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City of SF Knows Opening a Restaurant Sucks, and They’re Trying to Help

A new city program helps restaurants with the permitting process

San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco City Hall
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s no secret that permitting a restaurant in San Francisco is a major pain point for restaurateurs — even the city knows it. Nearly every restaurant with delays cites that as the reason why, and now the city of San Francisco is doing something about it. A new (free!) pilot program launches today out of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development called The Small Business Acceleration Program.

The whole point of the program is to "steamline services" for small food businesses, specifically in permitting. The city hired Katie Skjerping, who has a background in urban planning, for the program, and her job is to make sense of the process for inexperienced businesses, all the way from finding and negotiating a lease up to getting the final permit (up to 24 permits can be needed for a restaurant from the department of public health, fire, police, public works, public utilities, and many more). Skjerping has spent the past few months learning the system and its pitfalls, classic challenges for both restaurateurs and permitting officers, and making contacts within each department.

The hope is to help businesses who have never gone through the process or don’t have the funds to hire outside consultants (which are popular, and pricey). The way it stands right now, it can take many months to navigate the various permitting departments, and this program will make sure everything is correct from the start to cut down on inefficiencies (like going out of order, which can delay the process by weeks), as well as work inside contacts, to expedite the process.

The program was launched after a 2015 report from the Office of the Controller that highlighted the problem. A result of the report was also an improved version of the SF Business Portal, the online tool that allows for electronic permit submission and tracking. The mayor’s budget is funding the program.