|Deterrent: San Francisco business owners say empty, rundown storefronts attract crime, which deters pedestrians and shoppers from visiting neighboring businesses. (Examiner file photo) |
After 20 years in business, Kathleen Dooley no longer operates her flower shop along Grant Street in North Beach.
It was the proliferation of rundown vacant storefronts that have become a nest for drug deals and squatters that chased her away, she said. Now, she operates Columbine Designs full time from her basement inside her house.
“We need to find a way to keep the buildings from becoming so derelict; they are a crime magnet,” Dooley said. “It’s frustrating for a merchant.”
Dooley, who is also a member of the Small Business Commission, is pushing The City to go after owners of long-time vacant commercial buildings — some which have sat empty for as long as 25 years — which are blighting business corridors citywide.
Today, the Small Business Commission outreach committee will discuss the ongoing issue of abandoned storefronts. What Dooley and other commissioners want is for The City to hold these property owners accountable — punish them with fees and fines for letting their storefronts sit and become dilapidated, Dooley said.
Although commissioners have not surveyed the number of vacant commercial properties in The City, they have asked merchants associations to report vacant commercial buildings that have been empty for more than three years. They plan to send out letters next week to these property owners inquiring about the vacancies, said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the Office of Small Business.
“The commission has determined that there is enough to take a look at this,” Dick-Endrizzi said.
The City last year passed an ordinance that requires property owners to register their vacant buildings with The City’s Department of Building Inspection and pay a $765 annual fee. In February the department began mailing out fines — worth thousands of dollars — to those property owners that failed to register their vacant or abandoned buildings.
So far, building officials have notified a total of 296 property owners about reported and suspected vacant buildings, and registered 127 of those to date, DBI spokesman William Strawn said.
But that ordinance only covers residential property owners, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said. Now, small businesses want to expand that ordinance to include empty and abandoned commercial buildings. Chiu says he is waiting for the commission to make some recommendations so he can draft legislation that would target vacant storefronts.
“We have many empty storefronts around The City that lead to blight and a lessened quality of life in commercial corridors,” Chiu said. “Merchants will tell you it’s much more difficult to attract pedestrians and shoppers.”