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A dozen more streets face city’s new empty storefront penalty

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If voters back plan to penalize vacant stores in March, landlords in 12 additional districts face fines after this week

A sign is posted on the window of a closed CVS store on Market Street. 
A sign is posted on the window of a closed CVS store on June 10, 2019 on Market Street. 
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

City lawmakers just created a dozen special neighborhood districts in San Francisco, right in time to raise the stakes on the city’s possible new tax on vacant storefronts that’s up for a vote roughly six weeks from now.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors elected to create 12 new neighborhood commercial districts in the city, specially designated areas of half a dozen blocks or more recognized as “historical neighborhood commercial centers” with rules dedicated to preserving the mix of retail and housing uses there.

Previously the city had 28 such zones—now it’s at 40. It’s a big expansion, but particularly so because it happened on the same week that Supervisor Aaron Peskin and his supporters started the campaign push for Proposition D, the March ballot initiative that taxes delinquently empty storefronts within these very districts.

If two-thirds of voters back Proposition D on March 3, stores that are empty for a period of six months or longer will face a tax penalty starting at $250 per foot—the fees increase to $500 the next year, and $1,000 after the second year.

Peskin calls chronically empty stores a blight on communities like North Beach and Chinatown (which he represents on the board), and says that property owners refuse to lower astronomical rents in hopes of attracting new tenants.

“It’s time to flip the script and give small businesses the leverage they need to negotiate long-term leases at realistic rates and to make our communities whole,” the lawmaker said in November shortly after the board voted unanimously to put the tax before voters (although three members were absent, including Peskin himself).

Now after Tuesday, a dozen more streets fall under the purview of potential penalties—the new additions include:

  • Balboa Street between Second and Eighth Avenues and between 32nd and 39th Avenues
  • Third Street between Yosemite and Jerrold
  • Cortland between Bonview and Folsom
  • Geary between Masonic and 28th Avenue
  • Mission between Cesar Chavez and Randall
  • San Bruno Avenue between Hale and Olmstead
  • Cole between Frederick and Grattan
  • Ocean between Junipero Serra and 19th Avenue
  • Haight between Webster and Steiner
  • Polk between Geary and Golden Gate
  • Taraval between 19th Avenue and Forest Side

The new districts passed by a unanimous vote Tuesday, although Supervisor Hillary Ronen recused herself from the vote—which was her idea in the first place—because she realized she lives within 500 feet of one of the affected blocks and wanted to dodge a possible conflict of interests.

If passed, Proposition D wouldn’t go into effect until 2021.