Businesses throughout San Francisco have been hit hard by COVID-19, and many were already struggling to survive before the pandemic. Despite the challenges over the past six months, and in the midst of so much fear, uncertainty, and anxiety about COVID-19, business owners and their employees have pushed forward creative solutions that allow them to keep operating, and help keep our commercial corridors alive. As a City, we have worked hard to support businesses throughout it all, with nearly $30 million in funding for paid sick leave, grants, and zero-interest loans, and with programs like Shared Spaces.
Thriving Commercial Corridors
When we first launched the Shared Spaces program, restaurants were still only allowed to offer pick-up and delivery and so it focused on adding more loading zones and space for people to wait in line. We have come a long way since then, with many restaurants using the program with seating areas in front of their storefront and offering outdoor dining.
Shared Spaces is about more than just outdoor dining and retail. It’s about creating community, and helping us come together in a way that is safe and that supports our local businesses. Not only has Shared Spaces helped many businesses survive, but some are now bouncing back.
Last Friday, I went to Valencia Street to check out the Shared Spaces full street closure, and met with the merchants and residents. Business owners are working together to repurpose the street in the evenings every Thursday through Sunday, jobs have been saved and created, and people were so happy to be out in the neighborhood. And people are, for the most part, acting responsibly and following all the health and safety guidelines. We have Shared Spaces block captains who are out making sure people are following the rules, and there are also safety monitors there to pass out masks and hand sanitizer to those who need it.
When you go out for a walk after being home all day and talking to coworkers and friends remotely, it’s nice to see that there are other people out in the world — that you’re not alone. I know many of us are feeling lonely and disconnected from friends and family, and that everyone — whether you’re working from home or not — is looking for some sense of normalcy in their lives. Being able to leave your home and walk to the nearest commercial area and see other people is good for the soul.
In June, we launched the Shared Spaces program to help neighborhood businesses use public spaces, such as sidewalks, full or partial streets, or other nearby public spaces like parks and plazas to operate outdoors. Shared Spaces allows businesses, local merchant associations, and community organizations to apply for a free, expedited permit to operate restaurant outdoor dining, beverage sales, personal services, retail, and other activities that are allowed under our Health Order.
There are 5 main types of Shared Spaces permits:
- Full streets
- City property, like parks and plazas
- Private property
25 Full Street Closures Across the City
So far, we’ve issued permits for 25 full-street Shared Spaces. The first two full-street closures were Grant Avenue in Chinatown and Valencia Street in the Mission. Recent approvals include Hayes Valley, Irving Street between 19th and 20th Avenues and Gold Alley in North Beach.
Starting this weekend, SoMa will have a recurring “Sunday Streets” Shared Space on Folsom from 6th to 8th streets. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be opening up additional streets, including:
Golden Gate Avenue — Tenderloin
- Golden Gate Avenue from Larkin to Hyde streets, Thursday — Sundays, 11:00am to 8:00pm
- Thursday, September 17 through Thursday, December 31
- Sponsor: Tenderloin Merchants Association and Tenderloin Community Benefit District
- Taraval Street from 46th to 47th Avenues, Sundays 9:30am to 8:30pm
- Sunday, September 6 through Sunday, November 15
- Sponsor: People of Parkside Sunset (POPS)
- Galvez Avenue at 3rd Street, Saturdays, 8:00am to 12:00pm
- Active: Saturday, September 5 through Saturday, November 7
- Sponsor: Economic Development on Third
- Stevenson Street from 6th to 7th Streets, Thursday, 4:00pm to 9:00pm
- Active: Thursday, September 10 through Thursday, December 17
- Sponsor: SF Parks Alliance
1,300 Requests for Parking Spaces and Lots
There have been more than 1,300 applications for Shared Spaces for uses like outdoor dining in parking spaces, repurposing a parking lot, or adding loading zones to support pick-up and delivery. We’re working hard to make sure that we’re reaching all of our neighborhoods and commercial corridors, so that the Shared Spaces program is equitable and supports our diverse communities and businesses.
Streamlining City Bureaucracy
The City’s Economic Recovery Task Force listened to businesses about what they needed, and we heard that we needed to streamline City bureaucracy and make it faster to get permission to use part of the sidewalk, parking spaces, and even the full street. We also made sure Shared Spaces permits were free!
The number of fees and permits, and rules and regulations is often overwhelming for small businesses. Even before I became Mayor, I’ve advocated for cutting red tape and streamlining our City processes. We simply make it too hard for businesses to do the basic things they need to do, and we make it nearly impossible for them to put forward creative solutions that will help their businesses thrive. A silver lining of COVID-19 is that it gave us extra motivation to find ways to streamline our City process and make it easier to own and operate a business in San Francisco.
The Shared Spaces program has revolutionized the City’s process for closing streets, cutting approval timetables from a minimum of thirty days (and often much longer) to a maximum of two weeks. We aim to provide responses to other Shared Spaces applications (like sidewalk, curbside, private property, and City property use) in 72 hours.
Supporting Healthy Communities
In addition to helping businesses, the Shared Spaces helps provide outdoor space for other activities that support the health and wellbeing of the entire community. For example, this weekend, a new weekly event will start in the Sunset, with live music, outdoor dining, and arts and crafts, and Carnaval will host a resource fair for the Latino community this Saturday and Sunday with COVID-19 testing, a job fair, and free groceries.
The Shared Spaces program is focused on creating outdoor space for businesses in commercial corridors, which are areas in San Francisco where shops and restaurants are concentrated. San Francisco also has the Slow Streets program, which is focused on residential areas and is designed to give people the space they need to spread out, get fresh air, and exercise in their neighborhoods. Both programs are great for building community and seeing your neighbors out and about (from a safe distance and while both wearing face coverings of course!).
So many of our successes with Shared Spaces wouldn’t have been possible without the work and collaboration of neighborhood merchant groups, neighborhood associations, and community partners. I want to thank all the organizations that have come to us with ideas for Shared Spaces streets, and who have done so much work on the ground to build community support and coordinate among a lot of different stakeholders.
We’re getting an average of 75 permit applications per week. It’s really exciting that people want to participate in this program and are excited about using street space in a way that is designed for people. Curbside and sidewalk permits are issued on a rolling basis, and we’re keeping track of them here if you want more information.
More full streets are in the works for the Bayview, Tenderloin, Castro, Excelsior, Marina, Sunset, Richmond and other parts of the city.
We’re regularly looking for ways to improve the program, and make it more seamless and efficient from end to end. Our goal to help businesses and our residents — plain and simple. It isn’t always easy, but we’re approaching this program with creativity and determination, because we know that San Franciscans are counting on us.
We are living with COVID, and we still have a long way to go, but the past six months have shown us just how resilient San Francisco is. When we come together and support one another, we can help businesses survive and keep our commercial corridors lively and welcoming.
Shared Spaces is helping our City’s economic recovery during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m excited to see how the program continues developing and shaping the future of our City!
We’ll be adding new full streets to Shared Spaces regularly over the coming weeks and months, so head to SF.gov/Shared-Spaces to check out the latest.