Chase Bank’s plans to open a branch on Valencia Street this fall will face an appeal by neighbors who are organizing to derail the project.
Chase might be one of the last banks to benefit from what District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar calls a loophole in the planning code, which allows banks to open without neighbors’ input. Last month the San Francisco Planning Commission voted 6-1 in support of an amendment that would close that loophole.
The amendment would require banks to apply for a conditional use permit when opening a branch in the city. At present, banks can open without the permits required of other chain and corporate businesses, like American Apparel or Starbucks.
“The legislation intends to give neighborhoods a greater say in the way that commercial corridors are developed and adds protection to small businesses,” said Mar, the amendment’s chief sponsor.
The Uptown Almanac first wrote about the branch opening last month.
The Board of Supervisors will consider the amendment in the coming months, but it will not affect the opening of the branch on Valencia Street because Chase has already obtained a building permit — one of the last steps needed before construction can begin — said Chase spokeswoman Eileen Leveckis.
“We have followed the required process to build a branch,” Leveckis said. She added that Chase opposes the amendment because unlike other chain businesses, bank branches are part of a larger network.
But a group of neighbors continues to oppose the new branch and is in the process of filing an appeal to the building permit at the San Francisco Board of Appeals.
“It would be best to have the supervisor’s measure on our side to support the appeal, but I think we’ll go forward with the appeal regardless, especially with the Planning Commission win our side,” said Julie Napolin, a neighbor who is organizing against the branch opening.
A change.org petition started by Napolin gathered 109 signatures in opposition. Branch opponents, in solidarity with neighbors who unsuccessfully opposed the opening of a Chase Bank at 401 Divisadero, also sent letters in support of the amendment.
“This motion, supported by the Supes, should be a model for towns everywhere fighting to keep the unique quality of their neighborhoods composed of local business owners and useful, desirable services,” Napolin wrote on the petition’s website.
The proposed branch, on the bottom floor of a new condominium development at 299 Valencia St., is part of an ongoing expansion by Chase, which opened two branches on Mission Street in 2010 and 2011. This will be the fourth Chase Branch in the Mission — one more than Wells Fargo operates and two more than Bank of America.
Chase tries to incorporate itself into the local community, Leveckis said. She noted that the bank will employ between 12 and 15 people, and was a sponsor of this year’s Dogfest in Duboce Park.
“Every neighborhood that we go into, we are committed to helping the local economy,” she said.
Napolin said she doesn’t buy it.
“While Chase claims they will help provide jobs, economic growth and increase[d] convenience for its customers, its expansion effectively monopolizes the storefront banking landscape in San Francisco,” she said. “Chase Bank forecloses on families in San Francisco and nationwide, profiting from the eviction of low-income, senior and disabled tenants. And it does so at the cost of businesses that have a vested interest in the local community.”
Chris Wright, the executive director of the Committee on Jobs and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, opposes the amendment.
“I would argue that [banks] are anchors of strong neighborhood commercial districts,” he said. “Let me just say that these bank branches inherently serve local residents and retailers. I know from my personal experience in the Richmond District, when I go to the bank to get cash, I spend locally, I visit many stores along that corridor. I would argue that this proposal in general is unnecessary.”
Businesses on Valencia Street have previously opposed the opening of chain outlets along the corridor for fear that it would increase their own rents.
When American Apparel tried to open a store on Valencia Street in 2009, neighbors organized and opposed the project during the permitting process. Eventually the retailer agreed not to open.
Representatives of neighborhood business associations from the Haight and Telegraph Hill, as well as Livable City’s executive director Tom Radulovich, spoke in favor of the amendment at a recent Planning Commission meeting. They argued that San Francisco neighborhoods are unique because they have independently owned businesses, and an influx of corporate banks would ruin their character.