Although the difficulties in the housing market in the Bay Area tends to dominate the news, companies looking for office space to rent run into similar problems. With Oakland not adding any new capacity and many of the buildings under construction in San Francisco snapped up before they are built, firms—like Twitter and Riverbed—have resorted to refurbishing old buildings for new purposes.
So when Pinterest began to outgrow its current office space in San Francisco, which it moved into in 2012 from Silicon Valley, it seemed natural for it to look to a four-story building in what's called the Design District, a small patch sandwiched between SoMa and Potrero Hill. But that was before the situation became complicated.
The building, which is currently at 90% of its lease capacity, is zoned for what's called PDR—production, design, and repair. (Computer programming doesn't fall into the category of production—don't ask us how the city thinks all those lines of code get created). But there's a way around the blue-collar designation: Granting the building the status of a historical landmark, somewhat paradoxically, allows its current use to be changed, in this case to office space. The management firm for the building filed an application for landmark status last year, and it was unanimously granted by the Historical Preservation Commission. All it takes after that is a vote at the Board of Supervisors.
Which is where things got dicey. Some of the building's current tenants, not keen about having to find new space, complained, and got the attention of Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the area. She told the Chronicle, "The market is changing and the landlords are seeing dollar signs. They want to push everyone out. That kind of displacement sickens me, and it's the kind of displacement that has San Francisco in a crisis." So she's help up a planned vote at the Board while she works on legislation that would the amount of office space that a landmarked building could be used for. "I don't want to do spot zoning," Cohen reportedly said, which seemed like an odd for someone working on zoning change based on a single building.