When Allyse Heartwell moved from the Mission to Noe Valley, she nearly went into shock.
“I was like, ‘Where are all the burrito places?’” she said. “There is one on 24th, but it’s not very good. And particularly having moved straight from the Mission it just seemed crazy that there weren’t more.”
The relative dearth of Mexican and other restaurants in Noe Valley could soon be a thing of the past. On Monday, a supervisors’ committee will consider a proposal to lift the moratorium on new restaurants in Noe Valley. Another pending proposal would end the same ban in the Castro.
In fact, those proposals are just the latest step toward dismantling the prohibition on new restaurants imposed by about 10 of the city’s neighborhoods. In the last few years, several neighborhoods relaxed their bans slightly to allow a handful of new restaurants to come in. The latest proposals would lift the ban entirely, but would still require the Planning Commission to review each new restaurant on a case-by-case basis.
The Planning Department would like to see this new strategy spread to all of the neighborhoods that currently ban new restaurants, said department legislative liaison Tara Sullivan.
“It’s still a case-by-case basis. The commission can still say no if there gets to be too many restaurants. We do have lots of tools that help us balance uses,” she said. “It’s just not healthy to have the cap.”
The tight controls were put in place in the 1980s, when neighborhoods grew concerned that restaurants, bars and night clubs were squeezing out hardware stores, pharmacies and other neighborhood-serving retail businesses. The ban allowed new restaurants to replace old ones, but they were prohibited from opening in storefronts that weren’t already serving food or beverages.
More than 20 years later and in the midst of a recession, some of those restaurants have been replaced by other things and empty storefronts have become more common in some of the neighborhoods.
Residents’ relationship to food and the frequency at which they eat out has changed, making restaurants perhaps more valued by neighbors than they were decades ago, said Sullivan.
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who is sponsoring the legislation that would lift the ban in Noe Valley, said he decided to introduce the same legislation in the Castro after the restaurant Soup Freaks was prevented from opening there despite public support.
“Any controls that have been in place for 20 years certainly should be evaluated, and these were established before The City had enacted controls on formula retail, which now we have,” he said.
Rob Black, vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the more neighborhoods lift the ban the more empty storefronts will be filled. However, he doesn’t believe the ban should be replaced by a conditional use requirement — forcing all new restaurants to go before the Planning Commission.
“It’s very difficult to start up a small business in San Francisco, and the more hoops we require someone to go through, the less jobs we’re going to see,” he said.
But Dufty said the conditional use requirement is completely appropriate because it allows the neighborhood to retain some control over its character.
“Conditional use is a very, very high bar, and I think if you ask new restaurants like Soup Freaks, they’d rather have a high bar than an outright ban,” he said.
Neighborhoods that ban new bars
Neighborhoods that ban new full-service restaurants
Neighborhoods that ban new small self-serve restaurants:
Source: Planning Dept.