SF Supervisors unanimously approved Aaron Peskin’s Storefront Vacancy Tax for the March 2020 ballot, though Peskin himself was not even present for the vote.
Retail storefront vacancies are a new common blight across formerly thriving commercial corridors like the Castro and North Beach, with the empty-shop phenomenon spreading into Hayes Valley. City Hall red tape and onerous permitting requirements are not exactly helping matters, as a lengthy Eater SF report this week showed how the western neighborhood businesses face hurdles in opening new storefronts, too. But the allegation that landlords are hoarding space has been a suspicion of, say, anyone familiar with the astonishing 16-year vacancy of the Castro Hamburger Mary’s location (which did eventually open in spring 2018). We may never see such a long-term vacancy again, as the Examiner reports that Sup. Aaron Peskin’s proposed Storefront Vacancy Tax will be on the March 2020 ballot after unanimous Board of Supervisors approval Thursday. This was an 8-0 vote with three supervisors, including Peskin, already off for their Thanksgiving holiday. But the retail vacancy tax now goes before you, the voters.
“Virtually all of us have seen storefront vacancies increase along our most vibrant commercial corridors,” Peskin said in a statement to the Examiner. “While some of this can be attributed to the rise in online shopping, our own Budget and Legislative Analyst has pointed to other factors, including absentee landlords, speculative rent increases, and failure to rehabilitate or improve commercial space to attract community-serving tenants.”
Per the Chronicle, here’s how it would work: starting in 2021, any retail storefront that’s been vacant for 182 days gets taxed an extra $250 per linear foot of street frontage per year, which goes up to $500 per foot in the second year, and $1000 per foot each year after that. It only applies to certain “neighborhood commercial corridors,” not the entire city. Additionally, there will be all manner of exemptions for cases like disasters, or applying for permits to make improvements.
Since it’s a tax, the measure would need a two-thirds majority of voter approval. That’s a high bar, but not impossible, as the Lyft/Uber tax Prop D just proved when it barely squeaked over that line with 67.6 approval. It helps to have a big, bad villain to campaign against, and San Francisco is a town that loves to hate its landlords.
Critics may (totally will) charge that City Hall bureaucracy is really to blame for the vacancies, as multiple-nightclub owner Ben Bleiman recently detailed at length. Though, interestingly, Bleiman spoke in support of the tax Thursday. The board has tried other creative measures to try to combat retail vacancy, but a stroll down Market Street shows those attempts have come up empty.
Image: RW18 via Flickr