An 8,000-square-foot warehouse on 17th Street near South Van Ness Avenue has sat vacant for three years, supporting no businesses or jobs, providing no economic value to the neighborhood and little tax revenue for The City.
Empty buildings have a tendency to attract squatters, blight and crime. But instead of consigning the building and neighborhood to that sorry fate, a small-business owner has come forward with a plan to convert the building into a restaurant, bar and six-lane bowling alley.
The business would provide jobs for as many as 20 locals, pump new life into the area and provide a fun entertainment alternative that is rare to find in The City. It sounds like the proverbial win-win situation for the business owner who makes money, the neighborhood that is reinvigorated and a city budget that can use all of the tax revenue it can get.
But as we reported on our pages last week, San Francisco’s byzantine bureaucracy and exorbitant, punitive fees totaling $44,000 are threatening to kill the project or send it elsewhere.
"We are running out of money to complete our construction and are really looking for help for these debilitating fees," Sommer Peterson told the Small Business Commission last week. "If we cannot get The City’s assistance, the extraordinarily high fees could force us to move out of The City or give up on the business entirely."
Peterson said she doesn’t mind paying the Eastern Neighborhood impact fees totaling $24,450.
But she hadn’t counted on an additional $19,000 Muni transit impact fee, particularly when her business will only be open after 5 p.m., and she expects that most customers will walk or bike to get there.
The commission members were sympathetic.
"I think it’s crazy," said Steve Adams. "It’s defeating the purpose of what the Eastern Neighborhoods project is supposed to be. This is the type of bureaucracy that I see in this city that is a problem and a hindrance to small businesses."
Another commissioner said that Planning and Building department delays resulted in taking nearly two years to convert a small cafe into a small cafe/restaurant. The commission agreed to send a letter to city departments requesting them to reduce the fees for small businesses.
A report released six years ago, "A Hefty Toll: How San Francisco’s Broken Fee System Affects Businesses and Residents," detailed a fee system that seemed driven more by a desperate need for revenue than recovering the actual cost of city services.
A glance at the Planning Department’s fee schedule indicates that the situation has only gotten worse. A planning code text amendment will run you a cool $14,382, while a transportation review costs $21,758.
With the economy still staggering and some economists discussing the possibility of a double-dip recession, it’s time for city officials to stop putting up roadblocks and start doing everything they can to encourage business development.
Furthermore, we have heard several mayoral candidates proclaim they not only want to fix the business fee structure but the tax structure as well. We hope this is not campaign rhetoric and that our elected officials get down to the business of business.