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The Voice of Small Business in San Francisco

 

Our History
The idea for an organization that would represent a broad-base of small businesses in San Francisco was conceived by Elliot Hoffman, owner of Just Desserts, and attorney, Bruce Lilienthal, then president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations. They persuaded Nancy Pelosi, chair of the 1984 Democratic Convention to be held in the city, to provide them with a table in Moscone Convention Center so they could promote their idea.

The original members: Bernie Cohn, Council of District Merchants; Susan Huskison, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce; Landy Ng, Asian Business League; Zula Jones, Black Chamber of Commerce; and Rose Pak, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, began meeting with Elliot and Bruce at Just Desserts on Church Street. "We decided to "focus on common issues such as escalating commercial rents," Elliot recalled.. "We needed influence at City Hall and a voice at the decision-making table. The whole small business movement came from those germs."

Elliot Hoffman and Bruce Lilienthal, co-presidents. Shortly after the Democratic Convention, Proposition B was placed on the ballot to create a Small Business Commission. The proposition was defeated, but Supervisor Quentin Kopp picked up the baton and with the support of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein created legislation that provided for an advisory commission.

Stu Bronstein, president. "I walked into a meeting late," Stu declares. "Bruce had resigned the presidency to run for the Board of Supervisors. I found myself elected president in absentia." There was no particular crisis at the time, so, according to Stu, the members spent their time sponsoring presentations and hosting debates during political campaigns. "In addition," he said, "we reached out to other groups and enlarged our membership."

Bob Wong, president. "This was a time all the different organizations got to know each other and work together. Small business was neglected in the city and not respected," Bob recalled. "We set our goals and direction." Also, Bob said that he appreciated the opportunity to learn about business organizations he had never heard of. "We had lots of commonality, many of the same issues. For example, the permitting process was a nightmare, and we objected to the gross receipts and payroll tax."

Peter Hansen, president. "I represented the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. We had two primary issues to deal with during my term in office. One was commercial rent control and the other was an item in the SBN charter that required a unanimous vote on all motions. I became a member of the Small Business Task Force on Commercial Rent Control that was formed to promote the idea." The Task Force lost its fight when Walter Shorenstein, who wanted an exemption for downtown, hired Bob McCarthy and Debra Stein to kill it and take the issue to Sacramento for a state-wide law prohibiting commercial rent control.

Brad Paul and Peter wrote a compromise measure that required landlords to give notice well in advance if they were going to raise the rent. If the landlord sent a message, "we're not going to work this out," he would have to give notice for a certain period of time. If he sent "a work out" message, the lease would continue through negotiations, according to Peter.

"Also we were successful in getting the SBN charter changed, so that a 60% vote could carry a motion," Peter recalled.

Scott Hauge, president. "My term was a time of growth. We went from seven or eight member organizations to seventeen or eighteen,” Hauge recalled. In addition, during the year, the SBN proposed a Bad Check Restitution Program and lobbied successfully to return the threshold for the Payroll Tax back to the former $167,000. (The Board of Supervisors had attempted to lower it to $100,000.)

Stephen Cornell, president, 1992 - 1994 - chairman. "During these years, just after the 1989 earthquake, SBN became more involved with the rest of the business community, both large and small," Stephen said. "We became recognized as a important force at City Hall. In fact, I was invited along with other business leaders to meet almost constantly with Mayor Art Agnos and frequently with union leaders to seek solutions to dealing with earthquake damage and a deficit budget. Those were tough times, and the city turned to small business, especially the SBN, for advice and counsel."

Kim King, president, 1995 - 1997 - chairman. "In December, before I took office, we decided to have an awards dinner during Small Business Week. People said we couldn't pull it off in such a short time frame. We said, 'We're small business people, we can do anything.', and we did. The SBN grew more and more respected and became more of a voice. Scott began to take us state-wide."

Further accomplishments in 1994 included: "(SBN) led the drive to repeal the small business tax; pushed for the passage of the (bad) check restitution program; established quarterly meetings with Mayor Frank Jordan to address business issues; worked aggressively against Proposition O; pushed for the San Francisco Business Tax Amnesty Program, and testified against numerous tax increases." (excerpted from San Francisco Small Business Network - The Official Newsletter dated March 1995.)

Rich Gunn, president, 1998 - 1999 - chairman - - "Our visibility in the community went from an organization on the way out to an organization on its way up. We began publishing a regular monthly newsletter, and I began hosting SF Business on AT&T's city station as a representative of the SBN. We became involved with the Youth Summit in the fall 1996, and I served on the executive committee and as a panelist. I also served as Small Business Chair of the "Say Yes to Summer Employment, Jobs for Youth program in 1996 and on the Welfare Reform Task Force in 1997, The SBN profile was raised and we almost doubled the attendance at our annual dinner.

"A new fax distribution list of 2,000 was installed; the brochure was updated and we increased membership to 21 organizations."

Several SBN members became delegates to the 1995 White House Conference on Small Business.

Gwen Kaplan, president. "One of my goals was to establish a stronger image in the business arena. We moved our meetings from St. Francis Hospital to the U. S. Small Business Administration's offices on Market Street. In addition, we set up the President's Council with the following purposes and functions: To be an advisory committee to the board of delegates, but with no voting power; to act as a steering committee for implementation of projects and policies; to participate in strategic planning sessions, and finally, to insure that the board of delegates does not violate by-laws." The Presidents Council was also organized to act as big guns to lobby on important local, regional and national issues.

 

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