At the Small Business Commission’s Jan. 11 meeting, commissioners supported legislation to curtail tobacco sales to youth, heard a presentation on small business participation in the Transbay Terminal project and weighed in on the potential impact the Subway Master Plan will have on small businesses.
“Before we start,” Commission President Mark Dwight said, with the charisma of a skilled salesman, “I have a rare piece of memorabilia up here. It’s the Planning Commission gavel. You think I could get some money for it tonight?”
There was scattered laughter in the commission chamber of City Hall.
Office of Small Business Executive Director Regina Dick-Endrizzi, acting as the SBC’s secretary until a replacement can be hired, opened the meeting with a plug for the Small Business Assistance Center as well as its online counterpart, the Small Business Portal, which President Dwight insisted is “the only place to start your small business in San Francisco.”
2016 marks something of a new chapter for the Small Business Commission. Attendance at meetings is usually low and media attention is scant.
In December, the SBC held a steering session to discuss its five-year plan and rules of order. Since the SBC provides input on services like the Assistance Center and Small Business Week, they seem to want to get the word out about their work and goals.
At the Jan. 11 meeting, Commissioner Dwight was joined by fellow Commissioners Kathleen Dooley, Paul Tour-Sarkissian, Irene Yee Riley, Miriam Zouzounis and interim Vice President Stephen Adams.
During public comment, a Parkside resident asked the SBC to request a presentation on the Affordable Housing Density Bonus Program, specifically related to the impact of the program on existing retail spaces in neighborhood commercial districts.
17 Percent Participation
The SBC heard a presentation on the Transbay Transit Center Project’s Small Business Enterprise Program, created to ensure small business participation in contracts for the giant transit project.
The impression given was that the Transbay Joint Powers Authority was bending over backward to include small businesses in the project. Paul Pendergast, a consultant and SBE Program manager, said that the program advertised contracts through chambers and unions, offered free graphic design work to small firms for “company line cards” that are intended for use beyond Transbay Terminal contract bids and created an online “expression of interest” process for fairer bid consideration.
The commissioners were told that $329 million had been awarded to small businesses in contracts. Commissioner Tour-Sarkissian asked how many of those businesses were based in San Francisco. Eddie Phillips of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority did not have that information on hand.
The project goal is to have 17 percent small business participation in all contracts, including construction and other services related to the project.
Youth Tobacco Sales
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener spoke about his proposed legislation to raise the minimum purchasing age for tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21 in San Francisco.
Wiener cited many statistics in defense of his legislation, notably that 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before age 21. He also mentioned that Healdsburg tried a similar regulation, but faced legal pressure from the tobacco industry.
“We have a responsibility as progressive San Francisco to take these fights on for the Healdsburgs of the world,” Wiener said.
About half of the audience attended the meeting solely to speak in favor of Wiener’s legislation during public comment, including volunteers for the American Cancer Society and two teenagers concerned for the health of their families and peers.
Andres Power, legislative aide to Supervisor Wiener, was asked by Commissioner Dwight whether anybody from the small business community had objected to the legislation. Power said that “the only objection we’ve received is a letter from the tobacco industry.” Wiener said that the law would be very defensible in the face of an inevitable lawsuit.
Commissioners asked some questions about the details of enforcement and were told that the Department of Public Health would be giving many opportunities to businesses in violation of the legislation, such as installation of ID scanners to better facilitate enforcement.
Commissioner Zouzounis asked whether revenue from a recent cigarette abatement tax would be used to fund things like paying for ID scanners, but was told by Derek Smith that that money goes to Public Works, presumably since cigarette butts are a significant source of litter.
The SBC moved to support Wiener’s legislation.
Subway Master Plan Impact on Small Business
Marisa Espinosa of the Planning Department spoke at length about all the ways in which the Subway Master Plan was in its very preliminary phases.
“I am all in favor of the new expanded subway system in San Francisco,” Commissioner Adams said. “However there’s one thing I didn’t hear in your presentation: small business and business in general.”
Commissioners were concerned about business closures during construction, especially given how the Central Subway construction process continues to impact businesses around Union Square. “The experience is horrendous,” Commissioner Dwight said. “We put a band-aid on it every holiday season with a little astroturf, but the minute Christmas is over the bulldozers are back.”
Commissioner Dwight suggested an improvement to the process. “When an amusement park puts in a new ride, they don’t shut down the amusement park,” Dwight said. “I think that you would benefit from bringing in a different type of professional,” specifically an “experiential designer” to consider the personal experience of the affected area.
After the presentations concluded, commissioners discussed their Dec. 18 planning session, again reiterating the focus on the Small Business Assistance Center as a “key platform” of the SBC.
Commissioner Zouzounis introduced herself as the newest member of the Commission, and proceeded to request presentations about the Marijuana Legalization Task Force, automation in retail services and the impact of insufficient affordable housing on the pipeline of service industry labor.
- The Small Business Commission promoted the Small Business Assistance Center as a “key platform” to new ventures opening in San Francisco
- Transbay Joint Powers Authority presented about their efforts to have 17 percent small business participation in development project
- District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener presented new legislation to raise legal tobacco purchasing age to 21. The SBC moved to support the legislation.
- Commissioners urged Planning Department and other agencies to consider small business impacts when developing Subway Master Plan.
The next meeting of the Small Business Commission will be held on Jan. 25 at 2:00 p.m. in room 400 of City Hall.