In San Francisco’s small commercial districts, vacant space is on the rise, and now a city leader is eyeing a $250-per-day tax on those empty storefronts.
In the city's North Beach neighborhood, several windows are boarded up or contain paper covering with For Lease signs. Supervisor Aaron Peskin says the tax he is proposing isn’t necessarily to generate money but to get those doors back open.
Peskin believes it’s not just online retailers driving business away but also property owners raising the rent too high.
"There are property owners who may think their property is more valuable than it is," he said.
Peskin thinks he’s got an incentive to cut down on the number of vacant storefronts.
"We’re saying if you do not diligently work to put your unit back on the market, and by the way this can only be approved by the voters, the city is going to levy a $250-per-day tax," he said.
The fee also would apply to certain residential units.
Alimento is a colorful shop with sandwiches, gelato and wine in North Beach. But a few doors down, restaurants and shops are vacant.
"At nighttime, you don’t see people walk here anymore because it’s a scary block," Shadi Zughayar, of Alimento, said.
Supervisor Sandra Fewer has separate legislation already introduced she believes will close loopholes.
"If you have a sign that says For Lease or For Rent, you're not classified as an empty storefront," Fewer said. "In my neighborhood, some of them have the same sign for 10 years. So that’s wrong."
Noni Richen, with the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, said in part that protections for tenants means more property owners will move away from offering rentals. She says supervisors should consider that problem before "creating a law which would require a huge outlay to create another bureaucracy."
At Alimento, they say help is welcome because the rent here isn’t cheap.
"Keeps going up all the time," Zughayar said. "Every year it goes up."
The proposed tax would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors before it goes to voters.