Supervisor Katy Tang (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Pilot to streamline permit process could combat vacant storefronts

San Francisco may expedite permits for small businesses looking to open in the Sunset and Excelsior neighborhoods under two-year pilot program proposed Tuesday.

Supervisor Katy Tang introduced legislation co-sponsored by Supervisor Ahsha Safai that would eliminate the city requirement to issue notification when an allowed business type wants to move in.

What’s called a small business attraction program is expected to eliminate up to six months of time it otherwise would take to get a city permit.

“If there is a permitted use going to another permitted use then there would be no requirement for neighborhood notification,” Tang said. “Some may wonder why should we take away neighborhood notification.”

But Tang said that these businesses “are almost always approved” anyway and shaving months off the permit time “could mean the difference between a business locating in our neighborhood or not.”

The notification process would remain for some business types, such as if they require an alcohol license, are a chain store and offer live entertainment.

Tang said the proposal would benefit non-chain retail and restaurants. One example cited by Tang in a statement is a restaurant desiring to open in a space formerly occupied by a clothing store. The restaurant would need to wait for a neighborhood notification process before obtaining a permit. “While businesses wait for this lengthy process, they are often paying rent — while still unable to sell any product or make a profit,” the statement said.

“By removing the 30-day notice requirement and ability to request discretionary review by the Planning Commission, this pilot program in Supervisorial Districts 4 and 11 is intended to remove some of the barriers for small businesses in those districts,” the legislation states.

Safai said the proposal is also about “sending a signal to other businesses” that he would like to see them fill up the commercial corridor on Mission Street in the Excelsior where there is “an extremely high rate of vacancies.”

He also said it’s a proposal that could work for other neighborhoods. “We hope it will expand to other parts of the city,” Safai said.

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