After seven months of eviction purgatory, more than 100 small businesses at ActivSpace at the corner 18th Street and Treat Avenue will now be allowed to stay.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday that allows scores of massage therapists, tattoo artists, psychotherapists and other businesses that operate outside the building’s designated use — production, distribution and repair (PDR) — to remain on site, so long as they obtain the proper permits.
The permits must be obtained 90 days after the ordinance goes into effect, which will be on Aug. 30.
In late January, 52 massage therapists received notice that their tenancy was potentially illegal at the complex, due to a Department of Public Health policy that restricts where massage therapists could set up shop. The law was primarily aimed at curbing sex trafficking.
Amid the pandemonium of threatening to oust massage therapists en masse, city officials discovered that yet more businesses — hair stylists, psychotherapists, tattoo artists, acupuncturists, and others — had been operating outside the building’s designated use, rendering their status technically illegal as well.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, seeing their displacement an economic disaster in the making, introduced the ordinance weeks later to let them stay.
“Closing nearly 100 small businesses on the same block, all at once, would be an economic crisis for the Mission,” Ronen said at Tuesday’s board meeting. It would, she says, exacerbate problems in “a neighborhood already suffering from the displacement of hundreds of small businesses.”
Only businesses using their spaces strictly for “office use” must receive special permission from the city’s Planning Commission, via a so-called “discretionary review.” A spokesperson with the Office of Economic Workforce and Development said there are 48 such businesses.
Most of the businesses in the building have already begun the process of obtaining the necessary permits, said Ronen aide Carolina Morales. “They have been waiting for the ordinance to pass and for final approval,” she said.
The ordinance also tasks the Office of Small Business with helping businesses apply for the correct permits.
But not everyone, especially massage therapists, felt they had the luxury of waiting months for the law to pass. Jae Greenman, a massage therapist who was operating at ActivSpace in January during the scare, vacated as she received notices from the Department of Public Health that threatened to fine her $1,000 per day if she didn’t move within 40 days.
She knows at least two other massage therapists left ActivSpace after the crackdown.
Greenman said she’s now unemployed. She said it has been nearly impossible to find spaces to do business since legislation passed in 2018 greatly tightened the massage therapy licensing process.
“It’s not a happy ending for everyone,” Greenman said of the recently passed ordinance. “It’s a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”
Morales, Ronen’s aide, said she recommends that Greenman, and others who were affected by the situation, contact of the Office of Small Business to assess their options.
“She should try,” Morales said.