Though Proposition J, legislation to financially assist so-called legacy businesses as selected by the Historic Preservation Commission, was approved at the ballot box last November, the program's implementation has been slow to arrive. Business owners like Tony Huerta of 30-year-old SoMa gay bar the Lone Star Saloon, himself a prominent campaigner for Prop. J, are still waiting for the program to come together.
"I was one of the first businesses to turn in my paperwork," he told SFist in an email from May, distraught that his landlord, who had declined to renew the business' lease beyond the next few years, was prepared to put the Lone Star's building on the market. Incentives for landlords willing to extend the stay of legacy businesses appear, at least to those like Huerta, to be arriving too late. Furthermore, such assistance won't be available according to a previous timeline, Office of Small Business Director Regina Dick-Endrizzi informs SFist. No hearings for businesses have yet taken place (the first will be on July 20th), and although many eager businesses like the Lone Star were sure to apply immediately, the application process will be extended for as many as three more months, increasing with it the wait for all businesses. That's in order to, as Dick-Endrizzi, explains it, "err on the side of more time" for businesses to apply.
"Due to staffing reasons, the implementation was a bit delayed, and we will be extending the application period for three months," said Dick-Endrizzi, though it's possible the extension will be shorter. Assistance funds like those that could extend the life of the Lone Star Saloon won't be dispersed until after that grant application period is complete. Those funds are grants of up to $500 per full time employee per year to legacy businesses, plus additional grants to their landlords of up to $4.50 per square foot of leased space if they see fit to extend long-term leases to the businesses in question.
As the Planning Department explains, legacy businesses must be 30 years or older to apply, then they must be nominated by a member of the Board of Supervisors or the mayor, and finally, be approved before a hearing before the Small Business Commission. 300 can be nominated per year. A 2014 report by the City’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office, quoted here by San Francisco Heritage, showed that the closure of small businesses in San Francisco had reached record highs: Nearly 4,000 small businesses closed in 2014 alone, staggering when compared to the just 693 that closed a decade earlier, in 1994.
In a taped update on the legacy business program from last night, Dick-Endrizzi introduced the extended application process and a new commissioner for the program to ferry it along. As Mark Dwight, the Office of Small Business President put it, "There's been a lot of criticism for the speed with which this has been rolled out, and there have been some false assumptions about how quickly new legislation happens in any circumstance. Once you make a law doesn't make it immediately effective, you need to figure out how you're going to administer it, how you're going to staff it." Dwight went on to call the criticism "frankly unwarranted." With that in mind, he seemed eager to manage expectations going forward, especially with regard to grant amounts.
As an article originally published in Central City Extra and republished by Hoodline makes note, small businesses employ nearly 30 percent of the city's work force in San Francisco. The article also included quotes from leaders like Supervisor Peskin, who expressed skepticism at the new program. “There was no implementation of this legislation until mid-May. I’m not confident the legacy program will succeed. The rules seem to be made up as we go along. It’s unfair,” the Supervisor said.
“When I heard about Measure J, I was excited," George Leeson, who runs the longtime art publisher Image Conscious, told Central City Extra. "So did many others. Now, I feel the city has disenfranchised me. It’s denying my vote. The process for legacy review is near nonexistent."
"I’ve called the Office of Small Business many, many times," he added. "They don’t call back. Miss your payment of property taxes by one day and you pay a penalty. So, I know the city can move fast when it wants to."