Supervisor hopes to lift ban on new restaurants on Upper Fillmore

Presidio Planning
Vacant storefront in the
Upper Fillmore
Photo: J. Gerard
In his first piece of legislation as the new District 2 supervisor, Mark Farrell calls for the end of a 24-year-old ban on new restaurants in the Upper Fillmore. He is talking about the stretch of Fillmore from Jackson to Bush Streets.

“Merchants would like to see more activity on the street,” says Farrell. “We want more restaurants on Fillmore without restrictions, but we do not want formula retail businesses.”

Formula retail means chain operations like McDonald’s or Applebee’s. That would not be acceptable. Nor, according to Farrell, would bars that are not attached to restaurants. There will be no revival of the old neighborhood bars from yesteryear, such as the Hillcrest or the University Hideaway, which were located on Fillmore between Sacramento and Clay.

“The recession has made all the difference,” says Farrell. “It was a very different time back in 1987 when the cap on restaurants was enacted. How many boom or bust cycles have we been through over the years?”

Rich Kerr, a self-described Fillmore Street loafer and ranter declaims, “Ban on restaurants? There’s a ban on new restaurants? C’mon, we should consider a ban on lipstick parlors and skin cream joints in this stretch of Pacific Heights.”

Kerr, the curmudgeon, says he is at a loss to suggest what should replace these businesses other than “the inevitable Gap for Geezers.”
Indeed, few locals were even aware of the ban on new restaurants. Farrell says he is alarmed by the number of vacant storefronts, and his measure would allow new restaurants to move into those spaces. That is prohibited today.

Two years ago, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, Farrell’s predecessor, managed to lift a similar limit on new restaurants on Union Street in Cow Hollow. It seems to have worked out well, according to merchants and residents.

Sal Salma, owner of Salma & Company Real Estate on Union Street, is a former Marina restaurateur and has been working in the neighborhood for decades.

“Getting new restaurants is a lot better than getting more jewelry shops and nail salons,” he says. But he agrees with Supervisor Farrell on the topic of new bars.

“We want full-blown restaurants here,” he says. “They’re good for the neighborhood. I’ve seen a few new places to eat here in the past couple of years.”

A new French bistro called Unique is set to open on Union, between Gough and Octavia, in the coming months.

Farrell says he has encountered no opposition to his measure, based on talking to the merchants, and the neighbors.

“We, in city government, have to be stewards of the neighborhoods,” he says. “I don’t see anyone getting angry over my piece of legislation.”

Besides the full board, the measure would have to pass muster with the Planning Commission.

Meanwhile Salma, who operated the successful Marina Cafe on Lombard for years, offers a recipe to those who run restaurants: “Give the people what they want, and what they want is a fair and honest meal. Give them that, and the people will come.”