Fresh & Easy will open a supermarket on South Van Ness Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets, but will only be able to sell beer and wine. The Planning Commission approved the project in a 4-3 vote on Thursday, with several conditions.
“This activates a site that has been vacant and blighted for a long time,” said Commissioner Michael Antonini. The site has been vacant since 2010, when Delano’s supermarket moved out. Before Delano’s, Cala/Bell Markets operated a supermarket at the site from 1959 to the early 2000s.
“I think this is going to improve the area a lot, as well as all the other improvements made to the neighborhood,” Antonini added.
The issue that dominated most of the meeting was the sale of alcohol. In the end, the commission approved only a beer and wine license.
Commissioners were especially concerned with the supermarket’s self-checkout system.
Bruce Lee Livingston, executive director and CEO of the organization Alcohol Justice, spoke up against the self-checkout, explaining that it made it too easy for minors to buy alcohol.
While there is an alarm system that notifies store employees when an unauthorized person is trying to purchase alcohol, the commission thought this was insufficient.
The project sponsor disagreed, but the commission stood firm, saying the project would only be approved if the company had one check-out station for alcohol purchases that will be staffed by a human being.
“They negotiated with Fresh & Easy in front of us while the community had to remain mute,” Livingston said of the lengthy back-and-forth.
This is a victory for the community, Livingston said, but he is still worried about the sale of liquor.
“[Fresh & Easy] should not have been allowed an alcohol license. It is completely against [what] the law was trying to establish,” Livingston said, referring to a moratorium on liquor licenses in the Mission.
A letter from the Planning Department to Grocery Outlet, Inc., in September 2010 states, “in the event that any such establishment ceases to operate or discontinues operation for 30 days or longer as set forth in state law, such use shall be deemed abandoned and as an existing non-conforming use may not be reestablished per Planning Code Section 183.”
“The liquor license by Delano’s was not used for 30 days, so the use of the state ABC license was deemed abandoned by the City,” Livingston said.
“But today, the planning staff said that when the liquor license was sold from Delano’s to Fresh & Easy, that it could be used because Fresh & Easy is formula retail and not a grocery store, even though Delano’s was a grocery store.
“The letter of the law on the Mission Alcoholic Beverage Special District is willfully being ignored … when the liquor license should have been denied,” Livingston said.
In a letter to the Planning Department, project sponsor Lawrence Badiner, an urban planner, listed the benefits Fresh & Easy would bring to the site. He wrote that it would provide much-needed food service in the Mission District, as “there is a lack of moderately priced basic goods and healthy convenience foods.”
Some commissioners were concerned about the store’s proximity to other neighborhood-serving markets.
“There are a lot of grocery stores in the neighborhood. There are eight within three blocks,” said Cindy Wu, the commission’s vice president.
Wu said that she would like to protect local businesses, citing Duc Loi supermarket on 18th and Mission as an example of a store that serves the same function as Fresh & Easy.
Fresh & Easy will also allow nearby businesses to use its parking lot, the sponsor wrote, but the letter did not state which businesses would be allowed to share the lot.
The letter also stated that Fresh & Easy would provide 25 to 30 permanent jobs.
The store will work with Arriba Juntos, a nonprofit employment and training organization, to recruit employees from the neighborhood. The company has partnered with other local nonprofits to staff its Bayview, Portola and Richmond stores.
At the meeting, Fresh & Easy’s sponsor said that the store aims to hire 50 percent of its staff from the neighborhood. It’s not clear, however, how the store will work toward those goals.
The Planning Commission found this lack of information to be “disconcerting,” but motioned the proposal forward under the condition that the supermarket work with Arriba Juntos to meet a goal of 100 percent local hires, and report back on these numbers in one year.