There are differing stories, but the tenants are finally getting a say in their future
By Zelda Bronstein
JANUARY 23, 2015 — What’s up with the fight over the future of the San Francisco Flower Mart?
The answer depends on whom you’re talking to.
On Tuesday, January 20, TODCO Executive Director John Elberling, addressing a SPUR lunchtime crowd about the TODCO Group’s Central SoMa Community Plan, said that “everybody’s on board” with current plans to incorporate a new mart into a high-rise tech office project.
That surprised me. During Q & A, I asked: “Everybody’s on board?….Isn’t there a ballot initiative?”
Elberling replied that negotiations were underway, that there might be a public announcement later in the week, and that at the moment, he couldn’t say anything further.
I was also surprised to see a drawing that showed a “FlowerMart Hall” on the ground floor of the Kilroy office project at Fifth and Brannan. As far as I knew, the developer has proposed locating most of the flower vendors underground, adjacent to a parking garage, and a small, open air flower retail component at ground level.
A ground-floor location would be far preferable to a lot of vendors; among other things, cars give off ethelyne gas, which is harmful to cut flowers, so a site next to the parking garage is far from optimal.
Later on Tuesday I spoke to former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who’s helping to lead the “Save the Flower Mart” coalition of vendors, florists, wholesalers and concerned citizens.
Peskin told me he knew nothing about either the negotiations Elberling mentioned or plans to locate the entire Flower Mart on the ground level of Kilroy’s project.
He also said that on January 14, 38 tenants of the Flower Mart decided to create a San Francisco Flower Mart Tenants Association with a board of directors. Two-thirds of the tenants, he added, are involved in the new organization; scheduling conflicts prevented others from attending that meeting. A formal vote would take place on Wednesday.
The tenants also hired an attorney to negotiate with Kilroy and San Francisco Flower Mart LLC, the master tenant that now runs the market. The lawyer, Scott Miller, a commercial leasing attorney who works for both tenants and landlords, attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Peskin said that the tenants authorized Miller and himself to meet with Kilroy executive Mike Grisso and Kilroy’s attorney James Reuben. But he noted that having given the master lease to the San Francisco Flower Mart LLC, “Kilroy’s not the sole decision-maker” here. Peskin said he hopes that SFFM executive Bob Otsuka will join in the negotiations.
As for the ballot measure: in keeping with elections law, the announcement about the measure has run in the press, and the petitions are printed, so it’s ready to go.
But Peskin said that the coalition is going to hold off on gathering signatures to see if negotiations can be productive. If the parties can’t reach agreement by March 1, the petitions will hit the streets. Right now, “we’re in the let’s see if we can make it work for everyone phase.”
In any case, Peskin emphasized, the tenants “are going to have a say in their destiny.”
On Wednesday the tenants formally approved the creation of the San Francisco Flower Mart Tenants Association and elected Louie Figone, of Figone Flowers, the first chair.
On Thursday morning, Otsuka told me, “We are talking to all the tenants” about market operations and the terms of the sub-leases. He said there would be “participation by all parties in relocation aspects” of the new Mart, and that the SFFM is “looking at a possible redraft” of the sub-leases. There’s been “a series of meetings,” and “we’ve spoken together.”
Reached again on Thursday morning, Peskin said that so far Otsuka hasn’t met with the tenants association, but that meetings are tentatively scheduled for next week. “Clearly Kilroy has been talking to the SFFM.”