Nightmare on West Portal
Alease was executed on November 5, 2014 for space at 360-A West Portal Ave between West Portal Financial Group LLC (WPFG), the lessee, and Francis Eng, on behalf of the Eng 1990 Trust, the lessor. WPFG consists of Peter Chen and Ellen Ching, a couple who reside in Balboa Terrace with their daughter Ashley. This couple's business, Raymond James Financial Services, was a home based business they outgrew. They moved into what they believed was a second floor space. They wanted to be in West Portal, and are committed to serving their existing client base and growing their business in the neighborhood.
That was where the nightmare began.
On June 12th 2015, Peter received a letter from the West Portal Merchants Association that a complaint had been filed with the Planning Department alleging violation of the existing moratorium on West Portal corridor for additional financial institutions. As the result of the complaint, the Planning Department issued a Notice of Enforcement on July 24, 2015, alleging violation of the Planning Code prohibiting "new financial services" in the West Portal Ave Neighborhood Commercial District.
Let's end this nightmare and allow this neighborhood couple and their daughter to live the American Dream. Stop the political interference. Let this business continue to go through due process for its CUA. And let it be heard loud and clear that "We support our local businesses!”
Peter and Ellen hired a land use attorney, and after several months a hearing was held on November 10, 2015 before the Planning Department's Zoning Administrator. The Zoning Administrator determined that, per Planning Code Section 729.53, a Conditional Use Application (CUA) was required to operate on the first floor. He cited Planning Code Section 102 for the definition of the First Floor. In order to be considered a second floor it must be 6 ft higher than the sidewalk. The building unfortunately missed this requirement by approximately 2 inches. By the way, there is an elevator lift to get to the business. Previously this space was used for another Business and Professional Use, chiropractic care, and a CUA was never filed. No one ever complained.
Another "Notice of Violation and Penalty Decision" was issued on January 27, 2016 requiring a CUA to legalize the Business and Professional Service Use on the first floor. Peter and Ellen appealed the Zoning Administrator's decision and were given a directive to file diligently for the CUA.
On June 12, 2015, the CUA was filed, as well as a request for a Letter of Determination (LOD) from the Zoning Administrator. After a lengthy and thorough review by the Planning Department, an LOD dated July 11, 2016, confirmed that the business was eligible for a CUA as a Business or Professional Service. No hearing date for the CUA has been set.
On August 2, Supervisor Yee introduced an urgency ordinance to prohibit first floor story Business or Professional Services uses in the West Portal Avenue Neighborhood Commercial District for 45 days.
At the September 10 District 7 Supervisors Candidate Forum a question was submitted asking candidates to address the proposed urgency ordinance. Four District 7 Supervisor candidates, except Supervisor Yee, opposed the proposed ordinance.
At the Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting on September 19, 2016 the urgency ordinance was continued. Over a dozen concerned neighbors and clients of Peter and Ellen spoke out in support of their business, including an articulate 100 year old client. A few asked for a continuance, for the business to be grandfathered in, or that the business receive a friendly amendment exemption if this ordinance was adopted. It was continued. What was the urgency?
This urgency ordinance is to allow time to revise the Planning Code to categorize and define businesses to prevent any confusion in the future, and no new CUA's will be issued until this is resolved. This will adversely impact new businesses including Peter and Ellen's, since it is considered a new business until the CUA is received. If this ordinance "as is" passes, Peter and Ellen's business may have to close down. Further, currently 15% of businesses on West Portal are "Business and Professional Services." Do all these meet City requirements?
Even though the Planning Department's Zoning Administrator reported in the LOD that Raymond James does not offer banking services or products to the public and is not considered a Financial Service under the Planning Code, the President of the West Portal Merchants Association told the merchants at a September 15th meeting that this business was bank-like and had bank-like activities. Peter and Ellen attended the meeting but were not given the opportunity to speak. To date Peter and Ellen have never been given the opportunity to present before the West Portal Merchants Association.
Planning Code Section 790.110 defines a Financial Service use as "retail use which provides banking services and products to the public, such as banks, savings and loans, and credit unions when occupying more than 15 feet of linear frontage or 200 square feet of gross floor area."
At least 18 merchants from the West Portal Merchants Association are in support of the business, as well as dozens from the neighborhoods to date. Further, Supervisor Yee has received 30 correspondences in support of Peter and Ellen's business. On September 7th, Jen Low, Legislative Aide to Norman Yee, told Peter and Ellen and two others "You are clearly not a threat to the neighborhood."
Then why is Peter and Ellen's business being obstructed from receiving a CUA, instead of letting it go through the due process as recommended by the Planning Department and the Board of Appeals? Can someone please explain this to me?
The Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association (GWPNA) has this matter on its agenda at its next meeting on October 5th.
John Farrell Broker/Realtor – Farrell Real Estate, MBA, Former Assistant Assessor-Budget and Special Projects, 5th Generation San Franciscan, Westside resident.