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Pinterest Gets Pin-Pricked by Politics

Scott Lucas | July 8, 2014 | Story Politics

Tech giant Pinterest has made its mark, in part at least, by making a fetish of interior decorating. So there's a certain amount of irony that their attempt to move into a larger office space in San Francisco ran aground thanks to the opposition of the very people who make the couches and throw rugs that get pinned.

Last night at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee, Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the part of town that Pinterest had hoped to move into, tabled her own bill that would have allowed the move. In some ways, it's a surprising turnabout, but in others, it's predictable. Cohen is the only member of the Board to face real opposition for reelection this fall, and the optics of allowing a tech company to muscle out dozens of small businesses just aren't pretty.

The crux of Cohen's decision hinges on the designation of the Design Center, which is officially set aside for businesses engaged in production, design, and repair, or PDR. A tight real estate market for large blocks of office space had lead a growing Pinterest to focus on the space in the Design District, but existing tenants raised alarms that the tech firm ran afoul of PDR . To be fair to Pinterest, there's a relatively strong argument that producing code and designing a website is just an updated version of designing a lampshade or producing a couch. But don't cry too hard for Pinterest, which has surpassed Twitter in popularity and was recently valued at $5 billion. They'll be able to afford another office space, in spite of skyrocketing commercial rents in SF.

The same could not have been said for the dozens of small businesses that would have lost their leases in the building at 2 Henry Adams Street to make way for the online giant, which currently leases office space on 4th and King. Though Cohen was the sponsor of legislation that would have granted that status to the building, conflict had emerged after the building's current tenants, many of which are home-furnishing companies, raised concerns about losing their leases. The building's management company had promised to find new spaces for the majority of them, either within the building or across the street at another building that it owns, but those assurances were not sufficient. In a last minute effort to keep the deal alive, Pinterest had offered to cover two months of rent for the other firms, but that, too, was not enough to broker a compromise.

After the move, Cohen told the Chronicle that she had concluded that "This isn't in the spirit of the code or the landmark legislation." She also, at least implicitly, pushed back against concerns about spot zoning, saying that she had concerns about 15 buildings, which total one million square feet, that could also be converted from PDR use to office space under the landmark designation.

The controversy comes amid continuing strife in San Francisco over the transition from an economy of material production into one of immaterial labor. You may have read something about that here and there.

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