Merchants in Noe Valley demand delay in road repairs to protect businesses

A group of small business owners along 24th Street in Noe Valley are frustrated, asking the city to postpone a road repair project that could threaten business. 

The City of San Francisco does not have an official start date for the work, adding to the stress of the merchants. 

It’s a project the city says will improve road conditions, particularly on 24th Street where sections of the road, curbs, and bus stops will be resurfaced and repaved. The city said it will take about four months to complete.

"If large sections of our commercial corridor are blocked off, people will just avoid going," said Mike McCaffery, owner of Mr. Digby’s on the corner of Church and 24th Streets.

Business owners complain there is not enough detail about the scope of work being done, and they worry about the construction during peak business months. 

"As a business owner here, we really need to get a more solid deadline, because most of our business, especially in this corridor, is maybe in quarter 3 and quarter 4," said the owner of The Dubliner, Kenneth Yeung.

"There may be or may not be work being done to sidewalks, so pedestrian access could be blocked," said McCaffery.

The contract for the work hasn’t officially been signed, but the city said the contractor has been selected. Public Works is waiting for the contractor’s schedule before selecting a start date.

"I think they're planning on starting work this summer, but the work could be in a different area from Noe Valley. There are three areas which will be redone," said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

Rachel Gordon, a spokesperson with the Public Works Department, said they have been communicating with merchants every step of the way. 

"We have and will continue to work with local businesses to minimize disruptions and have made clear to parklet sponsors when they received their permits that they may need to temporarily remove their structures for construction and emergencies. We already have delayed the start of this project previously at their request," she said in a statement.

"Public Works is committed to delivering these critical infrastructure improvements, including a freshly paved roadway, which today is rutted with potholes and in poor condition, and to make upgrades to the aging sewer system before it fails without warning," said Gordon.

During construction, parklets will have to be removed.  

Business owners said they expect their sales to go down by 30%, referring to data from a previous project at the 4000 block of 24th Street.

The city is offering a grant for businesses who will lose out during construction, but McCaffery said you can only be granted $5,000, and his parklet cost him $75,000 to build.

"$5,000 is nothing to turn your nose up at but it’s a drop in the bucket for the costs I have already put in and will have to do again," said McCaffery.

It’s not the first time the city has tried to get this done. The city delayed the project in 2015, also after complaints from businesses. 

"One of the biggest concerns I hear from constituents is the roads and the fact that so many of our commercial corridors have roads that are pretty disastrous," said Mandelman.

Gordon said this stretch of roadway has a pavement condition index score of 36, which is considered "very poor." The city averages a score of 75. 

In an email from Public Works, Gordon also said the work "should not be delayed any longer. A smoother road is a safer road for people who drive, take transit, walk and bike."

"I know that the road here does need work, but hopefully, the city can work with us with the merchants association and work something out where it’s a win-win situation," said Yeung. 

Meanwhile, Gordon said they are looking into changing the timeline at the request of the merchants. 

"We now are seeing if work can feasibly be postponed to January as some business owners have asked for, but that could lead to further delays due to winter storms," said Gordon, who also noted they cannot guarantee the delay.