By Jonathan Axelrad
Proposition H is a shocking attack on the planning process, under the guise of a global pandemic and the misleading claim about “saving small business.” In reality, Prop. H will destroy traditional retailers while undermining the rights of long-term protected tenants, the elderly, and all residents who live near commercial corridors to enjoy their homes.
There is no argument that San Francisco should work hard to protect its commercial corridors. They have been under attack for years by greedy commercial landlords, online business, formulary retail and now a pandemic. The planning process also needs reforming to streamline and reduce delays for small business, but that should not be allowed at the expense of neighbors and traditional retail stores.
Prop. H allows retail stores to become restaurants, shared work spaces or entertainment venues without any formal notice or change of use approval that is currently required. Backyards that in many cases are as little as 20 feet from residential tenants can become “Outdoor Activity Areas” (where alcohol can be served in some cases), open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, without giving neighbors a chance to participate in the planning process. Neighbors will wake up one morning to “customers” by their bedrooms throughout the day and late into the evening.
Retail stores and backyards could quickly be turned into work spaces for the rich while commercial landlords seek higher and higher rents and traditional merchants can’t keep up. Protected tenants and elderly that cannot afford to move to new homes away from the racket will be stuck while their cherished enjoyment of their homes is destroyed.
It’s shameful legislation that will primarily benefit commercial landlords that completely disregards the many San Francisco residents it will hurt. It’s like dropping a nuclear bomb on neighbors, rather than building on the smart policy of the Shared Spaces program that has been successfully allowing our small businesses to temporarily expand into appropriate outdoor areas.
The end result here is anyone that cannot afford to move will be stuck with this. Any traditional merchant that can’t or won’t turn their business into a shared work space, retail services business, or restaurant could be driven out as commercial landlords continue jacking their rents up, taking advantage of all these new opportunities to “serve” neighborhood residents, while driving beloved business out of business.
Using a ballot initiative for this type of provision is unfortunate. The Board of Supervisors should be able to adopt more targeted legislation to address what are very real concerns of small business of delays in permitting. Prop. H, however, has serious flaws. Don’t be fooled or taken advantage of during these trying times. Prop. H will shutter many stores and hurt vulnerable residents. That’s why progressive groups like the SF Tenant’s Union, SF Green Party, and San Francisco League of Pissed of Voters are opposed to Prop. H, and you should be too.
Jonathan Axelrad is an attorney and a founder of Respect SF Neighbors @RespectSFN