Flower Mart Battle Transcends San Francisco

Aug 29 at 12pm

The San Francisco Flower Mart, Martha Stewart’s all-time favorite and the second largest market of its kind in the U.S., remains as troubled as when we reported on it last month. A developer is looking to purchase the site at 6th and Brannan, get the site rezoned, and, through either a merger or acquisition, snuff out the S.F. Flower Growers Association and build an office tower.

Whether you see the market’s potential destruction as merely a regrettable but necessary consequence of growth, or another example of an omnivorous tech industry gobbling everything in sight, it’s become a flashpoint big enough to rope in legislative powerhouses like former mayor Art Agnos. It even caught the New Yorker’s attention.

And the mart is not going down quietly. A coalition of “flower vendors, florists, tenants, wholesalers and concerned citizens” is circulating a petition to save it, charging that the soon-to-be owners (L.A.-based Kilroy Realty Corporation) has given no firm assurance they won’t evict the 58-year-old market or its 60 tenants, which would wipe out a bunch of living wage jobs in the process. The hope is to get 5,000 signatures prior to the Growers’ Association board meeting on Sept. 11, when a vote will take place.

Moreover, something fishy is going on with SOMA, generally. There are plans to rezone wide swaths of it, both piecemeal and all at once, for taller commercial office buildings that command higher rents. Districts marked for Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) – like the one where the Flower Mart resides – are sitting ducks, as blue-collar industries require lower rents and, often, much more space. It’s extremely complex, but 48 Hills had a great rundown on why maintaining PDR is vital for what’s left of SF’s working class. California forbids commercial rent control, so zoning is all they’ve got.

Truthfully, the domestic flower industry may simply be in decline. As the New Yorker article notes, South American growers are undercutting the established California players, questioning the market’s future. Sure, it makes sense to grow fragile, perishable blossoms near their ultimate destinations, but a country that ships in apples from New Zealand and water from Fiji is probably going to import roses from Ecuador, too. While this pertains little to a single hard-nosed real estate transaction, it does give a little moral cover to the bulldozers, should they come.

Still, if you’ve never been to the market, now might be your chance; whether you cart home some fresh blooms or just marvel at the reams of craft supplies, a visit will inspire you. Better still, buddy up with a friend in the design industry who holds one of the wholesale badges, as they get first crack at things as early as 2 a.m. It’s exciting there, that buzz in the shadow of downtown, a throwback to a wildly different San Francisco. Just because capitalism is global, it doesn’t mean every wonderful anachronism has to disappear.

[Petition; via the New Yorker]

Photo by Sonny Abesamis

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