SAN FRANCISCO—On the morning of January 12, 2020, during a COVID-19 and Vaccine conference, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a $62 million relief plan for small businesses, including direct grants and low-interest loans, mentioning particularly restaurants, bars, and gyms.

In the light of the passage of the $900 billion relief package by the federal government, which includes an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses eligible in the application process, the San Francisco government unveiled the relief plan which will compliment or expand existing local, state, and federal programs to help struggling businesses in the city.  

“We know there has been good news recently for small businesses from the federal relief package and the extension of the PPP loans. There is so much more we need to do. That is why I asked my budget staff to find any ways to cut costs and reprioritize funding to support our small businesses, and the good news is we found some,” Mayor Breed said. 

Mayor Breed during COVID and vaccination conference, January 12, 2021.

The federal PPP program includes loans and grants that provide companies with less than 300 employees that sustained a loss of 25% in revenue in any quarter of 2020 when compared to the same quarter in the previous year. Companies eligible for the PPP loans may receive 11 weeks worth in payroll expenses. Starting on January 15, applications for PPP loans at lenders including community banks were available. 

Grants, both sponsored by the federal and state governments, are direct economic relief. The San Francisco local grant program follows the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, which had an application period from December 31, 2020 to January 13, 2021. 

The $12.4 million SF Relief Grant will provide immediate relief to stabilize small businesses operations by offering grants of $5,000 to $20,000, based on the number of employees that each employer had in February 2020.  

Breed stated the purpose of the grant program was to prop up small businesses “most impacted by COVID,” among them restaurants, nail salons, bars, and nightlife venues, and those owned by women and “people of color.” 

“These are businesses that have not been able to open their doors or have been severely limited in the services they can provide,” Breed said in a press conference. Due to curfew orders issued on the sixth of December, both indoor and outdoor activity at businesses was banned. 

“We’re talking about our restaurants, our nail salons, our bars, our nightlife venues, our gyms. If we want to support our businesses, we can start with those businesses that are located in high-in-need neighborhoods that are operated by those who had less success accessing existing programs, like businesses owned by women and people of color.”

The manager of Betty Lou’s Seafood and Grill, who did not wish to disclose her name, claimed that during COVID, her restaurant lost 90% of profits. Estavan Cortez, a server at the Il Casaro Pizzeria said the business lost 60% to 83% of its business during the COVID pandemic, and called the ban on outdoor dining nonsensical and draconian, sentiments echoed by other restaurant employees and managers. Giuseppe Vivacqua, manager of Spiazzo Ristorante, also called the measures excessive.

Exterior of Spiazzo Restaurant

Sunny Chow, the manager of Deccan House, an Indian cuisine-inspired restaurant, expressed disagreement with the curfew orders, and pointed out that the money and effort put into building the outdoor seating area were to some extent wasted. “It sucks. There is no proof that the new cases came as a result of outdoor dining. We spent so much money on building a patio. $5,000. It took about seven to ten days. We had a contractor do it.”

Exterior of Deccan House
The Deccan House’s outdoor seating area, or patio

“Those are the businesses most impacted by stay-at-home orders and those that are unable to access federal programs,” Breed said. “Our goal is for these grants to come quickly, starting February, to provide immediate relief to businesses who so badly need it.”

The San Francisco local grant program follows the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, which had an application period from December 31, 2020 to January 13, 2021. 

Describing the $50 million proposed San Francisco grant program, Mayor Breed said the focus was on “anchor businesses,” among them restaurants with slightly higher revenues, and businesses of such are “often left out” of government business COVID relief plans. 

The plan is to provide $50 million in low-interest and zero-interest loans of up to $250,000 each to businesses earning $2.5 million or more in revenue. 

Supervisor Haney, former Board of Education President and a tenant attorney, said in the light of the closure of the iconic “The Cliff House” restaurant at Sutro Baths, “Our city is hemorrhaging small businesses: The Cliff House, Slims, The Stud, the list of businesses we’ve lost during the pandemic goes on, and on.” In support of the mayor, as quoted in a press release, he said, “If we don’t act swiftly, we’re in danger of losing many more of our most iconic businesses that contribute so much to our city. As Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, I am proud to stand by the Mayor in announcing this package to help our small businesses. These funds can’t come soon enough.”

Spiazzo Restaurant’s outdoor seating area, or patio.

There were some 27,000 people diagnosed with COVID as of that morning and 249 people hospitalized with COVID. Additionally, 235 people have died with COVID, Breed said. “Our cases and hospitalizations remain dangerously high, and our infection rate is still above 1. The Bay Area as a whole, like pretty much the entire state remains in a very difficult position.” 

Exhorting San Francisco residents to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus and help those that are struggling, including small businesses, she said, “That’s why right now we need to focus on three basic things we can do: continuing to stay home and limiting our interactions as much as possible to stop the spread, supporting the vaccine rollout, and finding ways to help those that are struggling including small businesses.” 

Former San Francisco resident and supporter of the right for restaurants to practice outdoor dining, currently residing in Cupertino, Jun Zhao, spoke with the San Francisco News. The operations program manager engineer at Amazon who designs products such as tablets, said, “In my opinion, outdoor dining should be fine as long as it’s controlled properly. It’s easy for things to go out of control, which proper social distancing rules aren’t followed and people risk themselves. It will be convenient for both businesses and customers, but that’s the necessary measure to keep everyone safe.”