The 94,000 small businesses spread throughout San Francisco’s unique and diverse neighborhoods are not only vital to our local economy, they help define the character of our beautiful city, drawing in tourists from all over the world and employing close to 400,000 people. Although small businesses have 100 employees or fewer, they compromise more than 93 percent of total businesses in the city.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has decimated our small businesses, forcing more than 50 percent to close. Even before the pandemic, small businesses in San Francisco were struggling — often facing a long and costly permitting process, unclear or contradictory rules and regulations, duplicative or redundant inspections, and inconsistent billing practices. It’s crystal clear that both immediate and long-term systemic change is needed to make it easier to open and operate in the city, especially as so many small businesses continue to recover from the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, many attempts were made at City Hall to provide direct relief. Although they were forced to close their doors to comply with our health orders, they were still required to pay city fees as if they were up and running, which I believed was entirely unfair. To address this, I authored and passed one of the largest fee waiver packages in the city’s history, providing more than $20 million in direct relief to our small businesses. I also continue to support new programs and policies that streamline permitting, allow for flexibility, and ease burdens for small businesses.
NEW PROGRAMS AND POLICIES
Last month I hosted an online training with the Office of Economic Workforce Development to make sure our small businesses are aware of the new resources available, including:
The Proposition H Save Our Small Businesses Initiative: This proposition was passed by the voters last year and creates more flexibility in what businesses can do in their space, allows for expedited over-the-counter administrative approval, and reduces the review and inspection time by 60 percent.
Proposition H also makes it easier to permit temporary pop-up events in vacant storefronts, to expand and improve ground floor commercial spaces, and allows restaurants to use their space in other ways during nonpeak dining hours.
Shared Spaces Program: Our restaurants lost more than 90 percent of their revenue during the pandemic, and it will take them years to fully recover. Outdoor dining has been a lifesaver for restaurants and neighbors desperate to share a meal with friends in a Covid-safe way. As long as Covid remains a threat, outdoor dining will remain essential. I was proud to lead the effort to extend this program, and will continue to make sure it remains a success, which includes responding to any issues that arise from the parklets — noise, crowds, and issues related to cleanliness. Should you encounter a problem with an individual parklet, please reach out to my office at [email protected].
First Year Free: Starting a small business is very expensive. Between permit fees, business licenses, and construction, it can cost as much as $200,000 to open a storefront in San Francisco. The city now waives certain first-year permits, licenses, and business registration fees for many first-time businesses.
Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant:The fact that our small businesses continue to be vandalized is maddening. Complaints are up 40 percent from last year, and some businesses have been broken into and vandalized numerous times. To help offset these costs, OEWD is offering $2,000 in grants to businesses that have been victimized. Although this may help a bit, we must do everything we can to make sure these acts of violence are not happening in the first place. I will continue to work with our police captains to provide foot patrols throughout our merchant corridors and will also continue to fight for the public safety resources necessary to keep our corridors safe.
If you are a small business owner and need any help navigating these new resources, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office at [email protected].
RECOVERY THROUGH STREET ACTIVATION
To support Union Street and attract more visitors to the corridor, I worked with local merchants and artists to organize Bloomtown on Union. This art activation brings rooftop sculptures, live music, a scavenger hunt, and large new murals to the Union Street Neighborhood Commercial District.
This event will generate much-needed foot traffic to the corridor, and we know that beautifying public spaces directly increases the economic benefit to surrounding areas. For example, the Entwined exhibit in Golden Gate Park brought 1,000 new visitors a day, directly benefiting nearby businesses.
Bloomtown on Union is happening now through mid-November, and I encourage you to explore the fun, interactive, and lively displays that are throughout the corridor, and join us for the kickoff on Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. in Allyn Park. This is a great opportunity to discover, or rediscover, local merchants, amazing restaurants, and unique retail in the Union Street Neighborhood Commercial District.
KEEPING SMALL BUSINESSES FRONT AND CENTER
Although things are looking up due in part to the fact that 80 percent of San Francisco’s eligible population is vaccinated, it is important to remember that our small businesses have lost more than 50 percent in revenue from the start of the pandemic and it will take years before they recoup the costs incurred during that time.
With the support of our communities, an increase in vaccination rates, and the creation of new policies and programs for small businesses, we are making significant and sustainable progress. Supporting small businesses means supporting San Francisco and its residents, and I will continue to advocate for policies that make it easier for businesses to open, grow, and thrive.