Activists score big victory as Jack Spade gives up on the Mission

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Jack Spade was trying to open in the spot that housed the beloved Adobe Book Store until earlier this year.

Score one for people power. Anti-gentrification activists in the Mission scored a major victory last night in their months-long battle to keep Jack Spade, an upscale men’s clothing chain, from opening a store on 16th Street — first by winning over the Board of Appeals, then by convincing the company to just give up.

So Jack Spade won’t be opening in the site of the old Adobe Book Store location near Valencia Street, an outcome engineered by the grassroots activism of the Stop Jack Spade Coalition, Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, and progressive politicians who supported the cause.

At issue at last night’s packed hearing was an appeal of the Planning Department’s ruling that Jack Spade didn’t fall under formula retail rules because it had one short of the 11 stores needed to meet the definition, even though it’s an expanding part of 5th and Pacific Co. and a brother brand to Kate Spade, which has dozens of stores around the country.

Activists considered it a long shot given the supermajority needed to overrule the decision and force a conditional use permit hearing before the store could open, particularly after falling short with the board in August. But this time, the activists won, with the board voting 4-1 to set a full rehearing for Dec. 11.

As representatives of the corporation left the hearing, they told a few activists and business owners that they “were done.” And when the Guardian reached 5th and Pacific CEO Bill McComb by email today, he confirmed that the company is giving up on this controversial location, where activists were concerned its deep-pocketed presence would accelerate gentrification of the neighborhood.

"[We're] not going to war with the neighbors. We like those people and their neighborhood and we are not fighting the issue. There are many a fine location for Jack Spade. Peace to the city!" McComb wrote to us.

It was a thrilling surprise for the activists that have been organizing against the project for months, and it was reminiscent of the successful 2009 effort to stop American Apparel from opening up shop on Valencia, involving some of the same activists and organizing tactics.

"We're very pleased about last night," said Andy Blue, an activist working with local merchants. "We saw a significant shift in momentum and a tremendous community showing. It was clearly a victory for the neighborhood."

It was a big turnaround from just a few weeks ago, when it looked like Jack Spade had won, and a sign of the rising importance of gentrification issues to San Franciscans who face rising residential and commercial rents fueled by the latest dot-com boom and Mayor Ed Lee’s corporate welfare policies.

"Six months ago, a lot of people in San Francisco felt powerless with the rapid displacement of residents," said Blue. "It was like, 'What can we do, you know?'"
But then, as Blue said, "the resistance started boiling up."

The local merchants decided to appeal the Planning Department decision that would have allowed Jack Spade to simply open its doors with no public hearing. "So many people who were being affected by it started sharing their stories, and things started happening. People had had enough," said Blue. "The San Francisco that we love is this diverse, unique place and we were watching  it transform into something totally different."

Simply getting to yesterday’s hearing was a huge step for the activist population standing up against the retailer, Blue said. But after the rehearing request was granted, the local merchants still needed to prove that "manifest injustice" had taken place during Jack Spade's permit acquisition process if the merchants wanted the actual rehearing. 

This presented a problem to the VCMA and others. To prove "manifest injustice" had taken place during the permit application process, the merchants needed to prove that Jack Spade not only applied for their permits under a dubious guise, but that they were well aware of just how dubious it was. To be manifestly unjust, the unfairness must be "direct, obvious and observable," a list that isn't always easy to satisfy. 

While the two sides can't seem to come to a consensus on how much the rent will actually increase in the surrounding area due to Jack Spade's arrival, this controversy arose at a time when neighborhoods throughout the city have been rising up against gentrification.

And this may not be the last time that this company is in the crosshairs of that concern. Asked whether its decision applies to the whole city or just this one location, McComb told us, “Just that spot. We have many brand fans in SF.”