Lower Haight Construction Woes

A small business owner received a citation from the city — for a square of sidewalk that they'd already dug up.

Small businesses in Lower Haight had a rough summer, which has turned into a bumpy fall, and will soon be a harsh winter. Construction has been underway for months to replace aging sewer pipes, repave streets, widen sidewalks, construct bulbouts and generally upgrade the entire neighborhood’s infrastructure. It’s needed — though easy to complain about when jackhammers outside shake your entire restaurant’s dining room.

But many of the inconveniences — customers’ cars getting ticketed while construction workers’ vehicles get off scot-free — make it even harder for those running a small business to survive. And one business owner, Matt Nudelman, who owns the Lodge on Haight, has had enough. On Sept. 30, he received a notice of violation from the Department of Public Works for a “sidewalk nuisance.” The culprit, according to the inspector who photographed it and filed the complaint, was a small stain outside the Lodge’s front door.

Photos of the stain in question, sent to Nudelman by Public Works.

The kicker: That square of sidewalk no longer exists. Before the notice even landed in Nudelman’s mailbox, the entire street in front of his restaurant was dug up. Now, in order to enter his business, customers have to walk 20 feet to either side of large orange barriers. There is nowhere to lock up a bike or park a car. And the piles of trash left behind each day make the entire facade of his business look dangerously unappealing — the very thing that Public Works is citing Nudelman for. 

“Although the letter was a warning, the idea of a fine placed upon our business for sidewalk mess (which shown in the photos is clearly caused by the construction) is upsetting,” Nudelman says. “The construction has caused quite a disturbance in the quality of life in the neighborhood-scattered materials, work sites left untouched for days for weeks on end, holes drilled and not covered properly, poorly paved cement which is falling apart, etc. We have had multiple customers tell us they almost chose not to attend our establishment due to the inconvenience of all the sidewalk closures and signs.”

Nudelman reached out to Public Works’ Larry Stringer (whose name was on the mailed citation) for an apology, but was refused one. Stringer told him that he’s simply the person who sends out the notifications, not the one who issues them — making it impossible for a business owner to even debate the citation with the person who issued it. 

When looking at the all of the construction woes taking place across the city — such as the two-year delay to a vital rapid transit project on Van Ness — a messy sidewalk in front of a small restaurant in Lower Haight may seem like small potatoes. But everyday construction continues to blast its way through San Francisco, seemingly blind the people who make their livings nearby.

Nudelman is losing money, and this citation is just one example of how the city, in its valid but often enormously flawed methods, makes it just that much harder for businesses to survive in a city plagued by rising rents.

Just look at what’s happening in Chinatown.

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