Office of Small Business Year in Review FY 2022-23

The last few years have challenged and tested our small business community like never before. These challenging times gave us more than enough motivation to pursue changes that make it easier for new and existing businesses to thrive in San Francisco. While our work is ongoing, we would like to share a few highlights from Fiscal Year 2022-23.
January 31, 2024

New services: Commercial leasing and activation support 

The addition of a Commercial Leasing Specialist in January 2023 enabled our office to provide new services to support small business entrepreneurs with leases, as well as gain a deeper understanding of commercial leasing. 

With this new position, our office now offers one-on-one advisement on leasing, as well as resources to address common leasing needs: 

  • Letter of Intent (LOI) templates for business owners to use and for educational purposes 

  • Outlined steps and checklists to help prepare entrepreneurs for the commercial leasing process 

  • Our office’s participation in and advisement on site tours of commercial spaces with entrepreneurs 

Permitting reform: Over 100 changes to the Planning Code   

Land use restrictions have posed long-standing challenges for small businesses in San Francisco. Through merchant walks, direct experience working with small business entrepreneurs seeking to establish a storefront, community engagement, and review of the City’s Planning Code, the Office of Small Business identified ways to remove barriers that make opening certain businesses time consuming, expensive, or not even possible in some locations.  

As part of Mayor London Breed’s Roadmap to San Francisco’s Future, the Office of Small Business collaborated with the Mayor’s Office to introduce a package of over 100 changes to the Planning Code changes in June 2023 to streamline small business permitting and allow for greater business flexibility.  

The legislation (BOS File 230701) was approved by the Board of Supervisors and took effect January 13, 2024.  


Our Small Business Permitting team found that many small business owners had to spend additional time and money on requirements that did not make sense. For example, a business owner who does not plan to make any physical changes to their storefront would be required to hire an architect to produce professional drawings.  

We initiated the creation of an alternative path for these types of cases, to help small business owners save time and money while helping to get more commercial vacancies filled in the city. This change took effect in October 2022. 

Extension of permit fee waivers (First Year Free program) 

The City’s First Year Free program, initiated by Mayor Breed and Supervisor Ronen, waives certain license and permit fees for new and expanding businesses. First Year Free, which began in 2021, was initially meant to sunset on June 30, 2022.  

Recognizing the ongoing needs of small businesses as they recover from the pandemic, we advocated to extend the program to at least June 30, 2024. New businesses experience significant startup costs before they are revenue generating. The First Year Free program recognizes that challenge and provides financial relief as businesses open.  

Since the program started in 2021, over 5,700 businesses have enrolled in the program, and more than $2.38 million in fees have been waived by the City. 

Direct outreach to businesses 

Hearing directly from small business owners enables us to better understand the issues that businesses face, assess commercial corridor needs, and share information about small business resources. Our team explores different neighborhoods in the city on a near-weekly basis. 

We understand it is challenging for owners to take time out of your busy day for meetings away from your business. That is why our office will continue engaging small business owners directly through these merchant walks.   

Legacy Business Program improvements

Applicant fee eliminated 

Following our recommendation, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation in September 2022 to remove the requirement to charge Legacy Business applicants a $50 administrative fee to get on the registry (BOS File 220877). Our goal was to remove barriers that negatively affect small businesses. 

Application form simplified 

In July 2022, we revised the Legacy Business Registry application form to make it easier for businesses to apply for the Registry. We also simplified the template for the written historical narrative, which is a critical component of the Registry application. 

Simplified awning permitting process: Awning Amnesty program 

Turning a challenge into an opportunity 

In the past fiscal year, the City received approximately 200 anonymous complaints against small businesses with unpermitted awnings, triggering enforcement. Our office worked with the Mayor’s Office, Board of Supervisors, Department of Building Inspection, and San Francisco Fire Department to establish a one-year amnesty program (until June 1, 2024) for small business owners that includes a simplified application and waived permit fees for compliant awnings. We conducted and will continue door-to-door outreach and workshops to inform businesses about the amnesty program, which makes it easier and cheaper to come into compliance.     


Every May, as part of Small Business Month, the City waives fees associated with replacement signs and awnings for small businesses. In 2023, we collaborated with Supervisor Engardio to sponsor legislation to expand the waiver to include installation of new signs and awnings, in addition to replacement signs and awnings, through May 2024. 

Contact us

We look forward to continued feedback from the small business community so we can better support your success in San Francisco. 

To learn more about our services and work in FY2022-23, review our Office of Small Business Annual Report

Please contact us at or 415-554-6134 if you need assistance with a new or existing business.