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San Francisco Charts a Comeback with Economic Stimulus Plan

  • San Francisco’s Economic Recovery Task Force, a coalition of 100 business, labor and community leaders, released 41 policy recommendations aimed at rebuilding the economy after COVID-19

  • 193,000 unemployment claims have been filed in The City since March, roughly half or storefronts were closed as of August, and hotel occupancy was down 86% year-over-year last month

  • Building and infrastructure projects, reducing bureaucratic hurdles, and soliciting federal and state support are among the Task Force’s key priorities

Repairing San Francisco’s damaged economy calls for an all-hands-on-deck plan.

That was the conclusion of the City’s Economic Recovery Task Force, a coalition of more than 100 leaders spanning business, labor, philanthropy, the faith community and the arts, who released a set of policy recommendations aimed at helping San Francisco bounce back from COVID-19.

The recommendations combine targeted investments and regulatory reforms with a push for federal aid and state aid for rental assistance, business grants, and other forms of emergency relief.

“These recommendations were carefully vetted and went through an extensive review process; it’s a comprehensive document,” said Sharky Laguana, president of the City’s Small Business Commission and a member of the task force.

Members of the task force conducted more than 1,000 surveys and interviews over a four-month period, and the final product is a 41-point proposal to shore up struggling individuals and businesses and breathe life into San Francisco’s hollowed-out economy. Local unemployment claims total 193,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, and just 46% of San Francisco storefront businesses were still operating in August 2020, according to the SF Chamber of Commerce.

The hardest-hit sectors to date are hospitality, with hotel occupancy down 86% year-over-year in September; likewise, employment in food service and accommodations dropped roughly 35% to 40% between March 2020 and August 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report cautions that the construction sector is particularly vulnerable to further job losses, given a highly uncertain environment for spending on capital projects. Every $1 million in construction spending translates to 6 jobs, according to the City.

In response, San Francisco must prioritize a “state of good repair” for buildings, public spaces and other infrastructure, and stay the course with large-scale projects such as the planned redevelopment of Treasure Island. In total, spending on those capital projects is expected to reach $39 billion by 2029, in turn preserving and promoting jobs, according to the task force.

Slashing red tape and regulatory burdens — for builders, local businesses, and individuals seeking support — was an area of common concern among the task force participants and the communities they surveyed.

The report recommends the San Francisco defer impact fees for developers until 2021, publish rates for all permit types, implement a fee holiday for business and property owners, and expand Open in SF — an Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) program that helps small food companies navigate the permit system — to include more categories of businesses. Currently, property owners, businesses and builders must navigate up to ten different departments for needed project approvals.

Likewise, the Task Force pushes the City to centralize under OEWD all workforce development programs, which are currently stretched across 17 departments, with the goal of delivering job retraining and placement particularly for workers most impacted by COVID-19.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on food and hospitality workers, as well as workers between the ages of 16 and 24. Young adults are more likely to have lost a job than other age groups, according to Pew Research.

More state and federal aid is needed to shore up San Francisco's local economy, the Task Force report found.

Since March, San Francisco has deployed or authorized more than $1.3 billion in investments related to the City's COVID-19 response and recovery, ranging from expanded testing sites and rental subsidies to public infrastructure projects.

The report urged the City to press for federal and state funding, in particular to support larger and most costly investments, as well as for rent subsidies, business grants, expanded unemployment and job assistance and other needs.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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