Supporting Small Businesses
When the pandemic started, one of the earliest and broadest measures the City took to protect public health was mandating the closure of thousands of small businesses. Before we had vaccines and before we knew the efficacy of masking, physical distance was the bluntest and best instrument we had to use, and we used it – sacrificing livelihoods to save lives.
In the months since, our neighborhood merchants have endured a series of false starts and stops, new and confusing requirements, and a constantly shifting landscape of health protocols, restrictions and regulations. And through it all, many small business leaders represented the very best of us – showing resolve, determination and an unwavering commitment to continue to serve our neighborhoods, however they could.
Jika Ramen passed out free meals to those in need in the Tenderloin. Andytown raised money to donate coffee to frontline hospital workers. Grace Pacific Medical Associates launched a vaccination clinic with volunteer bilingual doctors, bringing vaccines to community members right here in our neighborhood.
Thanks to our collective commitment to following public health guidance, we’re in a much better place now. California leads the entire nation in limiting COVID-19 transmission, and the Bay Area is at the very tip of the spear, leading the state in vaccination rates.
During the pandemic, the City has moved faster and farther to support the small businesses that are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods. Here in the Sunset, we partnered with community leaders to launch Sunset Strong, a campaign promoting Sunset stores and services, and connecting neighbors to their neighborhood businesses. We helped fund and initiate the Outer Sunset Farmers Market and Mercantile with Sunset Mercantile and POPS, helping hundreds of neighborhood merchants, makers, and home-based businesses survive and thrive. And the Mercantile has grown quickly, first doubling in size on Sundays, and then expanding to a Wednesday afternoon farmers market and other Saturday and weekday community programming, bringing a breath of fresh air and exciting new community connections to 37th Avenue.
This was made possible by the new Shared Spaces program, which also brought open-air dining to our commercial corridors and helped restaurants adapt to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, voters approved Proposition H, the Save Our Small Business Initiative now in effect, to cut through red tape and simplify some permitting processes; and Proposition D, a first-of-its-kind storefront vacancy tax to empower commercial tenants to negotiate with their property owners and help reduce vacant storefronts, which will be implemented soon.
The Board of Supervisors also passed the strongest small business debt relief program in the state. But it isn’t enough to cover the costs of rent debt many businesses still hold. At the end of September, the eviction moratorium that has protected countless merchants throughout the pandemic also ended. As we still face increased storefront vacancies across the City, and as small business owners and leaders continue to make hard choices and contend with countless challenges, the City has a responsibility to do as much as we can to lend small businesses a hand and get out of the way.
San Francisco can be and should be one of the easiest places in the world to start a small business – but it will take work and political will to get us there. Sometimes difficult circumstances can inspire overdue changes, and the Board of Supervisors is continuing to take important steps forward to support our small businesses. This summer we passed legislation making Shared Spaces permanent, with accommodations for public access and delayed fees. Through the budget process, we’ve funded the First Year Free program which waives many of the fees for starting up a small business in San Francisco. So, if you’re an entrepreneur, and want to follow your dream and open a shop or service for our neighbors, you won’t be held back by so many administrative fees.
Of course, the pandemic isn’t the only roadblock businesses face. Crimes targeting small businesses are an ongoing concern, and the “gig economy” too often takes advantage of both workers and small businesses, charging exorbitant fees and fostering new threats to brick-and-mortar stores like “ghost kitchens.” So, we passed legislation led by Supervisor Aaron Peskin to cap the fees delivery apps can charge merchants, helping some 4,000 San Francisco restaurants. And, as a member of the Budget Committee, I advocated for the expansion of the Community Ambassadors Program (CAP) into the Sunset and other neighborhoods, which increases safety on our commercial corridors by hiring and training neighborhood residents to provide a visible, street-smart, safety presence on the streets. The program is currently hiring. And just last month we launched the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant Program, a new program I worked to create and fund, in partnership with Mayor London Breed and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, that supports small businesses impacted by crime.
There is far more work to be done to help our merchants succeed, and a new discussion has started about potentially revising formula retail restrictions to loosen the reins for homegrown businesses, like El Farolito. Sunset commercial corridors currently ban chain restaurants to foster more space for independent small businesses – a ban I support – but I think it may be worth adjusting how we define chains, so that when, someday, Andytown or other local independent businesses are ready to keep growing, we can help welcome them with open doors.
Our Sunset small businesses have done so much to serve us over this incredibly difficult time, and I’m proud to serve them. Please, shop and dine small, stay local and stay #SunsetStrong!
Gordon Mar represents District 4 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at (415) 554-7460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Categories: City Hall