With the rise of online retail sales and services impacting the viability of brick and mortar retail in San Francisco, landlords are seeing an increase in demand for street-level spaces to be occupied by new restaurants which may or may not use a commercial glass door fridge and bars and an increase in vacancies for spaces which are restricted to retail use. These budding businesses will have to carefully consider their future financial decisions to ensure they can afford rent, equipment expenses like ensuring that they have the highest quality fridges to appropriately preserve food stock along with day to day costs to make sure a brick and mortar enterprise is feasible.

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And with the aforementioned market pressures starting to threaten the existing mix of establishments and character of the Jackson Square Special Use District (SUD), an area which is roughly bounded by Pacific, Sansome, Washington and Columbus, plans to limit the number of new eating and drinking establishments which will be allowed to open in the district are in the works.

As sponsored by Supervisor Peskin and slated to be heard by San Francisco’s Planning Commission next week, San Francisco’s Planning Code would be amended to require a public hearing and Conditional Use authorization for any new restaurants or bars within the boundaries of the Jackson Square SUD.

In addition, only spaces that are currently, or were last legally, occupied by a restaurant or bar would be allowed to be replaced by a new eating or drinking establishment, of which there are currently 16 according to a Planning Department survey completed last month.

The logic behind the proposed amendment, as outlined by the City (which is recommending the number of allowable restaurants and bars in the district be capped at 25): “The enhanced controls proposed for Eating and Drinking Uses can help retain and make available tenant spaces for other commercial endeavors because they hinder the introduction of subsequent Eating and Drinking Uses into the [district].”

And keep in mind that San Francisco’s Planning Department is officially in support of the proposed amendment, “because it furthers the goal of the [Jackson Square Special Use District’s] purpose of providing protection for and enhancement of specialty retail and antique store uses within the SUD.”

45 thoughts on “Plans to Limit Restaurants and Bars as Neighborhood Retail Falters”
  1. We also need to relax the liquor license restriction. Frankly, a coffee bar that serves beer and wine on tap doesn’t really move the dial as much as a cantina mexican venue that serves tacos and margaritas for happy hour.

    Mission Bay is dead at night. However, imagine if there was a single Mexican place, with outdoor seating, open until 2am that serves food and margarita pitchers until close. These happening places are all over South Bay, but non-existent in SF.

    We could make the Ferry Building a better night-time destination with something like that.

  2. Efforts to limit eating places have nearly always had negative impacts on neighborhood livability, even more so now that standard retail is crumbling.

    Both Noe Valley and the Castro used to have various kinds of limits on food/beverage, and all it did was entrench existing (mediocre) facilities as a protected class. On this, I say let the free market reign.

    1. The restaurant moratorium goes back to the late 1980’s in Noe Valley. From a 2009 edition of the Noe Valley Voice: “The moratorium was imposed in 1987 in response to fears that Noe Valley was becoming a magnet for chi-chi restaurants and bars that would push up rents and attract patrons from all over the city, thereby cutting into basic services and, of course, parking.” In the 90’s Bevan Dutfy and neighborhood leaders got the moratorium relaxed to allow more restaurants. There are now several empty storefronts on 24th including 2 I can think of that have been vacant for going on 2 years (and not including the ex Real Foods store that has been empty since the early 2000’s). Commercial rents are obscene. Limiting restaurants obviously will not fill empty storefronts on 24th St or Castro/Market.

  3. this is so stupid. retail is failing because they are not viable/wanted by people, and restaurants are doing great because they are viable/wanted by people.

    so let’s legislate to encourage non-viable businesses that no one wants to patronize. insanity.

    1. Yup. But that’s SF. So bizarre that a city that prides itself on being so “free and easy” allows itself to be micromanaged to such an extent.

  4. Retail only works with density. How can you protect retail here when new developments here are fought tooth and nail (e.g., the tennis court area)? The residential density on this side of Columbus is rather low.

    1. I don’t know. There’s plenty of retail in the burbs. They’re called strip malls in low density areas and people have to drive to them.

      Protecting retail is ridiculous especially given the online disruption and high cost of leasing a shop. Clearly, there is demand for services other than shopping and people will go elsewhere to get what they want. It’s called a neighborhood for a reason where people live/work and spend their money. This area is no different than what’s going to happen elsewhere as retail declines. You got to keep up with the changing market forces.

    2. My neighbors across the hall have their toilet paper and paper towels delivered to them from Amazon (among many other things including food). There is a Whole Foods right around the block. There is a Walgreen’s 1 block away. Retail works when people who CAN walk around the corner to get food and basics actually do so. Obviously in the nations 2nd most densely populated city when residents won’t even walk around the block………

  5. Guys guys guys. Once people move in to apartments, they shouldn’t have to compete with new renters. Same thing for restaurants and bars. Once they set up shop and start operating, they shouldn’t have to compete with new entrants. Also, once you start to supply more good food, everyone knows the price of good food goes up. People start to become interested in visiting a neighborhood for an active evening. Then you’ve got a vibrant street life. Then what happens to all of the existing bad restaurants? They should have to move? Let’s not forget that complacency is what makes this city great.


  6. Perhaps there’s a piece Peskin’s logic missing from the post (albeit flimsy, but something along the lines of restaurants sit dormant during daytime hours and makes Jackson Square dead during those hours?) but I’m not sure if there’s a strong (any?) correlation between a dozen restaurants and a lack of retail.

    Regardless of the rationale here, I’m certain that kicking restauranteurs in the d*ck in order to motivate more retailers to move to the neighborhood is the best direction to take.

  7. I think a better idea would be to not allow offices, rug stores, relators and vacant parking lots to consume 2/3 of the neighborhood storefronts. This area lacks street activity and places to linger more than anything else.

    1. This x100. The last few times I’ve thought to go to Jackson Square, to look at prints and maps, I’m struck that there are actually only 3 or 4 actual retail ops that fit that category; so many professional offices and closed-front specialty uses, that you might as well be walking through a retail desert. It has nothing to do with the number of restaurants.

  8. So instead of filling vacant storefronts with viable businesses we should just keep them boarded up?

    This is seriously an idea?

  9. I just don’t get this at all. I’m not in favor of say, totally unfettered capitalism because I think it turns the world into a big monopoly game over the decades and centuries with ever shrinking competition, potential monopolies, ever growing corporations and more power/money in fewer hands. You know, like T-rump and cronies want America and the world to be. However in a local, small, living breathing neighborhood, let the market decide what the best “mix of establishments” is.

    Just like big business and corporations are the real constituents of the US congress, seems like existing restaurant and bar owners must be Peskin’s. Drain the cesspool!

  10. And yet this area – historically the Barbary Coast – was, of course, known for bars and restaurants (particularly the former).

  11. Many of these comments are apparently unfamiliar with the Jackson Square Historic District, and completely incorrect. Even the headline of this SocketSite article is incorrect (Retail is NOT faltering in Jackson Square).

    The Facts Are: 1) There are already a multitude of bars/restaurants within the tiny District’s boundaries, and literally dozens more surrounding the District on all sides. 2) There’s no need to oversaturate this small neighborhood with a disproportionate ratio of bars/restaurants.

    Retail is NOT faltering in the District, in fact it’s at an all-time high as anyone walking the District can see, and as recently reported in The SF Chronicle: “Gold Rush-era Jackson Square Becomes Hot Again with Retailers”, August 2017. And the commercial use tally shown in the article must be using different boundaries for the District because the category counts are inaccurate.

    1. If retail is doing so well there, then why is there a need to limit other types of businesses in order to promote retail use?

  12. So instead of making things easier on non-food service retail establishments – i.e positive reinforcement – we just making things harder on food service establishments – negative reinforcement?

    100 years of psychology – 1000’s of rigorous of scientific studies – all show the addition of a positive reinforcing stimulus makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. It is rational, effective, and most importantly – humane way – to order the affairs of government.

    And we toss it out the window so Peskin’s buddies can get richer? Our land use policy is becoming an irrational mess.

  13. Peskin knows his District and knows Jackson Square (apparently much better than SocketSite’s incorrect article and many of these Commenters). No need to increase bars or restaurants in an area of SF already over-saturated with both. This is a rare sliver of Historic District remaining from the ’06 Quake and Fire and kudos to Peskin for trying to maintain a reasonable mix of uses for businesses and residents that live there.

    1. And apparently, you didn’t read the bit about there being a whopping 16 bars/restaurants in the area? Not quite sure how you see that as over-saturated, especially being it’s 15% compared to the already 30% retail.

    2. While I certainly wouldn’t want to deprive you of your right to criticize – or even fawn over – others, since you brought up “knowing the district” and “different boundaries”, I would point out that the area outlined on the map is far larger than the “sliver remaining from (before) the ’06 Quake and Fire,” indeed one could say it has only a tangential relation to it.

      It does, of course, have a great relation to both the Barbary Coast and the later “International Settlement”, areas which were known for…yes…restaurants and bars.

    3. If it is “over-saturated” with restaurants and bars as you claim, then some of them will close. No need to restrict new ones if there are already too many there to serve the demand. Or is it not that there are too many there for the demand, but that there are too many for your personal taste? Do you have any links to sources that show there are too many there for any reason other than you don’t want more?

  14. This is so frustrating. Street level retail as we know it is DEAD. Not all, but lots. Consumers, including so many who bitch about our retail issues, want to get on Amazon, click “deliver today” and be done. Services you can not get on line is what will prevail. Limiting restaurants should be done with consumer dollars. That is, the neighborhood’s wishes prevail because either they will embrace the business or they will not. Once again, I wish Peskin and his colleagues would stay focused on those issues that really affect the long term health of our City – infrastructure, drug abusers and mentally ill living on the street, quality of public education, mass transit. Let restaurants rise and fail on their own accord.

    1. Seems like the Supervisor’s stay as far away as possible from doing any useful work on “infrastructure, drug abusers and mentally ill living on the street, quality of public education, mass transit”.

      And land use policy is devolving into payola for the politically connected. Time for a reform slate…

  15. It is times like these when I miss being in NYC or any world class city where a person could conceivably roll out of bed in the middle of the night and had their pick of one of many 24 hour eateries within easy walking distance.

    When I used to work in this area of town, it was Kokkari for all business lunches, dinners, and holiday parties. We had outside caterers for all other staff lunches. One happy hour at Frisson which was highly overrated but shared the same building lobby as our offices.

    Having a few more restaurants will not turn Jackson Square into the bar scene on Broadway St.

  16. I should have known that [Supervisor Peskin] was behind this. Peskin is the OG of outlawing things. In his mind there isnt any problem which cant be solved by a new law outlawing something.

  17. The antiques business in Jackson Square is finished. When Stein closes at the end of the month, that’s it. The historical use of nearly all the buildings in this area was bars and brothels, with a few merchants here and there. As long as the buildings and their interiors are preserved, what business is it of Peskin’s to tell people what to do with their property?

  18. When retail fails it means more space for what the area really needs (and pays the rent) – VC funded software development. Since those people have everything catered it won’t impact the remaining restaurants and bars. Win, win, winning. Peskin is genius.

  19. Aaron is not progressive in anyways . Not sure if there is any rationale behind this decision . Why put so much rules ? Make it easier and market forces to align with demand and supply of the neighborhood

  20. Peskin again with a knee jerk commercial market control Legoslation based in emotion and a complete lack of Understanding what the actual retail market is.

    Restaurants and cafes create activity on the street level that is COMPLIMENTARY and synergistic with non food and beverage retail. Also food and beverage users often pay LESS than traditional retail uses can in rent – a common misconception.

    Peskin likely got his ear bent by a non restaurant existing retailer who is losing their space to a restaurant and is now trying to enforce erroneous land use policy based on protecting certain parties. Aaron peaking could not be farther than the true meaning of the word progressive – he is completely regressive when it comes to policy to promote neighborhood vibrancy.

    IMO this is all based on peakin and fellow progressives at BOS who want commercial rent control and have absolutely zero understanding of the negative impacts of what they want. This city is more expensive than ever to open a retail business thanks to the permitting costs and arcane planning approvals overlaid with bureaucratic land use nonsense by BOS [members] who know nothing of land use economics and what constitutes strong retail areas.

    SF is eating the very vibrancy that made it great by inept progressive, protectionist land use policies. Progressive BOS policy has produced nothing but more expensive rents and less affordability for retail uses.

  21. Has Peskin ever had a good idea? This is so dumb let people build more restaurants then if they fail so be it. Don’t deny them a chance

  22. Maybe retail is not being patronized due to the difficulty of getting around town nowadays.

    The “Amazon is killing retail” thing is largely economic folklore. The growth of online sales as a percentage of total sales has been relatively slow and still remains under 10%. And much of that is due to the old mail catalog sales moving online. The business model that is dying is the department store, they are getting crushed, but specialty and discount retailers are doing quite well.

    1. Getting around town is getting harder, getting in from out of town has gotten more expensive.

      Driving? $6 for the bridge toll – $10-$20 to park.

      Public transit is 2×3 times that. A family of 4 coming in to here from Rockridge in Oakland? $10 BART round trip fare, plus $4.50 MUNI round trip bus fare = $58 just to get here.

      BART and Caltrain are both raising fares. Bridge tolls are going up. People do not have an unlimited amount of money. Transportation costs go up – other spending goes down.

      1. Formula retail is everywhere. Many Bay residents who come to Union Square to shop are playing tourist and having a day of it. The really unique mom/pop stores are tucked in the neighborhoods, many of which are a transfer away from the main public transit lines. Once again, it’s not like people are driving or riding public transit for hours to do their daily or weekly shopping. I live in the Sunset and every few months will get up early and drive to Oakland (4th St., Rockridge, Elmwood, etc.) or even down to a great German butcher in Los Altos. It’s not like I have to. It’s an excursion and I know Bay Bridge traffic will suck on the way home.

    2. What difficulty? Many neighborhoods are walkable yet there is storefront after storefront for lease. Why? Many reasons. Rents are high. Consumer preferences have changed. Online disruption. To name a few. Macy’s going out of business at Stonestown has nothing to do with bumper to bumper traffic on 19th Ave. The parking lots always seem full when I’m there at peak shopping times.

      Online retail killing brick/mortar is not folklore. YOY growth of 15% in 2016 is not folklore.

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