Business Owners Wary of Neighborhood Improvement Plan

An image from Office of Economic and Workforce Development shows the improvements that could be made through its new Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative.

An image from Office of Economic and Workforce Development shows the improvements that could be made through its new Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative.

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Mission District business owners and residents voiced concerns last week regarding a new citywide initiative designed to improve neighborhood commercial districts in San Francisco.

As part of Mayor Ed Lee’s 17-point economic plan, the Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative is a pilot program intended to improve 25 commercial districts throughout the city. The newly launched program will offer services ranging from neighborhood beautification to resources such as a loan program and advising for lower 24th Street businesses.

However, several community members seem to be skeptical of the program that will be implemented in the coming weeks.

“What’s made 24th Street vibrant over the last 23 years since I’ve been here has had nothing to do with the City. It has had everything to do with the nature of the people who own businesses and shop in the neighborhood,” said Eric Eberman, a former business owner.

The first phase of the Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative began with a $50,000 grant that the Mission District received to create the Lower 24th Street Economic Development Report — an assessment of the commercial corridor that identified ways in which community members would like the neighborhood to be improved.

During the outreach process in 2010, the report showed that community members wanted physical improvements to the neighborhood, such as increasing the number of outdoor spaces for events, better street lighting and adding more greenery.

At a meeting last week at the Brava Theater Center, a group of nearly 30 residents and business owners almost unanimously criticized the follow-up initiative for including physical improvements to the neighborhood in its plan, but not addressing the issue of how local businesses are increasingly being affected by displacement.

“I think back in 2010 we focused more on superficial stuff, and unfortunately over the years we’ve learned that beautification equals gentrification,” said Anabelle Bolanos, a community member. “We do need lights and we do want beautiful trees, but the priorities of the neighborhood have changed.”

Diana Ponce De Leon, a liaison for the Office of Economic Workforce and Development, reassured community members during the meeting that the program was designed to address all of the businesses’ concerns, including displacement issues, by strengthening businesses through its various services and preserving the historic nature of the corridor.

“We want to be an assistant to the community on where they want go,” Ponce De Leon said. “We want to support their efforts in terms of them sustaining themselves in the long term and building a strong corridor economically.”

However, former business owners like Eberman say the city should have stepped in long ago to prevent businesses from being displaced.

In 1999, Eberman was the owner of a cabinetry business in the Mission District. When he was in danger of losing his company after his landlord raised his rent by 300 percent, he reached out to the City for help. But, he says, the plea fell on deaf ears and he lost his business.

“To me it’s way too little, way too late. The damage to 24th Street’s character has already taken place,” Eberman said. “As the people who created the energy and the vibrancy of this neighborhood leave one by one, all that remains is a hollow superficial shell of what it used to be.”

According to Erick Arguello, president of the Calle 24 Neighborhood and Merchants Association—formerly known as the Lower 24th Street Neighborhood and Merchants Association—the initiative is part of a contingency plan the City developed as gentrification spread to other districts in San Francisco like Japantown, South of Market and Chinatown.

“A lot of the gentrification started on the Eastern part of the city, but now it’s spreading to the West side. So, now there’s a bigger uproar citywide,” Arguello said.

Before the meeting concluded, community members offered suggestions to officials on how to improve the program. Among them were classes for business owners on how to negotiate lease agreements, and the possibility of a legislative effort that would help protect vulnerable businesses from predatory real estate agents whom many blame for their displacement.

Ponce De Leon said the various concerns and suggestions of the community would be taken into consideration as the pilot program continues to develop.

“The whole point of us being out there was to listen to those concerns and be able to adjust to them, and I think that’s in the same spirit of the program,” she said.

Although no dates have been announced yet, officials said additional community meetings to discuss the initiative would be held in the next few weeks. To find out about upcoming meetings, click here to subscribe to the Invest in Neighborhood newsletter.

 

15 Comments

  1. Ray

    Does the program provide assistance for businesses that wish to purchase the real estate they currently lease? Owning the property is the best way to achieve long term security in San Francisco.

    • Anabelle Bolaños

      No. The subject did come up but supervisor Campos said that it’s a state level issue, therefore there is nothing we can do about it locally.

    • missionnite

      Yes that did come up actually and ways of providing loans for business to buy their properties. The state level issue was about rent control for business.

  2. nfs

    So I want to get this straight: business owners who opened businesses in leased property are now unhappy that the costs of their leases has gone up over time? Dear God! Entrepreneurs are complaining about other entrepreneurs who wish to invest in a free market to compete with real estate entrepreneurs? Oh The Capitalism of it all!

    • randolph mortimer

      They never realized their businesses would actually have to compete, after all nothing else in San Francisco has to.

  3. Freedom

    Well, as a resident of the neighborhood, I’m *very* excited about more physical improvements to the 24th street corridor. i *do* think that those are a priority, and those are the things that are the cities responsibility. the city can help make an area more attractive and safe. it is absolutely *not* the cities responsibility to protect uncompetitive businesses. Sink or swim, that is how business works.

    • missionnite

      Are you a business owner?

      • Freedom

        no, I’m not a business owner now. I have been in the past though. sometimes you have to sink, and that is ok. it’s life — like any natural ecosystem, things have to die to make room for new life. I’ve been there.

  4. what

    Additional police presence would be nice.

  5. Mister Big

    How about stopping the open drug dealing and addressing the 16th Street BART Plaza?

    • Heather

      Yes! I don’t understand why there isn’t a 24/7 police presence at 16th St. and Mission. Considering all of the illegal (and unsavory) activities that go on there. Drug dealing, selling of stolen goods, fighting, etc.

      • randolph mortimer

        Over 600 people have signed the petition at http://cleanuptheplaza.com/sign-petition.html yet I’m skeptical anything will ever improve. Perhaps the speculation about that location being a containment zone is correct, why else would it be tolerated that the law to be so flagrantly violated there on a daily basis?

  6. Bob

    More condos on Mission Street would be terrific for business. We desperately need more market rate housing (not projects, we have plenty of those). Also trees and landscaping on Potrero.

Comments are closed.