As small businesses continue to struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a fee waiver totaling $5 million was approved Tuesday for restaurants and entertainment establishments.
It’s something, but business advocates say much more is needed to keep them afloat.
Introduced by Mayor London Breed and approved by the Board of Supervisors, the legislation waives city fees estimated at $5 million.
The fee waiver breaks down to about $1,754 in savings per restaurant and $6,098 in savings per entertainment business. It applies to restaurants that had less than $750,000 in gross receipts in 2019, an estimated 1,500. And it applies to entertainment and nightlife venues with gross receipts less than $20 million in 2019, about 400.
The waiver is for costs associated with a combination of permit fees, business registration fees and taxes.
Prior to the board’s vote, Breed highlighted her proposal during a virtual press conference on COVID-19.
“Our small businesses need any and all the help that they can get,” Breed said.
She said she planned to do more to help the small businesses “struggling to stay afloat,” but stopped short of providing specific details.
“While we have provided a lot of direct support for small businesses over the months, including over $24 million in grants and loans we know we need to do more,” Breed said. “That includes finding ways to provide more immediate relief and we are working on that right now.”
She added that The City is also offering assistance for small businesses to apply for a new round of federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Laurie Thomas, executive director of the restaurant advocacy group Golden Gate Restaurant Association, said the waiver “is a good step to help out those smaller restaurants who are most in need.”
“We continue to ask the federal government and the state of California to find more relief funds for all restaurants and our suffering workers,” she said.
Thomas, however, called for The City to waive these fees and taxes for all restaurants, bars and any retail impacted by closures or limits and not limit it.
Sharky Laguana, a small business advocate who is also president of the Small Business Commission, called the fee waiver the “least we can do for small businesses.”
And he said reliance upon the PPP loan likely won’t cut it as small business “is in a state of unprecedented crisis.” The pandemic and health orders to slow the spread of the virus have lead to monthslong closures of businesses and limits on their services.
“What’s needed first and foremost is more financial relief,” Laguana said. “The next round of PPP is presumably on the way, but I doubt it will be enough, and there will inevitably be many businesses that get left out.
“The City has challenges finding funding for financial relief, so it must work hard to give small businesses support and assistance, and provide as much flexibility to them as possible so they can pivot as needed,” he continued.
Laguana helped champion Proposition H on the November 2020 ballot that helped loosen restrictions on where certain types of business can open and ease the approval process.
“Prop. H helped loosen the reins a little bit, and was a step in the right direction, but we need to create an environment that is a lot more helpful and welcoming to both new and existing entrepreneurs,” Laguana said. “Most of the job growth in the U.S. over the past few decades comes from small businesses, and this will be even more true as we work towards recovery.”
Time may be of the essence.
California is undergoing a surge of COVID-19 cases and could experience an even more intense surge soon due to the impacts of recent holiday travel. San Francisco is under the state’s regional stay at home order tied to the Bay Area’s hospitals intensive care unit capacity and it is unclear when it may get lifted.
Breed said the Bay Area will remain under the stay at home order “for the near future.”
A Department of Public Health official said Monday it was possible the order could remain in place through February.
“We’ve lost hundreds of businesses over the past eight months,” Laguana said. “This recent surge is the final straw for many who managed to survive the first wave, and I fear we are going to lose even more over the next couple months.”