San Francisco Bay Guardian, November 2, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Citizens in San Francisco have begun to use their municipal precautionary principle law in land-use advocacy.]

by Marie Harrison

"Here in San Francisco, we have always been... innovators, and we've been leaders," Mayor Gavin Newsom announced recently. "We're a city of dreams and a city of doers." Today, in the southeastern neighborhoods of the city, we're looking for innovation and leadership.

A key element in the revitalization of southeast San Francisco is Bayshore Boulevard. It's an area begging for development. If done right, development along this corridor could bring jobs and vitality to our community in a way that strengthens our connections with the rest of the city yet protects our locally owned businesses. Bayshore can be a place where city residents work, shop, and eat together. Locally-owned small and midsize businesses can thrive, bringing tax dollars into city coffers and jobs to an area of the city that has suffered under neglect for far too long.

At the moment, however, the future of our neighborhood is being decided by an enormous corporate entity, one based in Atlanta. It has a track record of lawsuits alleging that it discriminates against women and people of color. This is Home Depot.

Working on environmental issues with residents as the organizer and community outreach educator for Bayview-Hunters Point Greenaction, I am primarily concerned with the environmental and health impacts of developments, including the proposed Home Depot.

One child in six suffers from asthma in Bayview-Hunters Point: the highest rate of asthma in the city.

And yet, the city is considering placing another Goliath in our neighborhood: a big-box outlet between 107,211 and 153,089 square feet with as many as 600 parking spaces. This is being done without any consideration of the additional diesel trucks spewing toxic exhaust that the store will bring into the community.

Some members of the Board of Supervisors insist that Home Depot will bring tax dollars into San Francisco. Yet a Texas study concluded that locally owned businesses recycle 45 cents of every dollar back into the community, but big-box stores return only 13 cents of every dollar to the local economy. The rest goes to corporate headquarters.

This development conflicts with the city's commitment to develop Bayshore in a way that's consistent with the city's General Plan. It also violates the landmark environmental policy to do no harm (the Precautionary Principle), which the supervisors and the mayor supported unanimously.

We need jobs now. We need to act quickly to bring in local merchants and developers to create a business corridor that provides sustainable local jobs. We need to produce those jobs in a way that truly benefits our communities without damaging the environment and in a way that supports locally owned businesses.

The jobs offered by Home Depot -- and there's no guarantee that jobs for local residents will actually materialize -- come at the expense of those that will be lost when local hardware stores have to lay off some of their workforce (assuming these stores can survive at all).

Mayor Newsom stated in his recent State of the City address: "As we shape our urban environment, we are reimagining San Francisco as a city of possibility, a city that will attract families and so nurture the next generation." With the increasing development pressure heading down Third Street, which may put additional pressure on locally-owned mom-and-pop outlets, we need to proceed cautiously and carefully.

Strip malls and big-box stores are not the urban environment that draws people to San Francisco. We should focus on local businesses, neighborhoods that work together to generate creativity and prosperity, and preservation of our culture.

Building healthy and vibrant communities can prevent violence. This is what will nurture our next generation. It's called smart growth.

Marie Harrison works for Greenaction.