In her State of the City address Thursday, SF Mayor London Breed announced a multipart plan aimed at revitalizing the city's beleaguered, seemingly half-empty downtown, and it involves some Twitter tax-break-style tax breaks.
"San Francisco downtown as we know it is not coming back,” Breed said in her speech, striking a less cheerleader-y note than in the past. "You know what? That's OK," she continued. "Empty office buildings have fueled dire predictions about economic doom and screaming headlines about the death of downtown... In 1906, downtown was mostly rubble and ash. That's considerably worse than today's shift in how people are working. We have our challenges, but that doesn't mean it's the end of downtown."
Breed announced a sweeping plan, dubbed Roadmap to Downtown San Francisco’s Future, which includes a two-year pause in scheduled increases in the gross receipts tax for certain industries hardest hit in the pandemic; and tax discounts of up to $1 million per year for three years for any new companies that relocate to downtown.
Breed also hinted that a permanent tax-break ballot measure of this kind may be in the cards.
The infamous "Twitter tax break" provided by former Mayor Ed Lee to lure companies, including Twitter, to mid-Market by exempting them from a portion of their payroll taxes, had its sunset in 2019. Many argued that it did little to revitalize mid-Market — and certainly Twitter former fancy cafeteria didn't help in terms of workers spending money at local businesses — and it just ended up costing the city about $10 million a year in lost revenue.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who once called the Twitter tax break "a terrible piece of public policy," sounds mostly onboard with Breed's smaller tax "discounts." He tells the SF Business Times that his office and Breed's are on "similar pages about short-term targeted tax relief to incent[ivize] new office occupants" and with regard to "delaying tax increase for sensitive sectors."
The downtown plan is structured around nine strategies that also include making downtown more "inviting" and safe, improving parks and plazas, and "transform[ing] Downtown into a leading arts, culture, and nightlife destination." And Breed discussed the oft-mention push to streamline the permitting process for new downtown businesses, as well as creating more flexible zoning to diversify the uses of downtown properties.
"The truth is it won't be one thing that fixes downtown," Breed said in her speech. "It will be many things. And the good news is that downtown San Francisco has so many advantages — a beautiful waterfront location, local and regional transportation a dense walkable neighborhood restaurants, bars, entertainment and the proximity to iconic venues like Oracle Park and Chase Center."
And, she added on Twitter, "Today, San Francisco is poised to move forward. The last few years have been tough, and the challenges ahead are tougher still. But we are a city that perseveres. We don’t give up. We will rise."