San Francisco

San Francisco Falafel Shop Owner Says Neighborhood Has Enough Falafel, Asks City to Block Rival Falafel Shop Next Door

San Francisco gives its Planning Commission nearly unlimited discretion to deny or condition permits, making life hell for business owners.


A San Francisco restaurateur is eager to stop a competitor from opening up down the street. The city's byzantine permitting process might let him do just that.

For the past several months Assaf Pashut, owner of Mediterranean restaurant Flying Falafel, has been trying to open up another location at 463 Castro St. All things considered, this should be a relatively easy sell.

The Castro Street location Pashut has his eye on is already zoned for restaurant use. It's currently occupied only by a vintage clothing pop-up store. Another Flying Falafel location would bring additional business to a commercial corridor that's seen a sharp uptick in vacant storefronts in recent years.

Enter San Francisco's complex regulatory framework, which is forcing Pashut to jump through bureaucratic hoops, and is inviting mischief from a rival restaurant not eager to see another eatery open up on their block.

In order for Pashut to move ahead with his expansion plans, he needs to get a change of use permit to convert the Castro Street site from retail to "limited restaurant" use, which, in turn, requires a few months of review from the city's Planning Department.

Unnecessary as this might be, obtaining one of these permits shouldn't have presented too much trouble. Pashut wasn't asking for any special zoning variances and was only proposing some light alterations to the interior of the building.

In May, Pashut filed for his permit and awaited approval from the department. That's when Cem Bulutoglu, co-owner of the Gyro Xpress at 499 Castro Street, requested the project receive discretionary review.

In San Francisco, any building permit application—even if it complies with all applicable laws on the books—can be appealed to the city's Planning Commission (which oversees the Planning Department) through a process known as discretionary review. The seven-member commission is empowered to attach conditions to a permit beyond what is required by law, or even reject an application completely in most cases.

This can slow things down for months, as applicants have to wait around for a public hearing, which in turn requires giving neighboring businesses and residents proper notice of that hearing. Should the Planning Commission attach additional requirements to a permit, an applicant has to start the planning process over again, delaying things even more.

The cost of appealing something to the Planning Commission is usually pretty low. Given that Pashut is asking permission to perform only $7,500 in renovations, the cost of appealing his change of use permit should cost $409, according to the city's fee schedule.

"Literally everything in San Francisco can be challenged, everything can be stopped by an idiot with $100," says Steven Buss, an activist with the group YIMBY Neoliberal and a candidate for San Francisco's Democratic County Central Committee.

The fact that any permit application can be appealed by anyone at a relatively low cost creates the perfect opportunity for regulatory capture, Buss tells Reason. "There's a mythology that having community input empowers the little guy against the big guy," he says. Instead it "empowers people who know how to work the process."

This seems to be exactly what is happening in Pashut's case.

Bulutoglu runs a similar falafel-selling restaurant that would have to compete with a new Flying Falafel location, something he even acknowledges in his request for discretionary review.

"There are three falafel shops on the 400 block of Castro…one more fast food walk-up counter style limited restaurant is the last thing this community needs," he wrote.

Bulutoglu—arguing that converting the building at 463 Castro Street to a restaurant would cost the area valuable retail space—is asking that the Planning Commission require Pashut to instead take over a vacant limited restaurant space.

According to a 2017 Hoodline study, 13 percent of the storefronts on Castro Street are vacant, compared to the citywide 3 percent vacancy rate.

A hearing on Pashut's permit application will be held on October 24. (It was supposed to be on October 3, but a "noticing error" saw the commission postpone it to October 24.)

Buss says that it is likely the Planning Commission will reject Bulutoglu's request given that Pashut has the support of the Castro Street Merchants Association. Regardless of the outcome, the delay is still costing Pashut money and time he could be putting into his business.

That any of this is even up for debate before a governing body shows just how out of control regulation has gotten in San Francisco. Because of an endless series of regulations and the massive amount of discretion given to regulators, San Francisco has made it increasingly difficult to add anything new to the city, whether that's a falafel shop or an apartment building. The city's Board of Supervisors is even considering requiring permits for businesses looking to test out "emerging technologies."

The end result is that San Francisco is empowering incumbent interests—whether those be homeowners, bureaucrats, or business owners—while choking off the dynamism that's needed to make a city thrive.

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  1. No falafel for you!

  2. You can never have too much falafel. Just like competition.

    Just let SF continue down this road and watch what happens.

    1. Some people can definitely have too much falafel. Especially if it’s before a long car trip.

    2. It has already happened.

    3. “Just let SF continue down this road and watch what happens.”

      Too late.
      What comes next is fining property owners for having vacant properties.
      No, it hasn’t yet passed as an ordinance, but one particularly imbecilic lefty drunkard is proposing it at the same time he, personally, is blocking new tenants for reasons similar to the example in the article.
      Yes, he wants to be the sole decider of what tenant is allowed to rent which space at what price.

    4. What happens? The progtard assholes leave and move in next door to me and vote for more progtardation.

      That’s what happens.

  3. “San Francisco gives its Planning Commission nearly unlimited discretion to deny or condition permits, making life hell for business owners.”

    The city fathers of San Francisco would be wise to appropriate all private businesses in order to rid themselves of such notorious issues as competition.
    Instead, they should appoint well educated bureaucrats to run such evil and foul enterprises as restaurants, department stores, gas stations, etc. to ensure tranquility in their socialist enclave and the proper redistribution of wealth for the good of the collective.
    This way, such distractions as having the unwashed masses making their own decisions on what to wear, to eat, what movie to see will be eliminated and the chaos that comes with freedom will finally come to a grinding halt for the sake of the ruling elitist filth in SF who have a hard enough time removing the copious amounts of human feces left on their city streets.

  4. This attempted suppression of free enterprise is full-awful, get it?

    1. Don’t get it any more than Pashut gets it.

      1. It’s all full of awful.

  5. If anything, there are too many Taco and Chinese joints and, irony of ironies, the taco shops are run by the Chinese, while the Chinese shops are run by the Mexicans! Seems like the problem here starts and ends at the border. Less immigrants, less peddlers of foreign food items. Burgers and Mac n’ Cheese for all!

    Problem solved.

    1. Falafel is terrorist food anyway.

      1. Falafel is Israeli too. Aren’t we supposed to be friends with them? Or have they become too Semitic for Trump?

        1. Israelis eat falafel but they will tell you it is Arabic food as is hummus, Schwarma and other things. Can’t get good falafel here. Israeli food is very eclectic because the population comes from all over. You can find food from Arabic, North African, European, and almost any other culture. McDonalds and KFC are popular as they are everywhere.

          Foodie culture has gotten big in Israel as chefs have become innovative in combining some of these influences. Some of them opening trendy restaurants here. Also Israeli wine is becoming a big thing. I remember seeing vineyards right up to the Syrian border when I was there. One unfortunate thing is that wine was a big thing in Lebanon and Syria but the wars there have destroyed much of that. I have had a few excellent Lebanese wines but they are hard to find.

    2. >>>Burgers and Mac n’ Cheese for all!

      Fritz and Furio on line 2 …

    3. Burgers? Macaroni? So only German and Italian, huh? No real American food like buffalo steaks, turkey, tomatoes, and corn?

    4. > the taco shops are run by the Chinese, while the Chinese shops are run by the Mexicans!

      If you do not understand this, then you aren’t from California.

      1. >>the taco shops are run by the Chinese

        in the 80s a hilarious Asian lady at (I think) 14th in Newport had a very tiny taco stand and her sauce was ketchup and a bunch of pepper which was awesome on the tacos and fries

  6. They should change the name to the “central planning commission”.

    And if the neighborhood already has enough falafel, then the residents and visitors will have a marvelous opportunity to find out whose falafel they like the best and get rid of the worse ones if there is more competition.

  7. You have to be a fool to live in San Francisco in the first place. Let them do whatever dumb stuff they want.

    1. I tend to agree. There is a Darwinian aspect to central planning in that it chases off profitable businesses. SF will eventually have nothing left but vintage clothing stores, custom hat shops, third rate falafel joints (after they choke out the second rate joints), and social service offices. If they continue to deny Amazon drone deliveries, the city will explode from the stinking cloud of mothball vapors and falafel powered methane.

      1. The needles, you forgot the needles – – – –

      2. “Mothball vapors and falafel powered methane”
        SF is about to ban vapes and methane can’t be far behind (except what comes out of homeless people’s anuses)

      3. “Smug Alert”! Haha.

        1. “San Francisco has disappeared up its own a**hole.”

      4. Wall it off, like in ‘Escape from New York’.

  8. Gee even Bernie would allow two falafel joints.

  9. What permits do you need to shit in the street?

    1. Anything written on a piece of cardboard is good.

      1. Corrugated scrap crap?

    2. None. And no one is allowed to try to stop you or criticize you for doing it, either.

  10. Not sure what is worse: socialists or crony capitalists. Both depend on and inspire too much government, especially in distorting or eliminating functional market process.

    Did anyone ever envision or create a government limited to social/civil issues and prohibited from economic interference?

  11. “…a candidate for San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee.”

    Seriously? Central Committee? They aren’t even trying to hide it any more.

    1. Where I live, you pretty much have to run as a democrat for local office, even if you are moderate republican or libertarian-leaning. I imagine it’s even worse in SF-Antifa will be ready to throw a milkshake through your window if you register as anything else.

      1. The ex-mayor of Mountain View (home of the googles) was a conservative. But he was not a Republican. He explained he would never have been elected as a Republican. It’s a city that actually elected a Libertarian Party councilmen, but where the a conservative mayor had to be registered decline-to-state in order to hold a non-partisan office.

        To be fair, there are conservative towns in the state where a Democrat can’t hold a council seat either. So it balances out.

    2. That’s just the name of the local party meeting. Republicans have a central committee too. Ditto for libertarians. It’s just the name of the county party organization. And not just in California.

      Get a clue.

  12. The Falafel crowd is often full of sketchy characters. Once you have too many of them in one location crime goes up, property values drop, and vaping deaths occur on every street corner.

    1. Yup! That’s for sure. At least that’s what’s happening here on the East end of Bozeman! Gawd awful Falafel!

      1. I thought it was a law in Montana that everyone had to eat beef?

        1. I thought it was a law in San Francisco that all the men had to swallow tubesteak.

  13. I just can’t get into chickpeas.

    1. There is good falafel and there is bad falafel. Most falafel is bad falafel.

      I always hated falafel, but one day had a good falafel. I farted non-stop for rest of the day, but it was worth it.

      1. Some of that is because you can’t find good pita here. The stuff that passes for pita here is like round wonder bread. There is a Lebanese place not far from where I live that makes it themselves and you get it right out of the oven. It is like you have never eaten bread before.

  14. Discretionary review is a concept thought up by conservative NIMBYs to put a stop to anything and everything that makes fir neighborhood change. The problem here is not the regulations but rather the ability of a competitor (or anyone) to open up a discretionary review for the project.

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  16. even if you are moderate republican or libertarian-leaning.eliminating functional market process.

  17. This is surprising because the only thing San Fransisco has going for in its favor is small restaurants. I don’t see how they manage to stay open more than a week, rents being what they are, but new ones pop up constantly. There’s a huge flux in new restaurants. And most seem to be pretty good (unless they’re ideological based, radical vegan Marxist collective eatery where you have to cook your own food with a carbon free heat source).

    So if San Fransisco is now in the mode of actively blocking new restaurants, the city is fucked. Restaurants are the only thing keeping it going at this point. I guess they just want more empty storefronts for the hipsters to squat in while waiting approval to rent a loft.

  18. This. This is why I have long been bemused by how much energy Libertarians tend to waste on fears regarding Big Brother in the form of the NSA and FBI when they perform well regulated observations of communications which theoretically could be abused, all the while living in areas where local authorities regularly limit their rights, often for purposes of enriching those in power.
    I guess it provides some ego boost to feel that their activities are important enough to interest huge, faceless powers in some way, but I am under no illusions; I do not control any significant amount of power in this world and, unless I do, Really Big Brother’s most malevolent efforts will never involve me or my associates.
    The real powers that are likely to limit my liberty in a manner that is as significant as it can be arbitrary and sometimes malevolent, are those the closest and most local to me. San Francisco may have a national reputation for overweening public control (most due to the nature of the citizens themselves ), but self interested local actions are par for the course throughout the country.

    1. The worst tyranny is local tyranny. The LP wastes too much time on presidential races they can’t win, and utterly ignores local races where they can.

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