A permanent shared spaces program supposed to help struggling businesses, but not everyone can afford it – The San Francisco Examiner
As city officials prepare to make the shared spaces permanent, The San Francisco Examiner set out to explore the potential impacts of the popular program, which began as a temporary emergency measure introduced during the pandemic to help small companies. Today’s story is the first of three planned series.
When Freddy Gamez built a park outside his Mission Street restaurant last summer, his bank account was all but emptied and the seafood joint he had owned for nine years barely survived.
He cut a check for about $ 5,500 from his personal savings to build a platform of shared spaces in the single parking space outside of Mission Street Oyster House. It only fits two tables – five in total if you count the extra sidewalk seating – but Gamez wanted to make the space pleasant for customers.
Now, with a legislative proposal for a permanent version of shared spaces set to make its way to the supervisory board at some point in May, Gamez could soon face a crossroads: paying up to $ 6,000 in fees to occupy it. same parking space. for one year, followed by up to $ 3,000 in annual renewal fees for subsequent years, plus park beautification and maintenance fees, or abandon the investment in outdoor dining altogether.
“I think it would definitely be a big help for us. But if they make this permanent, I’ll have to make it more enjoyable, ”Gamez said of the park. “We could benefit a lot from it, but then again, I don’t know what kind of fees the City will be willing to charge us.”
Gamez’s story is not unique, especially in Mission District where a coalition of community groups, traders and other stakeholders has formed to demand structural equity in program development. permanent shared spaces.
Gentrification had driven dozens of immigrant, mother and child-owned neighborhood businesses and other busy neighborhood businesses into Mission District long before the pandemic, and these groups argue it’s critical that Shared Spaces does not become another story of the haves versus the poor.
“The reality for a business in San Francisco is this: either you have capital or you don’t,” said Peter Papadopoulos, policy analyst at the Mission Economic Development Agency. “These programs are meant to be opportunities for businesses, but if you don’t have the capital to build an outside structure, not only are you trying to recover from the pandemic, but you are now trying to compete with other businesses that fully operational outside. “
City officials recognize this disparity. They highlight the $ 2.3 million shared spaces equity program designed in March and other efforts to allocate resources to the city’s most underserved neighborhoods to demonstrate the program’s focus on l ‘equity.
“The Mayor of London Breed wants to ensure that as many small businesses as possible can participate in the legislation and we are exploring other fairness provisions in the legislation. More details will be announced shortly, ”said Robin Abad, who helps oversee the program from the planning department, in an email.
But, so far, these arrangements have not been made public, and Mission District advocates have their own ideas of how to address structural equity issues.
The main one, a sliding scale for the annual platform fees.
Under the current proposal, the annual permit fees to occupy a parking space vary depending on the type of park.
A fully public parking lot is the cheapest at $ 1,000 per parking space the first year; a mobile shopping fleet that can be deconstructed outside of business hours costs $ 3,000; and a permanent business park costs $ 6,000.
For all, additional parking means more fees at a lower cost, and annual renewal fees drop by 50% for both mobile and permanent commercial parks each following year.
Mission traders claim that overheads are inherently inequitable and instead charge fees that match a company’s income, resources, and general environment.
As Papadopoulos says, a Mission District taqueria shouldn’t have to foot the same bill as an upscale restaurant in Pacifics Heights or the Marina.
Second, they ask the City to improve its awareness and adapt its tactics district by district.
The Mission District has a high percentage of immigrant-owned businesses, with traders often speaking Spanish as the primary language. Yet many say they haven’t had enough opportunity to reflect on the impact of an ongoing outdoor dining program on their trade corridors, nor have they been joined in their journey. mother tongue or their dominant mode of communication, often in person.
Many people report feeling that community participation was largely left to the last minute when the bill was rushed through.
“People feel like the planning department and city agencies are planning on us,” said Kelly Hill, who works with United to save the mission and is himself a part-owner of a design company in the area. “They come with these one-size-fits-all things that are really almost out of reach and expect everyone to jump on the train and instantly navigate it all.”
Where business owners and residents have had a chance to voice their opinions, it’s usually in English, according to Gamez. He said he attended mobilization meetings with the city at the start of the pandemic, but has since stopped because he found the lack of response to the comments disheartening.
“At first they look like they’re starting a project, but in reality they already know what they’re doing,” he said. “They are not going to change it. No matter how we complain or how we suggest things, they don’t do anything about it. “
For its part, the City maintains that it has engaged extensively with local trade corridors, including “neighborhood outreach activities in languages other than English”, has made material available in multiple languages online. and intends to continue to do so during the transition to tenure.
Finally, Mission companies are also looking for provisions in the legislation guaranteeing financial support for the most vulnerable companies in the City.
Gamez learned last week that he would receive $ 2,000 from one of the city’s grant programs, a partial refund of the bill he paid for his park last summer.
But his experience is not the norm.
On its own, MEDA has helped 30 businesses on and around Mission Street apply for money from SF Shines, a program designed to help small businesses reopen. Only three of them received financial support, due to the overwhelming demand and limited supply of aid funds, city officials said.
“If resources are limited, we should prioritize our most vulnerable businesses,” Papadopoulos said. “It is the entrepreneurs who would benefit the most from a park; however, they have the most obstacles to building such a park.
These businesses need capital up front. That could mean money to help build the park, the promise of repayment if a merchant has to deconstruct the platform for infrastructure projects or support in-app navigation. This process can be difficult for a trader whose mother tongue is not English or who has had to lay off workers due to the pandemic and therefore has little time to compile documents, for example.
The risks of not incorporating equity into law are high, advocates say, and could lead to even more troubling inequitable outcomes in already vulnerable communities of color.
But the potential rewards for doing it right are even higher.
“I think there would be a lot more people who would open their eyes a little bit more and want to explore it,” Hill said. “It’s going to take a little while before we’re back to the way things were.”
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