Small Business

Small Business Commission: No More Chain Stores on Polk Street

A proposal to ban formula retail on Polk Street was rejected by the Planning Commission early in June was supported by the the Small Business Commission at their June 13 meeting.

At the start of the Small Business Commission meeting, it seemed that commissioners would reject the proposal by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin but after hearing much support for the proposed ban from the public they passed a motion supporting it.

“When we implement bans, we hobble future generations from making decisions on their own,” Commissioner Mark Dwight said.

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Commissioners Stephen Adams and Dwight both said that the conditional use process—whereby community stakeholders are given a chance to communicate whether proposed formula retail stores are needed in the neighborhood—is a better approach than an all-out ban.

Other commissioners contended that the conditional use process alone was not enough to keep small businesses competitive against chain stores. Commissioner Kathleen Dooley spoke in support of the ban, saying that the longstanding formula retail ban in North Beach has been “entirely positive.”

The Polk Street ban arose from a conditional use application by Whole Foods Market to operate at the former Lombardi Sports space at Polk and Jackson streets. Whole Foods Market will now be allowed to go through the conditional use process, and the ban would apply to future proposed chain stores on Polk Street.

Commissioner Miriam Zouzounis suggested that Peskin’s office could pursue other legislation to “level the playing field” for small businesses competing with formula retailers, such as restrictions on purchasing from distributors.

Commissioner Mark Dwight made comments against the ban, but changed his tune upon hearing public comment. Sixteen people spoke in favor of the ban, and five people spoke against it. Dwight admitted that he would be more comfortable if the proposal were not referred to as a “ban” but as a “zoning restriction.”

The commissioners unanimously passed a motion in support of the proposed formula retail ban, with a provision that they receive confirmation that all existing Conditional Use applicants including Whole Foods will be allowed to go through their application processes.

Residential Parking Permit Program

Representatives of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Residential Parking Permit program gave a presentation about the effort underway to reform the program.

Kathyrn Studwell and Andy Thornley presented at the meeting, as Office of Small Business Executive Director Regina Dick-Endrizzi noted, to afford the Commission the opportunity to provide input on behalf of small businesses at an early stage of program planning. The Commission and small business advocates have lately criticized SFMTA for failing to solicit their views.

Today, the Residential Parking Permit program is fragmented and hard to enforce, Studwell said, especially with permitted areas that abut one another, giving rise to situations where enforcement criteria vary block-by-block.

Commissioner Dwight said that he did not think that any reconfiguration of the Residential Parking Permit program would alleviate parking problems. He suggested that the city build subterranean parking structures to meet demand.

“It’s very expensive to build garages, it’s very expensive to dig down into the soil,” SFMTA’s Andy Thornley said.

In some areas, such as Mission Bay, feats of engineering like constant water pumping are required to keep garages from being submerged in an essentially submarine environment.

Meeting Recap

  • The Mayor’s office gave a presentation about a sales tax increase. Sales tax will increase to 9.25 percent. A California State restriction prevents sales tax from reaching 10 percent.
  • The Commission’s new secretary is working to file the meeting minutes backlog
  • The Commission approved the 2016-2017 Office of Small Business budget
  • The meeting adjourned in memory of Carla Johnson, director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability

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