Five years ago, the owners 414 Brannan Street sought permission to change the permitted use of the industrial building, which had once been home to an electrical contractor, to general office space.

Informed by the City that the ongoing use of the building as office space for a contractor or similar tradesman would be allowed, as it would qualify as a legally permitted “trade shop,” but that any general office use of the building, which is zoned for Service/Light Industrial (SLI) uses, would be disallowed, the building’s owners withdrew their formal application to proceed.

But the remodeled building was already leased to Hattery, a shared work studio and venture fund, which was acquired by the global startup incubator and seed fund, 1776, which still operates out of the building with the 127-desk coworking space now managed as a OnePiece Work space.

Having flown under the radar of Planning for a few years, the illegal use of the building as a coworking space, which is an un-permitted general office use, was flagged last August and a formal Notice of Violation was issued in March.

The violation has been appealed, however, the hearing for which is slated to be held by San Francisco’s Board of Appeals this evening. But if the violation is upheld, all general office operations in the building will be required to be immediately shuttered or risk further enforcement action and penalties.

At the same time, a number of other high profile workspaces in the city have been flagged as potential illegal operations, with spaces which were intended to be preserved for either light industrial or Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) uses being employed for general office use as well.

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

UPDATE (6/1): Despite having withdrawn their previous request to legalize a general office use of the building upon being informed that it wouldn’t be allowed, the owners of 414 Brannan have successfully argued that the previous use of the building as an office for the Lera Electric Company constitutes a pre-existing “general office,” versus “trade shop,” use and San Francisco’s Board of Appeals has unanimously overturned Planning’s Notice of Violation for the building.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Jimmy The House Flipper

    Since when is coding not a ‘trade’? Too cerebral for the false populists in planning?

    • Posted by two beers

      The difference between white collar and blue collar jobs, yeah, that’s a tough one there, Jimmy. Good thing you flip houses for a living, and not something that requires critical thinking skills.

      • Posted by Simpleton

        Critical thinking skills? How about this: why focus on blue collar jobs in one of the most expensive areas to live in the entire country? how does that make any logical sense?

        • Posted by two beers

          Using your “logic,” it makes no sense to treat cancer. It’s a serious and difficult disease to deal with, so let’s submit to it and eat more sugar and smoke more cigarettes!

          • Posted by Simpleton

            Did you just compare people having to work outside of a city center to cancer? Wow. I am just going to pretend that bit of idiocy didn’t happen and address what I think you are (very poorly) trying to say.

            I believe your point is that blue collar jobs are important too? I agree. My point is that i fail to see how protecting those jobs (meaning their physical location) in the middle of one of the most expensive areas of the country helps. Almost all of the workers will have to commute to the jobs from elsewhere, what is the benefit here?

        • Posted by Cynthia

          Um, because human beings still work those jobs?
          Because a diversity of employment is the mark of a healthy city?
          Because not everybody can, or wants to, become a coder?

          • Posted by Simpleton

            Humans you say? Thanks for clearing that up.

            We have diversity of employment. However, that diversity has shifted to service oriented businesses vs PDR. And again, it is FAR more efficient to run production and distribution businesses outside of city centers. This is not 1950’s Detroit, the world has changed. I agree repair still needs some space, although not as much as these zoning regulations would imagine.

            As far as coding goes, sure. Many people in co-working spaces are – and this will shock you, I’m sure- not coders. Many a small business is run out of these spaces, as an alternative to working from home or paying for dedicated office space. The diversity of employment you speak of is on full display within the confines of a co-working space. And again, that diversity is further strengthened in the cafes and restaurants that benefit from the 120 workers you have here vs. the 20 or so you would likely have otherwise.

            Frantically screaming that nobody cares about the working class every time the world changes gets us nowhere. Change is and has always been inevitable. Better to help people adjust to and work within the new and/or different opportunities that change provides. Living in the past gets us nowhere.

          • Posted by two beers

            “Change is […] inevitable.”

            Cancer is change…why fight it?

            There’s good change, and there’s bad change. And change is driven by policy. Your attitude is, bad policy is inevitable, so why fight it? Good point. I trust you will submit passively to everything Trump wants to implement.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            You know, comparing a zoning dispute to cancer really isn’t going to persuade anybody.

      • Posted by Jimmy The House Flipper

        Perhaps ironically, I am in the process of setting up a small manufacturing operation just across the train tracks from downtown San Mateo — not quite precious urban SF but still a pretty expensive area.

  2. Posted by Dickie

    With all of the issues this city faces somehow people find the time to check if commercial property use conforms to zoning definitions.

    I understand it’s the law, and zoning regulations should be met accordingly, but it’s pretty disheartening when the city itself (let alone loud proponents of “nostalgia hording” and cultural conservation) tote these sorts of situations as some sort of win for civility.

    Shame, shame. You put an office with computers where electricians are supposed be spooling cable.

  3. Posted by Bobby Mucho

    These sort of stories make me wonder whether, or rather when, will the zoning definitions be updated to reflect a more contemporary use case? Obviously there some demand for PDR-specific space, but I can’t imagine it’s equitable to that of ‘general office’.

    Not a lot of blacksmiths, pressman, canneries, etc around these days.

    • Posted by SFRealist

      Exactly. Our obsession with and zoning for PDR is ridiculous. It’s time to move on.

    • Posted by two beers

      Shame on you, Dickie- you’re lauding the destroyers of the working class.

      Thousands of well-paying blue collar jobs have been lost in SF due to flippers speculators cashing in on the local RE bubble caused by the confluence of the social media/app bubble and historically low interest rates.. PDR is the cheapest available real estate, so when you see these violations, they’re the actions of speculators illegally trying to maximize their profits at the expense of local workers and their families. Thousands of families have had to leave SF precisely because of this kind of real estate activity. Those who violate these zoning laws should have the book thrown at them. Of course, all they’ll get is wristslaps at most, because in San Francisco, real estate is king.

      I love your irony, Bobby: the zoning laws meant to preserve PDR have rarely if ever been enforced, so of course blue collar jobs are disappearing. There are still some blue collar jobs left — mainly of them critical to the functioning of a proper city, and not some bullshlt boutique techie playpen — and gutting what’s left of PDR zoning will rapidly accelerate the demise of what’s left of working class families, much to your applause, apparently.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        Thousands of well paying blue collar jobs have been lost in San Francisco and Detroit and New York and in every city in America because of changes in how the world’s economy works.

        • Posted by Simpleton

          Exactly.

        • Posted by two beers

          Those “changes in how the world’s economy works” are the explicit consequences of specific, planned policies. Contrary to the anti-scientific mysticsm of neo-classical economics and neo-liberal economic philpsophy, policies can be, and frequently are, changed. Most of the battle is in overcoming the pervasive hegemony of ignornance you exemplify.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            No. The changes in the global economy that have eliminated blacksmiths and small scale manufacturing have nothing to do with San Francisco zoning.

            We also don’t build ships in San Francisco anymore. Nor are clothes manufactured in any large US city like they used to be. That has zero to do with San Francisco zoning.

          • Posted by Notcom

            You both seem to be obsessing on the “P” element at the expense of the “DR” elements: things like auto repair – gee it even has “repair” in its name – dry cleaning plants, offsite storage and parking, etc, that are necessary adjuncts to a downtown (or in some case residential) area.

            And guess what, the city has actually anticipated this discussion and provided answers for everyone, it has little to do with smithing.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            Are print shops and dry cleaning plants “necessary”? If so, they can pay rent like everyone else. If not, then we should let autobody shops (which employ very few people) be replaced with offices (which employ very many people)

          • Posted by two beers

            I didn’t say that changes in the world’s economy were the result of SF zoning, The changes in the world’s economy are the predicted (by heterodox economists and political scientists) result of national (eg, monetary and fiscal policy) and transnational policy (eg trade pacts, intellectual property rents).

            Local policy obviously can’t change policies designed to transfer wealth from the bottom up. All local policy can do is address the effects. Preserving PDR space is one means that a local community can implement to ameliorate some of the effects of national and international macro policy.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            Has there been any measure of whether the people who work in these PDR spaces actually live in San Francisco? Or are we supporting the blue collar residents of Daly City and South San Francisco?

          • Posted by spencer

            those PDR jobs are going to robots soon anyway. Robots dont need housing

      • Posted by Bobby Mucho

        @TwoBeers I think you’re confusing causation with correlation.

        Jobs and space are not one in the same and aren’t measured congruently. Jobs are fed by demand not the availability of space. I think it’s pretty clear that PDR related jobs or “blue collar jobs” that go away aren’t in demand as they once were; and guess what, they’re being replaced by a more frictionless experience mostly online—which is why it’s a fair argument to make about people at computers rightfully getting access to a relative abundance of vacant or underutilized PDR space that currently bars them.

        • Posted by two beers

          Most of the lost jobs are still in demand, they have just been relocated further from the city. You might think this is a good thing. I don’t, because it is explicitly classist.

          • Posted by anon

            Yeah, more warehouses, garment factories, and power plants in Pac Heights and the Marina. Why should blue collar workers have to trudge to the SE part of town rather than the tony neighborhoods? That’s classist.

          • Posted by two beers

            You know you’re wrong when you have to resort to reductio ad absurdum.

  4. Posted by unlivable city

    PDR was never in truth meant to be a sincere effort to protect industrial jobs which have poured out of the city for decades due to insanely high operating expenses in SF. PDR was a device used by a very influential and smart coalition of affordable housing developers and existing, embedded artist’s live/work loft residents to divvy up PDR for their continued affordable arts use and everything else PDR would in theory drop in value and get snapped up by the affordable housing people.

    It worked for many artists (not all) but pretty much has failed otherwise, because the owners of these large PDR parcels are mostly family trusts or otherwise patient long-term minded people who aren’t about to sell during a temporary window of city overlordship. But it also exacted an awful cost on our neighborhoods because the PDR genie was long out of the bottle as stated and the tens of thousands of residents and workers throughout PDR neighborhoods that are actually very mixed use, are victims of the worst kind of environmental injustice.

    Particulate matter in these areas is a major issue, as is noise, blight, lack of city services and law enforcement compared to the rest of the city. Its a mess, and we should be able to preserve genuine artists studios and at the same time open up the rest to the kind of wonderful mixed use we’re seeing in places like the Heath Ceramics building and Minnesota Street Projects, to name but a few.

    As for the tech offices illegally using PDR space, I do agree it is a 21st century version of classic production activity and should totally be allowed. Hell, they even call the people engineers, developers and producers. Hello.

    • Posted by scott f

      Thank you. This was very well stated.

    • Posted by two beers

      Nice revisionist history.

      I went to many of the Planning Commision PDR workshops in the early ’00s, and while the end result was a very watered-down and weakly-provisioned mess, the intent of the plan was indeed to preserve well-paying blue collar jobs so that working class, largely black and latino, familiies could remain in San Francisco. Yes, it was gamed by property owners, as planning always is.

      Working class black and latino families are the single biggest obstacle to the gentrification that increases rents and property values, so enforceable PDR zoning is in the cross hairs of the real estate sector. This might be a softer form of racism than that of our orange-hued chief of state, but it is racism nonetheless.

      • Posted by Bobby Mucho

        You’re way off your rocker. This conversation started about whether outdated zoning definitions should be updated to include general office use to meet 21st century demand and now you’re attempting to tie in racist agendas via planning meetings in the early 2000s?

        • Posted by two beers

          You (intentionally?) misconstrue my argument. The soft racism is in ignoring zoning laws that slow down the gentrification that has seen the black and latino population of SF dwindle. Curiously, as the black and latino population declines, rents and property values increase. They are certainly correlated, and causality is open for a discussion that RE types have no interest in engaging.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            Two Beers, you really should have been fighting for the shipyards. They offered thousands of middle class blue collar jobs, many of which were filled by nonwhite San Franciscans. Why aren’t ships built here anymore? Is that also racist?

  5. Posted by Simpleton

    Can’t agree here. Turning this space into a 127 desk working unit is good for the entire neighborhood. More people to drink coffee, eat breakfast/lunch and sometimes an early dinner. Takes a space that would have housed 20 jobs and adds 100, plus the added neighborhood jobs to boot. Win all around.

    As for blue collar production work, the city is a ridiculously expensive place to do such things. Why try to keep low paying jobs in a crazy expensive city? And drive up the cost of whatever is being produced to boot? Makes no economic sense nor does it make sense for the blue collar workers. Why would they want a low paying job in an expensive area? How will they pay for housing, groceries, going out, etc? Further to this point, the existence of an electricians office in or out of the city has very little to do with where they actually work. If your office is in South San Francisco you will still take jobs in the city. What does it matter?

    Modern cities are expensive places, you can’t un ring that bell. The kind of activity you are championing SHOULD move, for any number of practical reasons. This policy is absolutely stuck in the past.

  6. Posted by Kh

    About time city enforces PDR zoning. Lots of warehouses around my building, in clear violation of zoning code, that has been leased out as tech offices. If city really wants to enforce the zoning violations of various landlords, all they have to do is look on Craigslist’s office rental section. I would guess 7/10 of those “creative office” listings are all in violation of current zoning law in SOMA.

  7. Posted by Pablito

    Gotta say I do not understand the City enforcement priorities. On one hand you have these guys with a zoning violation. You also have more than 6,000+ drug addicts pooping and peeing on the streets – with car break-ins up 300% in 5 years 70+ a day. So why is the first item an enforcement priority and the City all but ignores the second item? The second item is what actually affects quality of life in the neighborhoods….

    • Posted by two beers

      IOW, the only issues that matter are the ones that slow down increasing rent and property prices.

      • Posted by Stakes Is High

        OR even anything else mentioned above, like; quality of life, neighborhood cleanliness, number of people working and spending money in the area, and so on.

        • Posted by two beers

          Are you concerned with the “number of people working,” or just with the number of people working who can increase rents and property values? Were you concerned with “the number of people working,” you’d support enforcement of PDR zoning violations that throw blue collar workers out on the streets.

          • Posted by pablito

            Or they could move to Oakland? Because Oakland actually has a lot of affordable PDR space. Many blue collar working people live there and like it. It’s kinda weird to insist that people stay in SF at any cost to themselves. There are lots of reasonable alternatives to being homeless in SF. We have a Bart train – AC Transit runs 30+ transbay bus lines, and there is an overpriced $7 billion kinda earthquake proof shiny new bridge if you want to drive over to SF. Just saying.

    • Posted by spencer

      homeless people are constantly violating zoning. good point. the city needs to get its ethics in order. its inhumane to allow these people to stay on the streets

  8. Posted by Noodle

    I would rather have enforcement of existing zoning than an arbitrary approach of sometimes turning a blind eye.

  9. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: Despite having withdrawn their previous request to legalize a general office use of the building upon being informed that it wouldn’t be allowed, the owners of 414 Brannan have successfully argued that the previous use of the building as an office for the Lera Electric Company constitutes a pre-existing “general office,” versus “trade shop,” use and San Francisco’s Board of Appeals has unanimously overturned Planning’s Notice of Violation for the building.

    • Posted by two beers

      Well. the fix was in, wunnit?

    • Posted by Sean Burgess

      Hey look, somebody did something rational! Happens so seldom, it seems worth pointing out…

  10. Posted by Sean Burgess

    Actually, change is generally sped up or slowed down by policy. The kind of changes we are talking about – societal change, changes in available jobs, the desire to live in the city instead of the suburbs and of course (Sigh) cancer are all changes that are not driven by policy but by larger forces. San Francisco did not become the desirable place to live that is because of city policy. If anything, city policy has reduced that desire.

    So, my attitude is not that bad policy is inevitable, it’s that large scale change is inevitable. You can’t turn back the clock through policy, which seems to be your position. To that point, if you want to bring Trump into this, what he is doing with the coal industry is an excellent example. He’s trying to prop up a dying business through policy. But the reality is that solar is now not only cheaper for new arrays but also cheaper than using the existing plants. So, India and China are shifting in that direction knowing full well that it makes not only environmental sense (Which they don’t truly care about) but also economic sense (which of course they care about very much). All he will succeed in doing is slowing down the death of a clearly dying industry, reducing the standing of the United States on the world stage and screwing us all in the process. It is a perfect example of poor policy trying to prevent the inevitable. Much like this policy.

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