More than 100 planning code changes are being proposed by Mayor London Breed and city leaders in an effort to cut bureaucratic red tape for small businesses to open in San Francisco more quickly.
Breed and city officials announced the changes Thursday at The City’s somewhat-new Permit Center at 49 South Van Ness Ave., a one-stop permit services desk for construction, special events and for business. The center opened in 2020 with limited services, and fully reopened in July 2021.
Proposed changes include allowing small businesses more flexibility in allowing more than one service at one location, such as allowing a coffee shop to start selling plants, an example offered by city officials. This type of change is called flexible retail, which is only currently allowed in districts 1, 4, 5, 10 and 11, according to the Planning Department.
Katy Tang, executive director of the Office of Small Business, said only half of The City allows for flexible retail uses and wants to expand it to the rest of San Francisco.
Other changes proposed include cutting the wait time to obtain permits by changing the appeals process and allowing more different types of businesses to open in ground floor locations that are non-retail, such as architecture and accounting offices.
The proposed changes build off the voter-approved Proposition H in November 2020 and the Small Business Recovery Act, which was approved by city supervisors in 2021. Public hearings for conditional use authorization were no longer needed for many small businesses at the Planning Commission and did away with neighborhood notifications for storefront changes.
Breed said at the press conference:
“We need to get creative. We need to get innovative. We need to make it easy for people to do business in San Francisco, especially when we talk about how much we support small businesses.”
Stories abound of small business owners experiencing difficulty getting through The City’s red tape, though others have been successful.
Naruephon “Billie” Wannajaro, owner of a new Thai restaurant called hed very thai near the Financial District, said she came from Thailand to open up her first restaurant in The City.
Wannajaro said she went to the Permit Center to speak with staff who guided her through the process and steps in opening a restaurant. The entire process began in December of last year and Wannajaro said she was able to open her restaurant the following month, adding:
“This is a big, big opportunity and then is just made my dream come true.”
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. He covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent over a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a native in the city and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Email tips to [email protected]