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City leaders move to aid merchants hurt by Central Subway delays

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Construction of the Central Subway Project is estimated to be delayed by 10 months. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

City leaders are looking to boost efforts to aid merchants in Chinatown after it was revealed that the Central Subway may open 10 months later than originally planned.

In addition to $575,000 planned by the Mayor’s Office to enhance access to Chinatown during the construction, and attract more customers, Mayor Ed Lee directed city staff to “develop a range of additional options to assist impacted Chinatown merchants” in the wake of the delay, the Mayor’s Office told the San Francisco Examiner.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Aaron Peskin announced at the Board of Supervisors meeting that he’s exploring financial bailouts for merchants who experience dips in business due to construction delays from major transportation projects, citing the Examiner’s report Monday that first detailed the Central Subway delay.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said previously the potential 10-month subway construction delay was due to conflicts with its contractor, Tutor Perini, and the two parties are in mediation to find a solution to end the delays. The subway, originally set to open the day after Christmas in 2018, is now set to open in late 2019.

At the board on Tuesday, Peskin said he wished to address “ongoing concerns” about the long process of Central Subway construction, “which were further exacerbated in the wake of a recent front-page report in the S.F. Examiner indicating a possible 10-month delay of the Central Subway construction project.”

Peskin said “the frustration in that room was palpable” in a series of Chinatown merchant meetings attended by staff from the Mayor’s Office and Peskin’s office.

“Sidewalks are all but closed off, traffic and parking have been all but suspended along the corridor,” he said.

The supervisor said The City has not had a practice of compensating small business and property owners for “the negative impacts of construction, but I think it’s time we take a look at something.”

His office told the Examiner that preliminarily, they are exploring an agreement that the SFMTA and merchants would sign to provide financial compensation should an SFMTA project become delayed, which historically has harmed local businesses. In a June 21 interview with Chinese-language TV station KTSF, Mayor Ed Lee pledged to help the Chinatown community overcome the impact of the Central Subway’s construction.

“Construction is a dirty business,” Lee told KTSF, adding, “again we ask for patience, but I’m going to have my staff out here interviewing people so if they need some additional help, we’re willing to do that.”

In addition to merchant assistance, the Mayor’s Office directed the SFMTA to report more strictly on its progress to stem delays, including weekly check-ins and a new public information officer to work exclusively with merchants, according to an internal Mayor’s Office memo obtained by the Examiner.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said in a statement, “We are actively engaged with merchants to understand and address their concerns. Central Subway is The City’s first subway project in decades and will provide better, more reliable transportation to and from Chinatown and the city center.”

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