San Francisco, CA –Mayor London N. Breed today announced the proposal of additional small business permitting improvements through upcoming legislation, building upon the success of two policies initiated by her office starting in 2020 – the Save Our Small Business Initiative (Proposition H) and the Small Business Recovery Act.
Mayor Breed’s legislative proposal entails over 100 changes in the Planning Code to facilitate easier permitting for small businesses, encourage economic recovery and growth, and fill commercial vacancies in San Francisco.
The Mayor announced the plan to further these reforms as well as progress made under previous streamlining reforms at the San Francisco Permit Center, which opened in 2021 to serve as a centralized permitting location for residents and business owners.
“Our small business rules and regulations, which had been a challenge for many years, were made significantly worse during the global pandemic," said Mayor Breed. “Our system for permitting small businesses to open and operate was so broken that voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure to streamline regulations and support our small businesses. We have continued to make changes and improvements to the processes as part of the City’s recovery efforts so that entrepreneurs can focus on serving their customers and building up a successful business.”
Since the City began implementing Proposition H in January 2021, over 3,500 businesses have benefited from the program, which allows more commercial projects to be processed within a shorter timeframe, in what’s known as “over-the-counter," when permits applications are processed immediately upon submission.
Proposition H made many improvements to the small business permitting process, but one major change is worth highlighting. Before Proposition H, if a clothing store, for example, were to become a café, the change would require that the general public be provided notice about the change for at least 30 days and the business could not receive their Planning Department approvals over-the-counter, even though both types of businesses are permitted in the neighborhood.
Currently, nearly two-thirds of businesses that are changing from one business type to another can receive their approval from the Planning Department within one day over-the-counter.
“Business owners are often paying rent as they wait for permits, even if they are not open and revenue is not coming in, so each day we shave off of the permitting process counts,” said Katy Tang, Executive Director of the Office of Small Business. "The Office of Small Business is committed to identifying opportunities that simplify the process, help lower costs, and support small businesses as they start their journey in San Francisco."
Last year, the Office of Small Businesses added two new Small Business Permit Specialist positions to help entrepreneurs through every step of the permitting process. Since beginning this new service in March 2022, these permit specialists have supported over 870 business owners with researching permit requirements, serving as a main point of contact for permits being routed through multiple agencies, and resolving permitting questions.
“Prop H helped me to realize my dream of opening a brick-and-mortar location at All Good Pizza. The new process makes everything so much more efficient and it feels like departments are working together to keep things on track. Everyone has been so helpful along the way,” said Kristin Houk, owner of All Good Pizza in the Bayview.
The Permit Center, where the Small Business Permit Specialists services are available, opened in July 2021 and offers 23 distinct service areas through the Planning Department, Department of Building Inspection, Department of Public Health, Department of Public Works, among others. By centralizing services in one place, customers can move between permitting departments efficiently, resulting in a better experience and improved government function. Since the start of this year, the Permit Center has served an average of 191 customers per day and provides on average 531 services daily.
Proposal to Expand Small Business Reforms
Mayor Breed’s proposed changes include citywide improvements as well as recommendations tailored to each of the City’s commercial neighborhoods, and will:
- Reduce the number of barriers small businesses experience when trying to open a new storefront or expand into a new space;
- Provide small business entrepreneurs greater flexibility to adapt to the changing times caused not only by the pandemic, but also due to shifts in consumer behavior as seen globally;
- Allow more businesses to open without going through the months-long Conditional Use Authorization process by principally permitting more uses throughout the City, and reducing the ability for appeals to cause even longer delays;
- Allow more business use types to open on the ground floor to provide more options in filling vacant commercial ground floor spaces;
- Address challenges for venues that provide entertainment and/or alcohol, as well as for businesses that offer outdoor patios for patrons
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods, and we opened the Permit Center to improve the experience for small businesses that want to open, expand, and enhance their commercial enterprises,” says City Administrator Carmen Chu. “But getting us here in one building is just the start and there is more we must do to remove barriers that our local businesses face when they seek permits. Our goal is to peel back the unnecessary things that add time and cost to permitting so that businesses can open and thrive in our neighborhoods.”
All of this is integral to Roadmap to Downtown San Francisco's Future. One of the nine strategies is to make it easier to start and grow a business. Lowering costs, simplifying City processes, and proactively supporting entrepreneurs will encourage more businesses to start and remain while increasing the diversity among business types and owners.
The Office of Small Business
The Office of Small Business, a division of the Office of Economic & Workforce Development (OEWD), is the City's central point of information for small businesses located in the City and County of San Francisco. Their mission is to equitably support, preserve and protect small businesses in San Francisco. They provide high quality direct services and programs, drive practical policy solutions, and serve as a champion for San Francisco’s diverse small business community. Find more online at www/sf.gov/osb.
The San Francisco Permit Center
The San Francisco Permit Center empowers San Francisco residents and businesses by centralizing and streamlining services that are key to improving homes and properties, opening and running a business, and planning community events. In addition to offering 23 services, there is an onsite business center available which offers notary service and copy, print and scanning services for architectural drawings. Read about the Permit Center at here.