It’s hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since the first stay-at-home orders were issued. While I breathed a sigh of relief in January, with the inauguration of a new presidential administration that is taking the pandemic and economic recovery seriously, Covid-19 has nevertheless claimed half a million American lives and inflicted incalculable harm on our economy. Here in San Francisco, few have felt the pandemic’s economic toll more acutely than our neighborhood restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, and salons, and those who own and operate them. Many have closed their doors, and thousands are unemployed, uncertain when they will be able to reopen or return to work. That’s why I’m taking action to save our small businesses.
In partnership with the Department of Public Health and the Roxie Theater, I am proud to have been part of the successful effort to save the Sundance Film Festival at Fort Mason. Last December, when the latest Covid-19 surge began, the health officer shut down drive-in movie theaters, threatening the film festival and its local host, the Roxie Theater. The Roxie is one of the oldest continuously operating cinemas in the United States, and it has been an incredible partner in bringing movies to Fort Mason for all to enjoy.
Due to San Francisco’s restrictions, however, Sundance needed a special commitment from the city to allow the film festival to go forward. After advocating on the festival’s behalf, I convinced the Department of Public Health to amend the health order and certify that the festival could continue as planned. While I was pleased to see the festival go forward, our small businesses need systemic changes too, and I’m focused on delivering those changes for all those who keep our merchant corridors running.
Last December, at a Board of Supervisors meeting focused on our economy, I introduced one of the largest small business fee-waiver packages in San Francisco history, to help businesses that were ordered to close by the city. The steps we have taken together to stop the spread of Covid-19 in San Francisco have saved lives, but these precautions have had severe impacts on our economy as well. Small businesses employ hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans — they are what make our neighborhoods so vibrant and special, and they truly make up the backbone of our local economy. It is our responsibility to step up and support them in any way possible.
My legislation will waive business registration fees, annual license fees, and all penalties related to those fees for small businesses with $25 million or less in gross receipts that saw a reduction in revenue due to local health orders, and refunds any such payments that have already been made.
This is a question of fundamental fairness, and the fees that the city would otherwise extract from our small businesses during this difficult time are extraordinarily unfair to begin with. Small businesses should not be forced to pay the city for the privilege of operating when Covid-19 has made it all but impossible for them to stay open. All budget decisions are reflections of our values, and, although waiving these fees will reduce the city’s revenue during a period of fiscal uncertainty, it is absolutely the right and just thing to do.
We need to stand up for our small businesses and our neighbors who keep them running, rather than continuing to view them as ATMs. I was thrilled that my legislation passed out of the Budget and Finance Committee unanimously and with five cosponsors in February. I expect it will begin to provide the economic relief our small businesses so desperately need as soon as possible.
In addition to waiving unfair fees, I have asked the city attorney to draft legislation to preserve parklets in our community, because our small businesses need certainty to plan for their economic recovery. Small businesses, and restaurants in particular, have relied on parklets over the course of the past year — with many spending thousands of dollars installing and activating them — and they deserve more certainty that they will be permitted to continue to use these spaces as we recover. My proposal will allow our small businesses to use the parklets they installed in our merchant corridors for an additional two years after the termination of the Covid-19 emergency declaration. With clear expectations from the city, it will be easier for small businesses to recover financially.
While significant, these actions are just first steps. During the committee hearing for my fee-waiver legislation, one small business owner called in to share her experiences. In spite of the tremendous difficulties the city imposes on our local merchants, she remained hopeful. She stated that, Covid-19 aside, she looks forward to the day that it is easier to run a small business in San Francisco. I share that hope wholeheartedly, and I am committed to doing everything in my power to remove obstacles to our small businesses’ success.
As we pass the one-year pandemic milestone, each of us must do everything we can to ensure that our neighborhoods return to the vibrant places they once were. That means taking every opportunity we can to champion our small businesses.