Despite legislation that would grant amnesty to more than 100 businesses under threat of eviction at a building on 18th and Treat, some small business owners are in limbo, while others remain confused.
In February, the San Francisco Department of Public Health threatened to shut down the operations of 54 massage therapists in the building, called ActivSpace, which is not zoned to accommodate the bodyworkers — as well as hair stylists, tattoo artists and acupuncturists. During the initial scare, it became clear those businesses could get the boot as well.
As a result — and hoping to prevent what she felt could be an “economic crisis” — Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced legislation that would allow the businesses to receive a permit for “non-conforming use” in this building, which is zoned for light industrial, or production, distribution and repair (PDR).
But some businesses — namely those defined as “office uses” — have been informed that the legislation does not cover them. On March 20, some of ActivSpace’s tenants received a potentially concerning email from Dominica Donovan, a policy analyst with the Office of Small Business.
“I would also like to note that our office has interacted with a handful of businesses that are considered to be ‘Office Uses’ by the Planning Department,” she wrote in the email. “Importantly to note, ‘Office Uses’ are not included in the legitimization program proposal.”
The Planning Department defines “office use” as businesses that provide services “including, but not limited to:” professional, banking, insurance, management, consulting, technical, sales, and design; and the non-accessory office functions of manufacturing and warehousing businesses, multimedia, software development, web design, electronic commerce, and information technology.
This has left a number of businesses with ActivSpace offices on edge.
Maureen McKeown is a speech-language pathologist who has been renting a suite in the building since 2008. “This is my job — I rely on this income — and I’m worried that I could be tossed out of here,” she said.
McKeown said that she is in touch with the Office of Small Business, and that staff there, including Donovan, have been helpful. But she remains unclear about next steps, and that has left her uneasy. “We’re kind of all holding our breath,” she said of her and other businesses like hers she’s been in contact with. “Like, ‘please don’t take our businesses away.’”
Kathy Hentges runs her financial planning and tax business out of ActivSpace. After hearing that the legislation did not cover offices, she contacted Donovan. Hentges said she was informed her business might be permissible as it’s considered a “retail professional service.”
“It sounds like one of those regulations that’s a little too vague and hard to understand,” Hentges said, though she felt confident about her chances.
Ultimately the fate of Henteges’s business, and others, will be determined by the Planning Department.
Candace SooHoo, a planning department spokeswoman, confirmed that “The way the legislation is currently written will not protect office use spaces.” But, she continued, it “will preserve non-office uses, which includes psychotherapists, chiropractors, speech therapists, body artists, and few massage practitioners.”
So, that figures to be good news for McKeown. And, SooHoo continues, the legislation is only preliminary and could be amended to be more inclusive.
It would likely have to be to help Ian Cox.
Cox, who works at a general contracting firm located within the building, received a visit from representatives from the Planning Department and the Office of Small Business at his office. He heard a similar message: People with office space may not be allowed to stay.
“This whole thing seems to just to be an awful Planning Department code that got developed with good intentions that have gone awry,” he said.
Some of his colleagues followed up with the city, he said, and found out they might be safe as they work in the “trades” industry. But, he said, “That still leaves people exposed, based on what they’re telling us.”
The business owners that Mission Local spoke with would very much prefer to stay put. They said they enjoyed the size and affordability of their spaces. Many paid no more than $800 per month for a roughly 200-square-foot office. “I can’t find anywhere else in San Francisco that’s [this] nice and accessible — and I have looked,” McKeown said.
Supervisor Ronen is out of town and calls to her office have not yet been returned. We will update this post if and when they are.