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Jump starting businesses in our neighborhoods

Union Street could benefit from proposed legislation to help fill commercial vacancies. PHOTO: Lexie Lee

It’s well-known that the city’s permitting process for small businesses is laborious. Add to that the challenge of high rents; hiring; crime; and the pandemic, which forced the closure of many businesses, owning or opening a small business in the city is challenging. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of new businesses fail, and some reports are that it is higher in San Francisco.

There may be hope: Earlier this year, Mayor London Breed proposed legislation to improve the permitting process with more than 100 changes to the current Planning Code. Among the proposed changes are allowing more business uses on ground floors to help fill commercial vacancies; lifting restrictions on restaurants and bars in certain neighborhoods — including Union Street; easing the legalization process for existing outdoor patios; and enabling nighttime entertainment, bars, and restaurants to benefit from priority permit processing.

The legislation is in part designed to provide small businesses the ability to adapt to a “flexible retail” model, which currently is allowed only in certain districts, and would accommodate changing circumstances, such as the pandemic and consumer behavior. That model would allow previously existing business to change to a different use without having to reapply to the city for new permits for each change.

The Planning Commission will consider these changes in a public meeting on Sept 7.

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