Radio Habana is one of three businesses that had to press pause for the retrofit.

A seismic retrofit has left an entire corner at 22nd and Valencia on shaky ground.  

The construction work on the ground floor of 3283-97 22nd St. and 1101-09 Valencia St. has caused three businesses — including the venerable Radio Habana Social Club — to go dark.

The work, which commenced on March 4, is expected to last for another month to month-and-a-half.

The plight of this building and its tenants demonstrates the conundrum some small businesses and neighborhood landlords must deal with for the sake of city-mandated safety.

“It’s been grueling,” said Radio Habana’s co-owner, Leila Mansur.

Mansur told Mission Local that the mandatory renovations to strengthen the building have left her and her partner, Victor Navarette, without income, save Social Security checks. They’ve also been stuck with the giant hassle of dismantling, and eventually reassembling, their intricately decorated space.

The couple has taken to asking for donations to substitute for their restaurant’s lost revenue as the renovation takes place. They set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe, which is at about 10 percent of its $10,000 goal.

“We don’t make enough money to donate to people what people are donating to us,” she said.

But the proprietor of the longtime institution emphasized that the mandatory renovation has not only been a hardship for her and the other small businesses in the building.

The building’s landlord, according to Mansur, took out a sizable loan to cover the costs of the retrofit. Despite taking on a load of new debt, Mansur said that landlord Gene Chen decided not to pass a significant amount onto his tenants.

Chen, she said, “agonized over how much to raise the rent,” and eventually settled on a 6-percent increase on a two-year lease, which Mansur felt was fair. “How many landlords do you think we have like that?” she said.

Godofredo Cruz, who runs Godofredo’s Jewelry on 22nd Street, also in the building, said that the retrofit hasn’t been easy: “I’ve lost a lot of customers already.”

Speaking in Spanish through a translator, Cruz said that while his rent will only go up 4 percent and he’s been able to repair jewelry off-site, the suspended jewelry sales have made a financial “dent.” Cruz, moreover, said moving display cases containing his expensive products was a major hassle.

“So it’s very, very complicated,” he said, citing the uncertainty of when he’ll move back in as an added complexity.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen recognized the balance of safety, costs and put-out tenants as a vexing situation. “That’s a hard one,” she said. “If we had some more local ability to control the cost of rent, then each one of these instances wouldn’t be so tragic and impossible to deal with.”

The supervisor, who represents the Mission District and Radio Habana’s side of Valencia Street, said that having commercial rent control in San Francisco, for example, could make situations such as these surmountable.

“Right now they are impossible,” Ronen said. “It is really frustrating.”  

The Board of Supervisors passed legislation sponsored by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman late last year that gave some businesses the option of setting up a food truck during a retrofit. Bi-Rite Creamery is undergoing a retrofit on 18th and Guerrero and rolled out a solar-powered truck to allow business as usual.

San Francisco Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon confirmed that, so far, Bi-Rite is the only business to take advantage of the legislation. (It was proposed with Bi-Rite in mind.)

Gwyneth Borden, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, noted shortly after Mandelman’s legislation was proposed last October, that buying a food truck might not make sense for businesses who are not as well-heeled as Bi-Rite.

“You still have to invest in a food truck,” she said. “Not everyone can do that.” 

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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7 Comments

  1. Clearly having to invest in a food truck is not feasible nor practical in most circumstances. Small businesses get hit right and left. Never ending story.

  2. The city is constantly driving up
    Costss for small business: new and extremely costly ADA retrofit requirements, low flow water equipment requirements, earthquake retrofit requirements, constantly increasing minimum wage requirements, emoloyee healthcare requirements, sexual harassment training requirements, space for lactating mother requirements, building appendage requirements, new fire sprinkler requirements…

    That’s on top of the Byzantine and extremely costly process from SF Planning and Building Departments and it’s it’s a never-ending litany of idealistic “progressive” ideas without any thought to the consequences on small business, and then the progressives wonder why only chain stores and high-end restaurants can afford to start businesses in the city.

  3. Well, no doubt that seismic upgrades are a royal PITA for everyone involved. But this requirement has been coming for decades and the leaseholders should have planned for it. Commercial rent control is not the solution. Even if commercial rent control was possible, it would still allow for renovation work and cost passthroughs. I’m glad the city is finally getting around to requiring retrofits of these old and dangerous buildings — 30 years after the last big quake.

  4. first half of the article talks about how the building owner agonized over raising the rent and how 4 and 6% seemed reasonable to the tenants. Yet Ronen jumps in and says business rent control would solve the problem. Absolutely wouldn’t. The building owner had to raise rent because of the added cost of loans to subsidize the retrofit and the businesses are out income because they can’t be open to make money. Ronen should have focused on ways to find funds to help fill that economic hardship the tenants are experiencing instead of blaming a lack of rent control.

  5. I like that Ronen’s comment alludes to rent control as a solution even though rent increases are not cited as problematic in any of the reported cases.

    1. Yes it’s just another example of how “progressives” like Hillary Ronen focus on their political agendas rather than / despite the actual problems at hand— which has led San Francisco to the disasterous position it is in today.,

      Hopefully SF voters will wake up and see the mess that the progressive board of supervisors has gotten us into and vote them out in coming elections.

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