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City Hall considers taxes, fees for constantly empty storefronts

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Board of Supervisors will vote this week to close legal loophole on storefronts for sale

The 6x6 mall on Market Street has remained primarily vacant since it opened.
Photo by Brock Keeling

Update: As expected, Supervisor Fewer’s ordinance passed unanimously on Tuesday.

On Tuesday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to require owners of vacant storefronts to register their properties and pay a fee, in an effort to finally get a clear idea of how much of SF’s commercial property is lying fallow.

The ordinance, authored by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, would “require vacant or abandoned commercial storefront owners to pay annual registration fees [...], require annual inspections of registered vacant or abandoned storefronts, and update the penalty for violations of the requirement to register.”

Under the new rules, a storefront would count as “vacant or abandoned” if it’s been unoccupied for 30 days, with exceptions specified for units undergoing construction or repair work.

Registration costs $711 per year. [Correction: Note that there is already a $711 fee to register a vacant storefront. However, under Fewer’s rules the money would be due upon registration rather than more than 200 days later, as the current law specifies.]

“The owner of a registered vacant or abandoned commercial storefront department shall provide a report from a licensed professional confirming the storefront’s interior and exterior has been maintained” every year or face further fees.

The city already takes some effort to record the number of empty commercial units. However, the law as written does not consider a storefront technically vacant as long as it’s being offered for sale or lease. The proposed ordinance would do away with that exception.

This proposal is not to be confused with Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s idea to level fines—$250 per day—on storefronts that go empty for more than six months, although the two measures share similar goals of addressing the glut of empty stores blighting some of San Francisco’s busiest neighborhoods.

A board committee voted in favor of Fewer’s proposal 3-0 last week. All 11 members of the full board have signed on as cosponsors.

In paperwork submitted to the board before the vote, parties like Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the city’s Office of Small Business, tells city lawmakers, “The SBC heartily agrees with the intent of the legislation,” while Gwyneth Borden, director of the private Golden Gate Restaurant Association, calls the measure “the best way to get an accurate number of vacant storefronts.”

Only one person who submitted correspondence before the vote objected, Allen Jones, who predicts that “it will backfire when people figure out they can just wait out landlords to get a better. Jones further declared San Francisco as “the city that knows how to make a bad thing worse.”