San Francisco Small Business Network - About
Throughout its 30 year history the SBN has proudly argued for a fair and economically sound environment in which small business can thrive. We believe strongly that pride-of-ownership leads to a diverse and healthy, locally-driven economy that keeps dollars in San Francisco and contributes to flourishing neighborhoods that maximize quality of life. We cautiously approach advocacy – not from a contentious right and wrong perspective – but with collaborative and reasoned problem-solving.

SBN Beginnings

The idea for an organization to represent a broad-base of small businesses in San Francisco was conceived by Elliot Hoffman, owner of Just Desserts, and attorney, Bruce Lilienthal, president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants. Together they persuaded Nancy Pelosi, Chair of the 1984 Democratic Convention – held that year in San Francisco – to provide table space at Moscone Convention Center to promote the SBN idea.

SBN's 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 (co-presidents) at Just Desserts on Church Street.  They decided tofocus on common issues such as escalating commercial rents and needed to influence at City Hall and a voice at the decision-making table.

Soon after, Proposition B to create a Small Business Commission, was placed on the ballot. Though defeated, Supervisor Quentin Kopp picked up the baton and, with the support of Mayor Dianne Feinstein, drafted legislation that called for an advisory commission.  The whole small business movement came from those germs."

Past Presidents Recall and Reflect

Stu Bronstein  I walked into a meeting late, 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 the members spent their time sponsoring presentations and hosting debates during political campaigns.  We reached out to other groups and enlarged our membership.

Bob Wong  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. We set our goals and direction.  I appreciated the opportunity to learn about business organizations I'd 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  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 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,” they would have to give notice for a certain period of time. If they sent "a work out" message, the lease would continue through negotiations.  Also we were successful in getting the SBN charter changed, so that a 60% vote could carry a motion.

Scott Hauge  My term was a time of growth. We went from seven or eight member organizations to seventeen or eighteen. That 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  During these years, just after the 1989 earthquake, SBN became more involved with the rest of the business community, both large and small.  We became recognized as an 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  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.

The 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.

Rich Gunn  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.  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  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 did not violate by-laws. The Presidents Council was also organized to act as big guns to lobby on important local, regional and national issues.


Pat Chistensen  During my term in office, it was a privilege to lead an energetic and motivated group of volunteers who hosted an especially successful Awards Gala to launch Small Business Week.  Also, that year we established strong bonds with then Mayor Gavin Newsom, when thirty-five business owners, each representing a small business association, prepared a state-of-small business report as a departure point for discussions with the Mayor.   An e-mail survey of small business owners and managers revealed four main small business stumbling blocks – fair treatment at City Hall, increasing fees, city-wide procurement inequity and lack of support for locally owned business.  Volunteer committees analyzed these problems then focused on efficient and reasonable solutions for one-on-one presentations to Newsom.  The Mayor respected our findings and laid the ground work for increased small business support at City Hall.  I served just one year-term as President before accepting a paid consultancy as Executive Director.   My years with the SBN were always rich and rewarding.  Such a treat to work with truly talented and dedicates people.

Art Swanson  It was an exciting and challenging time.  We melded Public Policy into the regular Board agenda increasing involvement and education of all members. As the Association's visibility and impact grew, Gavin Newsom, called on us to outline critical steps ahead for small business.  We joined the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth, were founding members of the San Francisco Business Federation and joined the launch of Tech Connect. Hosting “meet the new sups symposiums” and other networking opportunities increased our visibility and member benefit.  The SBN stood behind Muni reform, pension reform, civil sidewalks, no new taxes, local contracting initiatives, CEQA reform and much more.  A time of challenge, impact, growth and, yes, just a fun ride.

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Small Business Network
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