San Francisco

Merchants Affected By Construction Projects Could Receive Loans & Grants

As major construction and streetscaping projects in the city have brought traffic jams, blocked parking and limited visibility for small businesses, merchants across San Francisco are frustrated.

Now, the city's supervisors are looking at how they could better support business owners, including with loans and grants.

The Board of Supervisors Government Audits & Oversight Committee met on Wednesday to discuss the economic impact of construction.

"We're in a construction boom in the private sector and public sphere—with more investments going into capital improvements—than we've seen in years," said District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee, whose district includes West Portal and parts of the Inner Sunset. "What we're discussing today is the unavoidable impacts these projects have on our merchants and commercial corridors."

Yee said that the city must come together to develop effective solutions to help keep business alive throughout construction projects that take several months or years.

"Cities like Los Angeles, Houston and New York have started business assistance funds," he noted. 

"Over the last year, our office has been fielding an increasing number of complaints from our small businesses that feel like they've been negatively impacted by the private and public construction projects in the neighborhood," District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim—who represents SoMa and the Tenderloin— said.

A crew works at Haight and Webster streets. | Photo: Dan Jackson/Twitter

In the Sunset, two small businesses that have shuttered—Hard Wear and Hunter's Threads—specifically blamed streetscaping projects for the closures. 

“I weathered a lot of stuff over a lot of years, but the streetscape project did us in,” Hard Wear owner Angela Ticker told us in June. “Parking and traffic is always bad here, but when you add the construction, it became horrific. People wouldn’t come near the place, and it went on for a very, very long time.”

The now-closed Hard Wear on Irving St. | Photo: Cheryl Guerrero/Hoodline

City Controller Ben Rosenfield also presented a preliminary assessment of the agencies findings of the economic impacts on businesses. Six construction zones were reviewed.

Retailers in two—West Portal and the Castro—saw the longest construction periods. Merchants in each of two neighborhoods saw a loss of revenue of approximately 12 to 13 percent.

The other four did not show significant impact, he said.

"I know San Francisco has resisted compensating businesses because we don't want to open up Pandora's box, but we're talking about billions and billions of dollars of construction," District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.

Peskin represents Chinatown, a neighborhood that has seen significant impact from the ongoing construction of the Central Subway, slated to open at the end of 2019. "This city has to figure out a way to ameliorate the impacts in a meaningful way."

Kim said that her office had already secured $100,000 add-back for construction mitigation, as well as an additional $95,000 dedicated to merchant assistance.

She also said that she was considering a fee for private developers that would go into a larger citywide fund to help support business owners during private construction projects.

"I know we have a lot of fees on our private developers, but we should consider a small one based on the cost of construction," she said.

West Portal was one of two neighborhoods in San Francisco most impacted by construction. | Image: Google Maps

During public comment, merchants pointed out that their businesses often have limited visibility, and that business owners should know well in advance of what is going to happen during construction projects.

"When you add the impact with construction and social issues on the street, it's killing us downtown," said Karin Flood, executive director at Union Square Business Improvement District.

"We're not merely inconvenienced, our livelihoods are at stake," said Dogpatch resident and Rickshaw Bagworks owner Mark Dwight. "A prolonged disruption of our business can cause a business closure and personal bankruptcy."

Rickshaw Bagworks owner Mark Dwight. | Photo: Stephen Jackson/Hoodline

District 5 Supervisor London Breed, who represents the Lower Haight and parts of the Inner Sunset, said that communication is a key factor that often needs improvement.

"Damaged roads, the night construction without proper notification, once we had a flood on Fillmore and Haight, the gas leak," she said of construction in the Lower Haight. "[These are] things that had many residents and business owners nervous and frustrated and wanting the city to do a better job."


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