In Time of Need, San Francisco Shakes Down Small BusinessesApril 14, 2020
I thought I would take a break from a weekly update on San Francisco’s Shelter in Place order and its impact on Pet Camp to discuss the larger issue of the role of small businesses in San Francisco and how we are generally treated.
In the midst of this coronavirus crisis, we are hearing all sorts of things that the federal, state and local governments are doing to support small businesses. We hear all the time that “small businesses are the backbone of the economy,” and that we are what make San Francisco unique. But what about when we are not in crisis mode? How does the government treat small businesses then? Here’s a recent example.
Pet Camp’s Experience With Yet Another San Francisco’s Fee
As most of you know, we just remodeled our Main Campground. As an aside, if you want a crystal ball as to when the next economic downturn will take place, just pay attention to Pet Camp. We opened Cat Safari a few months before the start of the 2008 Great Recession and completed the remodel of the Main Campground mere weeks before the “Shelter in Place” order was issued in San Francisco and the bottom fell out of the economy. I’m willing to warn everyone before I take on the next major project so you can protect your portfolio.
Anyway, as part of our remodel, we made all sorts of changes and improvements that required all sorts of permits, inspections and, of course, fees. It turns out that the City of San Francisco requires construction projects such as ours to landscape the public right of way adjacent to the property. This means that small businesses need to spend money to plant trees or do some other landscaping to beautify the area around their businesses. I completely get the idea of wanting more trees and landscaping in San Francisco. I also think reasonable people can differ as to if a small business should be the party paying for the improvements or, since it is City property, that the City should pay for the improvements, but I very much think an argument can be made on both sides. However, what happens when the small business did all of this work BEFORE it was required to do so? Turns out you still have to pay the city a fee (in our case $2,100) simply because there is no work left to be done.
How San Francisco Charged Pet Camp for Improvements Done 20 Years Ago?
According to San Francisco, the determining factor is NOT if the landscaping and trees have been planted (we planted ours 20 plus years ago when we moved in) or if the small business already paid to do the landscaping or plant the trees (which of course we did when we planted the trees and installed the landscaping – as well as paying for the upkeep for 20 plus years), but rather did you add to the landscaping and trees AFTER you pulled your permit. Turns out if you simply stepped up and improved your neighborhood before you were required to do so, you still have to pay the City because you didn’t do anything more. That fact that there is no more space to do more landscape or plant trees is completely irrelevant, that you beautified your neighborhood 20 plus years before you had to doesn’t matter – you still need to pay an “in lieu” fee.
When we asked how we could have avoided this fee, we were, for all intents and purposes, told we could have removed all our landscaping the day before we pulled our permit, gently stored the plants for a day or two and then replaced them exactly as they were before. Not the most practical or efficient of ideas to come from the City.
Helping Small Businesses During the COVID-19 Crisis
When we wrote our check to San Francisco a few weeks ago, we had no idea how much $2,100 would mean so soon. San Francisco’s leaders seem to forget that small businesses have a finite sum of funds and spending $2,100 on nothing but getting a box checked means that there is $2,100 less to spend on everything else be that wages, health care, equipment, training or maybe neighborhood beautification that doesn’t include landscaping or trees. The $2,100 San Francisco took from Pet Camp a few weeks ago represents over 134 hours of someone getting paid San Francisco minimum wage! When millions are applying for unemployment, an extra 3 weeks of wages, even at minimum wage, means a lot! At a time when the government is scrambling to assist small businesses through a crisis, offering grants and low cost loans to incent us to stay in business and keep people employed, perhaps it should also reflect on how to better treat small businesses when this moment passes.
Thank you for supporting Pet Camp and all of San Francisco’s small businesses.