Report: S.F. small businesses face permit obstacles

Small Business Commission study finds crucial process is complicated and costly

San Francisco’s small businesses face an uphill battle, and often a costly one, when trying to obtain city permits.

A new report, commissioned by The City’s Small Business Commission, says there are “serious deficiencies” in the permitting process for small businesses.

“As many small-size-business owners can tell you, the city permitting process is a labyrinth, to say the least,” said Jordanna Thigpen, the commission president.

The City does not make clear which permits business owners need, and there is a lack of coordination between The City’s permitting agencies, the report says.

Supervisor Fiona Ma, working with the commission, is championing an overhaul of The City’s permitting process, and wants to establish a “one-stop shop” office in City Hall for business permits. The office would also serve as a place where business owners can receive guidance on the permitting process.

Currently, small-business owners may have to go through as many as 10 city agencies — such as the Department of Public Health or the Department of Building Inspection — for the necessary paperwork to legally open for business.

The difficult permitting process is “one of the reasons why we see so many empty storefronts around The City,” Ma said.

The report finds there is “an adversarial relationship between the business owner and [city] agencies,” no reliable time frame for the issuance of permits, and business owners choose not to expand just so they do not have to face the permitting process.

Ma said The City should try to fix the permitting system internally, but has not ruled out the possibility of a ballot measure.

Small Business Commissioner Michael O’Connor said it only makes sense to make the permitting system friendlier, since The City is relying “more and more” on these small businesses to help fund its operating budget. About 85 percent of The City’s businesses are considered small businesses, those which employ less than 20 workers.

Thigpen said any delay in the permitting process results in the business owner paying for it. When the permits are not issued, and the business cannot open, the owner still has to pay the rent, she said.

“Anything San Francisco could do to expedite the process would encourage small business to relocate here or expand here,” said Kevin Westley, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

The report, drafted by Joyce Scales, a student at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, may be discussed by the commission as early as this Monday.

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Currey (30) tallied 26 points and seven assists at Monday night’s game against the Lakers. (Chris Victorio for the S.F. Examiner).
Warriors overcome 19-point deficit to stun defending-champion Lakers 115-113

Ladies and gentlemen, the Golden State Warriors are officially back. Stephen Curry… Continue reading

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on Dec. 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
Kamala Harris to resign from Senate

Bridget Bowman CQ-Roll Call Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from the… Continue reading

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

Most Read