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News + PoliticsWhat's up with Flower Mart? Depends on whom you...

What’s up with Flower Mart? Depends on whom you ask

There are differing stories, but the tenants are finally getting a say in their future

TODCO's Flower Mart Master Plan shows flower stall on the ground floor -- an entirely new (and positive) development
The Flower Mart Master Plan shows flower stall on the ground floor — an entirely new (and positive) development

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.”



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  1. Thanks, Kathleen. Before writing the story, I called Lee’s office for comments on the current situation at the Flower Mart. I noted his pledge of last summer that “he would work with Kilroy to make sure the flower businesses remain where they are.” So far, I’ve heard nothing back.

  2. As someone at ground zero regarding the Flower Market situation, this is what’s going on. The Tenant’s Association lawyer is negotiating terms with the tenants right now regarding their leases, many of which expired on January 1. The Association has also made a list of demands to Kilroy regarding their place in any development of the Market location, one of which is to keep the vendors at ground level, rather than underground. There is much to be hashed out but if an agreement cannot be worked out, we are ready to go to the ballot in November mandating that the current height and zoning category remain as is. The polling that has been done shows 78% of the voters will support keeping the Flower Market in place. Not all the tenants are located in the North Bay. There are just as many in the coast side corridor of San Mateo County. The Market’s central location is extremely important as it is immediately adjacent to the freeways which are also used to bring the large amount of materials in and out of the SF Airport. There are over 50,000 florists and designers just from San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley who use the Market, along with thousands more who drive from as far away as Carmel and Sacramento to shop there. The flower industry also supports many growers, truckers and their employees throughout the greater Bay Area.The idea that it is more important to build 3 high-rise tech towers than to support the over 75,000 living wage jobs that the Market is the center for is beyond obscene.These offices should be built somewhere else. So much for the Lee Administration’s talk about preserving jobs.City Hall has not lifted a finger to assure these jobs remain intact. Guess that $500,000 that Kilroy donated to the America’s Cup is way more important than all these jobs.

  3. How about moving the Flower Market to the Wholesale Produce Market area out on Jerrold? I’d imagine there’s space available and it’s easy to get to. All the real Flower Market activity is over by 7am anyway…

  4. While I personally LOVE the SFFM, I think being in the “garage” would be a disaster. OTOH, why not move out to Santa Rosa instead or Rohnert Park, where they are more business friendly? It’s an hour away sure, but flower & plant people get up EARLY to get their goods. It’s pretty obvious that corner is big on the “hit list” of building up. Also the flower and plant vendors all come from the N Bay.

  5. Well, Tim knows about these negotiations and he is merely an outside observer and not a direct participant, as Peskin claims to be.

    It is inconceivable to me that Peskin didn’t know about a fundamental development while anyone who happened to show up at a lunchtime meeting did.

    I don’t know Elberling but it seems to me that he is merely working hard to forge a deal and broker a consensus between differing groups of vested interests.

    There is a compromise solution here.

  6. Peskin’s lack of knowledge means that nobody else knew about the secret deal either, which means that the Mayor’s Office is covertly articulating the tentacles of its municipal corruption apparatus to deliver for high powered developers at the expense of sustainable small businesses that serve the tourist industry amongst others.

    Elberling had been of the mind that new non-residential construction was too expensive for legacy businesses and that should be avoided in new plans for SOMA. Apparently Elberling has had yet another change of heart. The prospect that the Mayor’s Office would remove the butter from his bread appears to be a very effective threat that gets Elberling singing the Mayor’s song.

  7. “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.”

    His total lack of knowledge of what is going on does not appear to impede his willingness to endlessly opine anyway.

  8. John Elberling runs TODCO, a nonprofit housing developer and operator which is dependent upon city government for funding.

    So when city government wants to gentrify, TODCO is there, ready and waiting. Back when the Whole Foods was proposed for 4th and Harrison, Elberling was up front at the then-best-dressed-commission-in-town, the Redevelopment Agency Commission public spoils slop fest, signing the praises of how Whole Paycheck would benefit the poor folks living in TODCO’s adjacent buildings. This is on the public record. Entering that WF today is like being transported to the upscale suburbs of Phoenix, none of the population of the Woolf or Mendelsohn Houses are shopping there.

    On the Western SOMA Task Force, when Newsom yanked his chain, Elberling dutifully voted to nix agressive counter cyclical residential development policies, loosening the controls to benefit developers and by extension his operation. That is all on the public record.

    When will we learn that these government funded political operators do not speak for the community, they deliver services to the community and say whatever the people who pay them tell them to say?

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