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Planning Commission KO’s PFE on Lombard

San Francisco’s Planning Com-mission voted for the second time in four years to prevent Pet Food Express from opening a new store in the vacant location at 2460 Lombard Street. After this decision, PFE’s leader threw in the towel and said the company would look to sublease the location to another tenant.

In an Aug. 8 meeting, the commission voted overwhelmingly, 6–1, to reject PFE’s request for a conditional use permit to operate a new store at the Lombard location. The vote came despite a recommendation in early August from the San Francisco Planning Department that the conditional use permit be approved. About 100 people showed up to either support or oppose the store, and the discussion lasted for hours. But in the end, PFE “needed four votes at the Planning Commission to be approved,” PFE President Michael Levy told the Marina Times. “And we didn’t get four. The fact that we only got one really makes no difference. That’s politics in the Planning Commission.

“I think it’s very clear that a very vocal minority doesn’t want us there,” he added, “and the politicians are really focused on what’s in their best interest and not what’s in the pets’ best interest or the neighborhood’s best interest.”

In the end, commissioners bowed to concerns about formula retail, a category that includes PFE because the company operates 47 stores. Concerns by competing pet stores in the area that they would be victimized by the larger PFE were also voiced before and during the meeting, which Levy sought to allay during his remarks to the commission that “in our 33-year history, we have never put a small pet retailer out of business.”

After the vote, Levy cited the hundreds of cats that were planned to be adopted at the site as part of a pet adoption center run by Pets Unlimited as just one of the disappointments for him. “It’s very unfortunate for the animals, for the community, for all the merchants on Lombard Street — and virtually all the merchants supported us,” he said. “But we’ll move on. We’ll of course continue to do everything we have done to this point and continue to ramp it up for taking care of the animals in San Francisco and helping their pet parents through our existing three stores, and we’ll continue to advocate for pet rescue in San Francisco and throughout Northern California.”

It’s quite a change from August 20, 2011, when Mayor Ed Lee helped celebrate “Pet Food Express Day” in the City, saying “Twenty-five years ago, Pet Food Express started in West Portal…. Over the next 25 years, [the founders] built this company, and now they have [dozens of] locations in the Bay Area. That’s a tribute to a smart businessman, but it’s also something we always needed in the City.” But in the August commission meeting, mayoral appointee Rich Hillis joined four of his colleagues to oppose the store on formula retail grounds.

PFE now has 47 locations. Asked if his company was looking elsewhere for a new location in San Francisco, Levy replied “Absolutely not.”

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