Grants will help Chinatown merchants cope with construction

San Francisco Chinatown merchants can breathe easier as some may get funds by the end of year to help with the economic loss due to the construction of the Central Subway.

Officials with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced in July that the project faced a 10-month construction delay on the Chinatown Station at Stockton and Washington streets.

The delay sparked frustration from Chinatown merchants who have spent years dealing with construction.

To provide relief for merchants, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the Chinatown neighborhood, requested $225,000 in City funds to provide grants to merchants.

Peskin said Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee:

“I took this extraordinary step because these are pretty extraordinary circumstances.”

After spending months talking with merchants, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and with Mayor Ed Lee’s office, funds have been set aside now from the Central Subway project’s budget and from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to help compensate merchants.

The Mayor’s Budget Director Melissa Whitehouse said $1.1 million will come from the project’s budget and $350,000 will come from the SFMTA’s operating budget.

Joaquin Torres, deputy director at the Office of Economic Workforce Development, said Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, that his office has been working with merchants through the process of applying for the funds:

“We’re very happy to have found the flexibility to ensure that we can support our merchants that have been affected by this extraordinary circumstance of disturbance and we’re very happy to be working with our Chinatown merchants to support them in this process.”

Torres said merchants will be able to use the funds to help pay for rent, wages or utilities.

Sam Yu, owner of the restaurant Yuet Lee on the corner of Stockton and Broadway streets, said he had cut operating hours of his restaurant by closing three hours earlier from 3 a.m. to midnight, and has cut his staff down from 15 to 7 employees:

“We are now just waiting to close up.”

The SFMTA had planned to open the new 1.7-mile-long subway for revenue service by the end of 2018, but now Muni riders will have to wait until the end of 2019.