The issue of Formula Retail was once again debated before the San Francisco Planning Commission on April 19 for almost an hour.
The Conditional Use Permit was approved unanimously with conditions. La Boulange will work with city officials to meet the needs of the conditions.The seven commissioners present that Thursday at City Hall listened to dozens of people give testimony about La Boulange Bakery and Cafe. Many, which included both residents and employees of the locally established franchise, praised La Boulange. They welcomed its plans seeking a conditional use permit to occupy a 3,000-square-foot spot along 9th Ave between Lincoln Way and Irving Street.
Yet there were voices of opposition expressed to the Planning Commission that afternoon. They were concerned that La Boulange in its expansion efforts will become "another Starbucks." La Boulange has more than a dozen locations in the city. This is what Sunset District resident Dominic MacCormack fears; as well as others like resident Louis Web who foresees a franchise danger. MacCormack grew up in the Sunset and lives not far from 9th and Irving, near Judah Street. MacCormack considers La Boulange's expansion as "ubiquitous, he said, when will expansion like this end?" "If it continues in this way then it is not really local anymore," said MacCormack. Commissioner, Hisashi Sugaya also questioned the expansion plan by saying, why not just be satisfied with success?” “Why the urge to extend so far?”
Among those who spoke, including representatives from Arizmendi Bakery, noted that there are presently five bakeries within a two-block radius. Arizmendi originally founded in Oakland in 1977, now has five locations. The employee-owned cooperative has been a favorite of Sunset residents for over a decade on 9th Ave with its fresh bread and pizza creations. Arizmendi is less than two blocks from the selected site for La Boulange.
Sheng Kee which recently took over the corner spot of 9th Ave at Irving next to Bank of America is almost directly-diagonally across the street from the site. Sheng Kee has another location on Irving past 19th Ave. Some were concerned that with the various bakeries so close to each other, competition would create a sort of "saturation" of baked goods offered. Others viewed it simply as a better diversity of choices for customers streaming into the area, especially for thousands of tourists passing through Golden Gate Park.
Heather Compton, also a resident of the Sunset told the commissioners, “in the short term this plan might be fine as (La Boulange hopes to employ 25 to 30 people at the site). But what about the future? We might later regret this," she said. Currently, La Boulange has 17 locations in the Bay Area with 11 in San Francisco. Supporters of La Boulange noted that La Boulange does a lot to be a part of the neighborhood it serves. It provides charitable outreach through its "La Boulange Fridays." Several people said that they had "fallen in love with this bakery-cafe," and representatives for La Boulange like Taylor Jordan of Berg-Davis Public Affairs emphasized how much support for the site plan was expressed through letters and endorsements. It was also noted that some tallies have over 400 hundred in support and 400 in opposition to the site plan.
Commissioners Michael Antonini and Ron Miguel noted that the bakery's success should not be a penalty for a SF-based and home-grown company. "We should be proud," said Antonini. Surprisingly, all the commissioners on the panel that day were fans of La Boulange (and also of Arizmendi). Yet, Commissioner Kathrin Moore said she would only approve the site plans if La Boulange remained true to its original plan-intention of a mixed use building- which will include housing of about 15 condominiums. Moore did not like the rendering presented which to her seemed "all about a restaurant and not a retail bakery," she said. "I want to be able to see my croissant for the morning in the window display and not a bunch of tables and chairs," she said.
Despite further reservations expressed also by Commissioner Cindy Wu, the popular bakery-café got approved. Wu noted that La Boulange is starting to exceed the guidelines for formula retail regulation. The conditional use permit was granted with provisions that original said plans be adhered to. Wu, also a fan hopes La Boulange will bring its unique French traditions to the neighborhood.
Taylor told this reporter later that La Boulange will work with city staff to meet the needs of the conditions and hope to have the new site completed some time in 2013.