21K Sign Petition Against Flower Market Demolition, Relocation

A band of local florists allege a powerful real estate company took advantage of the historic S.F. Flower Mart and its vendors.

The S.F. Flower Mart (Image: Instagram)

Louie Figone leaves Half Moon Bay most days by 1 a.m., bound for San Francisco with a truck full of flowers. His 321-acre nursery pumps out coral, orange, and hot pink Ranunculus this time of year, up until June when it’s time for Dahlia season.

A second-generation grower, Figone rents a booth at the San Francisco Flower Mart, where he’s vended to florists and other wholesalers for 51 years. His customers are people like Sharla Flock, who heads to SoMa for bulk purchases, following in the footsteps of other florists who have been shopping at the market since it opened in 1956.

Just as Flock was scoping out Figone’s coral Ranunculus early Monday, a Change.org petition she authored reached its 21,000th e-signature in its second week online. The petition accuses property owner Kilroy Realty Corp. of purchasing 7 acres along Brannan Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, including the Flower Mart, making promises to the vendors, and then breaking those promises with malicious intentions.

“We suspect that Kilroy’s true aim all along has been to destroy the Flower Mart in order to replace these older tenants with wealthy tech companies,” reads the petition.

The Los Angeles-based realty group purchased the Flower Mart in 2014, then the adjacent lot in 2016, with plans to build a 27-story office building atop the 7-acre chunk of untapped downtown real estate. It’s at the edge of what will soon become ground zero for the Central SoMa Plan, a rezoning effort that would allow more office space to be built on an industrial stretch of the city still zoned for industrial use.

As part of a deal struck a few years ago by Sup. Aaron Peskin and former Mayor Art Agnos, the Flower Mart – the second largest of its kind in the nation – is guaranteed a slot on the ground floor of the new building after construction. But it needs to be built first, so the Flower Mart will need to be temporarily moved.

The deal is spelled out in a tri-party agreement signed by Kilroy, the flower market, and the San Francisco Flower Market Tenants’ Association. But the crux of the controversy is not more office space, the Central SoMa plan, or any of the usual suspects – it’s this clause:“The location of the final Relocation site shall be subject to the approval of the [San Francisco Flower Market] and the [San Francisco Flower Market Tenants’ Association], which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld, conditioned, or delayed,” reads the legally-binding agreement.

The temporary location site is to be “reasonably determined” by Kilroy, and approved by the other parties. But the tri-party agreement lists only one site pre-approved by the tenants’ association, 2000 Marin St. in the Bayview, which according to Kilroy, has since become unavailable. A new temporary site at Piers 19, 19½, and 23 along the Embarcadero has been proposed instead, sparking outrage by local florists and vendors of the flower mart, leading to the petition.

Now, the parties are fighting over what “reasonable” means.

“We don’t control 2000 Marin, we didn’t control it at the time, and so 2000 Marin is listed as a possible site, subject to Kilroy gaining control of it,” said Mike Grisso, senior vice president of development and land planning at Kilroy, who’s in charge of the flower market project.

“The industrial market in San Francisco is extremely tight, there are very few available sites, and virtually no sites this large, so the tri-party agreement was written with the understanding that we didn’t know where the temporary flower market would be…If it was available today we’d be happy to use it as a temporary relocation site,” Grisso continued.

Kilroy contends it is doing everything it can to find an appropriate spot for the temporary market. Girisso said the Embarcadero is more than reasonable, leaning on a traffic study Kilroy paid for that showed traffic is worse near Brannan Street, and Highway 280, and better on the Embarcadero near the proposed site.

But Flock isn’t buying it.

“Everybody knows traffic on Embarcadero is crazy, now you’re going to put a bunch of cargo vans and semis on that, it’s absurd,” she said.

Geoff Spellberg is the lawyer for the San Francisco Flower Market Tenants’ Association, representing the 54 vendors that sell flowers at the market. He also says the Embarcadero site is unreasonable, calling the pre-approved 2000 Marin St. on the outskirts of the city more in line with what the Flower Mart and its vendors had it mind when they signed the agreement.

The current market on Brannan Street has five entry points for product to enter and exit via three city streets and two alleyways. The proposed Embarcadero site would have three roll-up doors accessed via one entry point, Embarcadero street, a busy tourist thoroughfare with pedestrians and cyclists.

Spellberg says a single entrance would bottleneck the constant semi-truck traffic that the market sees daily, along with the hundreds of customers who drive in their own trucks for bulk pickups.

“How can you have three semis unload on the Embarcadero during rush hour where they block two lanes of traffic?” Spellberg said. “You can’t conduct business like that.”

Flock agrees, and launched the petition to give voice to the customers —a group, she says, has been left out of the discussions — and the tri-party agreement. She says the Flower Mart and its vendors, who are mostly farmers, were taken advantage of by Kilroy. If the market is forced into the piers on Embarcadero, she says it may not survive the 2-3 years Kilroy says it will take to get back to their original location.

With the petition, Flock and the florists are calling on the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to step in to protect the historic Flower Mart, its vendors from around the Bay Area, and over 300 blue-collar workers employed by the market, that may have mistakenly fell victim  to a deal, that Flock says, wasn’t in their best interest.

“There are so many families that are fed by that flower market,” she said. “Those people work their asses off, they’re there at 1 a.m. in the morning, these people can’t just be pushed out like everybody else is being pushed out in this city.”

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