Investing in neighborhoods makes our city thrive 

Almost any San Franciscan will tell you that our diverse, distinctive neighborhoods and commercial corridors are what make this city the greatest place to live and work. And in the heart of our neighborhoods, it is the small businesses that provide essential support by creating jobs, providing access to goods and services, increasing public safety and enhancing our sense of community. These businesses are the backbone of our economy.

After a couple of years of economic downturn, San Francisco is finally on the way to recovery, and our economy is starting to rebound. We have heard good news about the falling unemployment rate and an improved fiscal outlook for The City. In addition, our efforts to create jobs are clearly showing results. But the economic recovery must not be limited to downtown: We need to ensure that neighborhood commercial districts are also part of this revival.

Earlier this month, at the site of a proposed new “pocket park” on San Bruno Avenue, I announced the launch of Invest in Neighborhoods, a new initiative to strengthen our city’s neighborhood commercial corridors. Invest in Neighborhoods is designed to distribute city resources and services more effectively and efficiently, so that communities are healthier and small businesses are able to flourish.

San Bruno Avenue is a great example of how a commercial corridor can benefit from a comprehensive menu of city services, such as new trees on the street, light installations, facade improvements and safety ambassadors. Now we will take the lessons learned from our experience in the Portola area and spread that model to other neighborhoods around The City.

The concept behind Invest in Neighborhoods is simple: provide our neighborhood commercial corridors with the tools and services they need the most. My staff and our community partners will conduct a thorough assessment of each participating corridor, and subsequently we will deploy customized interventions that respond to and target specific community needs. City services — such as streetscape and facade improvements, parklets, public art, and business loans and incentive programs — can be effective at sprucing up our commercial corridors, but only if they are used responsively and strategically.

Invest in Neighborhoods will help create stronger neighborhoods that are more effective places to do business and attract customers.

To illustrate, one of the most in-demand and effective programs in the Invest in Neighborhoods cache is the Small Business Revolving Loan Fund. Since its launch in 2009, the RLF has been a stunning success. In two years, we loaned a total of $715,850 to 29 San Francisco businesses that have created 75 jobs. This financial capital — offered to business owners at below-market interest rates — helps create jobs and strengthen corridors.

We know entrepreneurs need to access loan capital in order to launch and expand small businesses. That is why in January, I introduced legislation to provide$1 million to recapitalize the RLF. This week, the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly approved  the ordinance, thereby providing $500,000 to recapitalize the RLF and setting aside $500,000 earmarked for the RLF once the first half is spent. This is just the beginning; I plan to allocate an additional $4 million to increase access to capital by supporting this and other programs that address a range of financing needs.

I am committed to working diligently with the supervisors to ensure that next year’s city budget reflects the importance of neighborhood small businesses to The City’s vibrancy and economic health. By investing in our neighborhoods and commercial corridors, we can create more jobs and preserve the small businesses and institutions that make San Francisco a world-class city.

Ed Lee is the mayor of San Francisco. The mayor’s column will runon the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

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