Joshua Kizler/My Turn
When I was a child, I worked for years under my father at his small business on Polk and Sacramento in San Francisco. He owned a video-rental shop, and when Blockbuster tried to move in, he rallied community support, called a hearing, and blocked Blockbuster from opening.
In 2014, I purchased Bay Coffee Company in Pacifica. I spent my entire life savings and went into debt three-fold to pursue my lifelong dream to run a coffee shop. Beside me was Subway. Next over, an independent salon. Next, a Papa Murphy’s, and then an independent Sushi house.
Golden Arches from the magnificent McDonalds hovered five stories into the air in our shared space, directly across from us, consuming the flow of traffic directly off the most amazing and scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Behind us, Shell Oil sported its own five-story emblem, hovering into the skies of Pacifica.
And one strip mall over, small businesses were strewn among Pacifica’s anchor—Safeway, one of three in the so-called community town of Pacifica. And in each Safeway sat your truly neighborhood cafe, Starbucks.
One year after I purchased Bay Coffee Company, another Starbucks opened, in addition to the one inside Safeway that existed within walking distance from me. This time, Starbucks leased and renovated the space across the freeway from me, thereby purchasing much of the northbound traffic heading onto Highway 1.
Pacifica, or the city of, has long been sold to big business. The northbound entrance, Lindamar, is owned by Kimco Realty Corporation, a real estate investment trust with a $4.5 billion market cap as of May 20, 2020. In late 2016, Donut Time, a Pacifica business of 36 years, failed to have its lease renewed by Kimco and was forced to leave. Today one enters Pacifica through rolling oceanside, tree-lined hills into a corporate township lined with Panda Express, Starbucks, Chase bank, and Safeway.
Several years ago I renamed my business and inquired with the city about sign laws. I learned that our five-unit strip mall was subject to an independent sign ordinance requiring all five businesses to follow the same guidelines, thereby creating consistency in signage. Nevermind the Golden Arches or the giant natural Seashell surrounding us, my small cafe had to limit its store signage to 14 inches in height.
Forget Fogfest, an annual Pacifica celebration billed as a community event which features mostly non-local businesses. Forget the arcane laws favoring big businesses. Forget the large strip malls run by billion-dollar corporations which run Pacifica’s cityscape. Forget that one of the most iconic businesses in California, on Pacifica’s most famed beach, is Taco Bell. Forget all of that. And focus on the false narrative that Pacifica is somehow a small town focused on community. It is not.
Pacifica is not focused on small business, but it can be. Let this be a call to the City of Pacifica and those who run it. The time to start helping small businesses is now and the need is immediate.
Pacifica needs a subsidized physical space for exclusively small merchants to operate and sell their services and products. We need protections that restrict additional openings of large businesses in this town. We need accelerated and assisted permitting processes to support the opening of small businesses. We need a commercial vacancy tax that punishes large corporations for advantageously vacating their own spaces, pushing small businesses out, and ruining the community.
We need leadership, policy, and action that works for small business, especially now.
(Joshua Kizler owns and operates Kizler Coffee in Pacifica.)