Amazon, Dogpatch Residents Wrangle Over 888 Tennessee Street Facility

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In response to pressure from Dogpatch residents, Amazon will make improvements to the area around 888 Tennessee Street, a two-story industrial building that the almost two trillion dollar company leases to serve as an UltraFastFresh site to deliver groceries.

“It looks like we’ll be getting a new sidewalk on 20th Street between Minnesota and Tennessee streets [which’ll] connect Esprit Park and La Scuola International School and the Indiana apartments with [the] T Line and the waterfront,” said Julie Christensen, executive director of the Dogpatch & NW Potrero Hill Green Benefit District. Improvements will be made to “the sidewalk section adjacent, on the east side of Minnesota Street between 19th Street and 20th street…enclosed trash compactors and better refuse management,” 

Christensen said Amazon will plant trees and sidewalk gardens along 888 Tennessee Street, has offered to install planters beside the new 20th Street sidewalk, and will paint the building, including adding murals. 

“They are talking about starting construction as early as this fall. We are really looking forward to that sidewalk,” said Christensen.

Natalie Wolfrom, San Francisco Bay Area operations regional public relations manager for Amazon, confirmed the improvements. According to Wolfram, over the past year Amazon has listened closely to stakeholders to identify enhancements it could make to the neighborhood. 

“To address safety and waste concerns, we have increased security and maintenance around 888 Tennessee Street,” said Wolfrom. “We’ve also made operational changes to address traffic and parking challenges [and] have finalized plans to revitalize the immediate area around the site. While the work is still in progress, we will continue to work with our Dogpatch partners until the vision we share is realized.” 

More than 235 associates work at 888 Tennessee Street, according to Wolfrom, with plans for additional hires. Amazon provides on-the-job-training, including through such programs as Career Choice, which enables fulfillment center staff to move into high-demand occupations such as computer-aided design and medical lab technologies; Amazon Technical Academy, which teaches non-technical employees to be software engineers; and Associate2Tech, which provides fulfillment center associates the opportunity to move into technical roles. 

Wolfram said Amazon is providing support to nonprofits in Southside neighborhoods that assist residents with job training and employment assistance, including Young Community Developers, Code Tenderloin, and United Playaz. In addition, Amazon donates to local nonprofits, such as the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House (Nabe), San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA). 

Edward Hatter, Nabe executive director, said Amazon contributed $20,000 to support the 2021 STEM and 2021 Potrero Hill Dogpatch October festivals. 

“The biggest issue right now is Amazon’s intent to build loading docks on Minnesota Street facing Esprit Park,” said Katherine Doumani, DNA president. “The question is how many trucks these will accommodate, what size the docks will be, and what the standard route for the trucks will be. Amazon has not yet shared information on this topic.” 

Doumani said Minnesota Street is short, which makes it a good candidate to become a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Slow Street, where automobile through traffic is limited to foster more pedestrian and bicycle use. Minnesota Street is populated by apartments, single-family homes, and industrial spaces. 

Minnesota Street is already a designated Slow Street between Mariposa and 22nd streets. Barricades were installed in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which SFMTA may soon replace with new materials. 

Doumani said creating truck traffic near Esprit Park “makes absolutely no sense and is incongruous with it being the only park in the neighborhood.”

Donovan Lacy, DNA vice president, leads the Minnesota Slow Street program, advocating that the street remain closed to intense vehicle traffic.  

Lacy is concerned that activities at 888 Tennessee Street aren’t “light industrial. The usage is really intense, and there are many other locations in Dogpatch that would be more appropriate for the amount of vehicle traffic at this facility. It is a good thing that there will be changes regarding the dumpsters. For a while there was a significant amount of dumpster diving, smells from rotten food, and garbage strewn on the sidewalks.” 

Lacy said DNA wants traffic mitigation studies to be done to identify possible calming measures.

“Yet there’s no right answer when you put a distribution center in a tight area that has lots of residents. In addition, Esprit Park is on schedule for a major renovation, with construction expected to start in April 2022. There is a concern that the truck traffic could impact that effort,” said Lacy.

The $7.7 million Esprit Park redo, a collaboration between San Francisco Recreation and Parks, University of California, San Francisco, and Dogpatch & NW Potrero Hill Green Benefit District, focuses on changes to the park’s meadows. The north field will be available for dogs and their human companions, the south for people. 

In June 2020 Chiyomi Brent, an Amazon “picker,” filed a civil lawsuit that alleging that Amazon put workers and the public at risk of COVID-19 infection by not implementing reasonable safety protocols, making people work in close quarters, reusing employee protective suits without cleaning them, and setting quotas that made it impossible for laborers to socially distance or sanitize. The suit remains unresolved. 

Brent’s action spurred California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and San Francisco Department of Public Health to open investigations into Amazon’s pandemic practices. In December 2020, Becerra filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court to order Amazon to comply with outstanding investigative subpoenas from the California Department of Justice. Becerra said Amazon delayed sharing information and provided incomplete responses.

Wolfrom said Amazon doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“In regards to COVID-19 safety protocols, we doubled down on safety measures in all of our buildings to protect our employees from COVID-19. We offer widespread COVID-19 testing, provide masks, sanitizing spray and wipes, instill social distancing. We’ve increased the frequency of deep cleaning at all of our buildings,” said Wolfrom. 

In 2019, Dogpatch residents raised concerns as to whether Amazon was authorized to sell alcohol from 888 Tennessee Street. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) issued a Type 85, or off-sale wine, license to Prime Now LLC in March 2020 for 888 Tennessee Street, which allows for sale of wine for consumption off the approved premises. Transactions are restricted to those solicited by mail, telephone, or the internet, and may not be conducted from a retail outlet open to the public. 

888 Tennessee Street is one of three Amazon locations in Dogpatch. A potential site at Cesar Chavez Street and the 900 Seventh Street site will serve as last-mile delivery stations, part of Amazon’s fulfillment network. 

It’s unclear how long Amazon will lease 888 Tennessee Street. In 2017, 888 Tennessee Partners, LLC, c/o the S. Hekemian Group, proposed to raze the existing building and construct a four-story-with-basement mixed use structure with 110 dwelling units. DNA supported the project. Peter Hekemian, senior managing director of the S. Hekemian Group, didn’t respond to an interview request.