.
The DR was only filed because it didn’t fit the identity politics of the few. And communities wonder why so many storefronts are empty. Ask yourself the Question who are these groups to denies any person to open business just because you don’t like there skin colour…its identity politics at it’s worse…
Thank goodness that the Cultural Action Network, Calle 24 and United to Save the Mission are there to keep more white devils out of the Mission !
"There are already mom and pop restaurants and cafes in the local vicinity that are struggling during this pandemic," wrote Ben Terrall, a member of Cultural Action Network, in the submitted request. "This new, large, upscale competitor is not what these local businesses need."
This quote has me rolling my eyes. They’re not even trying to hide that their objective is to protect existing businesses from fair competition. I understand the cultural preservation angle, but given this building is new construction and it appears no legacy local businesses were displaced to construct it, they’re basically screaming gentrification because they’re afraid of being outcompeted by a better-run business that appeals more to customers. Ridiculous.
I swear that the network of mostly city funded nonprofits affiliated with USM is doing their best to goad DR reform from the Planning Commission by filing these phoned-in spurious DRs against a project that comports with the area plan that their agencies supported when it was passed in 2008, and from which those agencies benefit financially.
I’m glad I don’t live in the mission anymore
This is literally insane.
The nonprofit is designed to extract money from businesses to fund itself.
It’s SF’s special own version of the mafia.
Thanks, Juan, for reporting on this. Thanks ML for covering this.
Opposing a coffee shop is beyond absurd. No tech person went to The Creamery because it was some magical place (and it was hardly "upscale") – they went because it was in a convenient location near the CalTrain and SoMa. In recent years it has been practically empty. Not wanting a new business on your block is just anti-competition masked as community preservation. But all local businesses rise with the tide and benefit from each other’s success. So what organizations like the Cultural Action Network actually do is make their community poorer and widen inequality by reducing opportunity.
Mr. Terral is also an immigrant — or rather migrant — from Massachusetts and New York via Berkeley and Emeryville, and, therefore, a de facto gentrifier as well.
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