Mayor London Breed Introduces Ballot Measure to Support San Francisco Small Businesses
In wake of economic devastation of COVID-19, ballot measure will eliminate bureaucracy and make it easier for small businesses to open and operate throughout San Francisco
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today introduced a ballot measure to streamline the process for new small businesses to open and make it easier for existing small businesses to operate and adapt. The Save Our Small Businesses initiative introduced by Mayor Breed has two main priorities: eliminate bureaucracy in the permitting and inspection process, and modernize zoning along neighborhood commercial corridors.
This measure is a continuation of Mayor Breed’s commitment to support small businesses during the City’s response to COVID-19, and her previous efforts to streamline permitting to make it easier for small businesses to open and operate in San Francisco.
“Many of our small businesses were already struggling before COVID-19, and now they are barely hanging on,” said Mayor Breed. “We’re doing what we can with the resources we currently have available, but we know it’s not enough and, all too often, our current system makes it frustrating to own and operate a business in this city—or keeps people from wanting to open a business in the first place. We have to do better for our small businesses if we want our neighborhood corridors to not only survive, but thrive.”
By signing this measure directly onto the ballot, Mayor Breed intends to move it forward for the November 2020 election.
Eliminate Bureaucracy and Streamline Permit Process
The Save Our Small Businesses measure will cut bureaucracy in the permitting and inspection process, making it simpler, faster and less expensive for businesses to open, operate, and adapt. Specifically, the ballot measure would require that permit applications for storefront uses that are allowed by the current zoning be reviewed within 30 days, compared to what can sometimes be months of review. This improvement is critical because new small businesses often have to pay months of rent after securing a location before getting their permits from the City.
Currently, multiple City departments review permit applications sequentially. This measure would streamline the application process by allowing parallel cross-department review of applications. The measure also would eliminate lengthy notification requirements for permitted uses in Neighborhood Commercial Districts and streamline the permit inspection process.
Modernizing Zoning and Regulations
The Save Our Small Businesses measure will also modernize zoning along neighborhood commercial corridors to allow businesses to open up more quickly and at lower costs. More businesses will be eligible for streamlined approvals, including cafes, restaurants, community serving facilities, social services, philanthropy, and arts activities. The measure will also support businesses that want to change or diversify their products or services. Additionally, uses that are permissible on the ground floor of buildings will now also be permissible on the second floor.
The Save Our Small Businesses measure would also allow non-profit organizations to rent or purchase space in neighborhood commercial districts. Non-profit organizations have been increasingly priced out of San Francisco and have had trouble securing spaces at a price they can afford. By allowing these organizations to rent space in neighborhood districts, this measure would help keep organizations in San Francisco while also filling vacant commercial storefronts.
Save Our Small Businesses will help restaurants and businesses adapt to a new normal with COVID-19 and operate in compliance with social distancing and other health requirements. Since restaurant capacity will be reduced and as more restaurants transition to providing outdoor dining, the ballot measure would permit food service in Parklets and facilitate outdoor dining by making it easier to for businesses to operate in the rear of their building.
“San Francisco small businesses don’t just enliven our neighborhoods, they also support hundreds of thousands of workers and their families,” said Joaquín Torres, Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “As we work together as a City to climb out of the global recession, supporting small businesses to adapt and reopen is a major key to bringing people back to work, rebuilding equity, and renewing our economy.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our small businesses community,” said Rodney Fong, President and CEO, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “We need strong, decisive action to help our merchant corridors and storefront businesses. This ballot measure is the perfect combination of reforms, streamlining, and support to get our beloved neighborhood businesses back on their feet.”
“Over and over I hear from businesses who have been trapped for months in planning purgatory,” said Sharky Laguana, President, Small Business Commission, and CEO and Founder of Bandago. “They spend money every day, but can’t open their store, or transform their restaurant to do what needs to be done to stay alive - because the process itself has become the obstacle. This measure tackles these problems head on. It’s about time we addressed the real problems facing small business every day in San Francisco. I can’t support this measure enough.”
“For years, the San Francisco small business community—particularly in arts and entertainment—has been collapsing under the weight of red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Ben Bleiman, President, San Francisco Entertainment Commission, and owner of the Tonic Nightlife Group. “By removing onerous barriers, adding flexibility, and streamlining the permitting process, this measure will help new businesses open faster and allow existing businesses to adapt their models to survive. It will make a huge impact on the vibrancy of our beloved neighborhoods and offer a much needed lifeline to our arts and entertainment industries.”
“The San Francisco Council of District Merchants Association believes this measure will offer many opportunities for small neighborhood businesses to overcome the often difficult process of doing business in San Francisco,” said Maryo Mogannam, President, San Francisco Council of District Merchants Association.
“I’m glad to see the City moving forward concrete policy changes to fix outdated zoning rules and streamline the permitting process in San Francisco,” said Laurie Thomas, Executive Director, Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “Mayor Breed understands that we need to make it easier and less expensive for restaurants and other small businesses to operate, especially in the face of the economic challenges of COVID-19. Restaurants are looking for ways to stay afloat and adapt to make their businesses safer for everyone, and the Save Our Small Businesses measure will provide the much-needed regulatory changes to help businesses get through this and come out even stronger than before.”
Today’s ballot measure builds upon Mayor Breed’s Small Business Streamlining legislation from fall 2019. The legislation focused on streamlining the City’s often burdensome and confusing small business permitting process by clarifying ambiguous provisions in City codes, eliminating redundant requirements and removing outdated barriers so that local entrepreneurs can provide residents and visitors with experiences and services that are reflective of each neighborhood’s unique character. The Small Business Streamlining legislation was passed as part of Mayor Breed’s Citywide Storefront Vacancy Strategy that also included nearly $1 million dollar in program investments and implementation of administrative reforms to support small businesses vibrancy and vitality.
Since the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the City has identified $15.5 million in grants and loans to support small businesses. The San Francisco Resiliency Fund and San Francisco Hardship Emergency Loan Program serve small businesses, sole proprietors, and independent contractors with little to no access to traditional credit in underserved communities. The programs are a result of public and private partnerships that leverage various resources, including the generous donations to the Give2SF COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. The City has also awarded nearly $800,000 in Neighborhood Small Business Mini Grants to 276 small independently owned businesses in underserved commercial corridors.
Mayor Breed’s additional initiatives to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic include:
- Deferring business registration fees with up to $49 million for 89,000 businesses and further delaying the City’s collection of the unified license fee until September 30, 2020. This will lead to $14 million in deferrals impacting 11,000 payees. In March, Mayor Breed announced an initial three-month delay for the collection of the fee.
- Business tax deferrals for small businesses with up to $10 million in gross receipts. Mayor Breed and Treasurer Cisneros notified small businesses that their first quarter businesses taxes can be deferred until February 2021. No interest payments, fees, or fines will accrue as a result of the deferral.
- $10 million Workers and Families First Paid Sick Leave Program, providing up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per employee;
- $2.5 million in support for working artists and arts and cultural organizations financially impacted by COVID-19;
- Issuing a Moratorium on Commercial Evictions for small and medium sized businesses that can’t afford to pay rent;
- Capping the commission on 3rd party food delivery companies;
- Advocating for additional resources for small business and workers through the federal CARES Act;
- Launching a one-stop City website for businesses and workers seeking resources, contacts, and updates during the COVID-19 emergency: www.oewd.org/covid19.