Small businesses are taking a hit in San Francisco due to the coronavirus, which is causing event cancellations and prompting many residents to work from home. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to help small businesses, add tenant eviction protections

Breed to announce proposal to allow businesses to delay taxes for a year

Mayor London Breed and members of the Board of Supervisors vowed Tuesday to help struggling small businesses and employees who have lost income due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The City’s budget is expected to take a hit as tourism and commercial activity slows, making assisting those in need more challenging.

A conversation between Breed and members of the board over how to best assist those in need took place during the board’s regularly scheduled question time with the mayor.

Supervisor Dean Preston proposed legislation to prevent evictions during the coronavirus state of emergency, including a ban on certain non-payment evictions and no-fault evictions, including Ellis Act evictions.

But Breed said that because she declared an emergency last month “we don’t need to wait for legislation in order to move forward with a moratorium on evictions” and that she has been working on a plan to “sign a directive as mayor in order to make this so.” It was not made clear what day she would issue it.

“There is no need to wait and go through a lengthy legislative process in order to make this happen,” Breed said.

Preston said he would like to work with Breed on the directive details.

Breed said she would like to see an eviction protection measure happen statewide as well. “There is a serious possibility that there will be a lot of people that will not be able to pay their rent,” Breed said.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced a proposal she said she would introduce next week to open up a $20 million line of credit with the tax collector to offer small businesses loans to help pay their rents and mortgages.

Supervisor Matt Haney said he would like to create a fund that would help employees offset income loss. “Our small businesses and workers are already taking a significant financial hit,” Haney said.

He said that nightlife venues and entertainment venues are weighing limiting capacity below 50 people and are losing revenue at a rate they will not be able to afford rent. The City has issued health guidelines to cancel large gatherings to combat the spread of the virus and “for vulnerable populations, don’t go to gatherings (of about 50 people or more).”

Small Business Commission President Sharky Laguana said his own business, which provides vans to touring musicians, may shut down due to the economic effects of coronavirus. (Joshua Sabatini/S.F. Examiner)

Breed said that she intends to offer help to both businesses and employees.

Breed said she discussed with Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento on Monday the prospect of expanding “unemployment and disability benefits so that those who typically may not qualify could qualify.”

She also said she plans to announce Wednesday the details of plans to allow businesses delaying tax payments.

“We are still fleshing out the specific details,” Breed said. That includes which businesses would qualify, but they would be allowed to defer payment of their taxes due in April “until sometime next year.”

“We are also looking at financial incentives and other things for workers who may need some relief working with our financial institutions to provide no interest loans,” Breed said.

She added, “The priority of course is public health and we need to stay focused on that but simultaneously we have to deal with the economic impacts.”

Breed pointed to some of the local economic impacts already seen, like loss of hotel tax revenue and a reduction in the number of people using city garages.

“The new reality is that coronavirus is going to have a significant impact on our economy and our revenues, and therefore our budget,” Breed said.

There have been a reported 190,000 hotel stay room nights canceled due to cancellation of conventions and meetings and “sales tax revenues are going to be hit because of a decline in customer traffic.”

“Last week, we saw an 11 percent drop in BART exits at Powell Street station, a 21 percent drop in parking at North Beach garages, and 41 percent drop at Hayes Valley and Civic Center Garages compared to previous weekends,” Breed said. “This is not to mention the cost associated with addressing the virus itself.”

The impacts are so severe that even the president of The City’s Small Business Commission, Sharky Laguana, does not think his business, Bandago, will survive. The company, which employs 80 people, rents passenger vans to touring musicians around the country.

He commended Breed and the board for taking “the first step in what is going to be a long journey” after the commission passed a resolution Monday calling for assistance.

“We are already seeing pretty dramatic impacts across many different businesses, including my own,” Laguana told the San Francisco Examiner. “I was just talking with loan officers not less than an hour ago and it is resulting in having to back out of contracts.”

“We’re pretty seriously concerned. It’s probably like an understatement: I will be amazed if we are still a viable business in three to six months. We are hunkering down,” he said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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