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Business owner sues San Francisco after closing 2 Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants

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SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Since the pandemic, ABC7 has been following the story of small businesses trying to stay afloat. One of the biggest challenges they’ve faced in San Francisco is getting customers to come back into the city.

Safety has been a major factor, and one small business owner says the city has not been making the situation any better. They are now suing to hold the city accountable.

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Plywood covers the windows of the Fishermen’s Grotto restaurant in the historic San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf area. Inside, empty counter tops tell a story of defeat.

“We are down about 30. 30% but that 60% that are still open,” said Randall Scott, Executive Dir. Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District.

After the pandemic, the owner of The Grotto and Tarantino’s around the corner closed both restaurants. Now he is suing the city of San Francisco citing an out-of-control unhoused population, criminal activity in and around the Fisherman’s Wharf and unsafe structural conditions.

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In a statement, the city attorney’s office said Herringbone — the company that ran the restaurants — has been struggling for a while.

“Over the last year, Herringbone has attempted a number of maneuvers to get out of paying the $1.7 million it owes the city in back rent. This appears to be yet another attempt. However, once we are served with the lawsuit, we will review it and respond in court.”

Scott confirmed several businesses closed after the pandemic, but they are working on solutions.

“The European economy is struggling a bit and that cuts down on the European travel,” said Scott and added, “We are focusing on bringing down more locals. This is their wharf and putting up free concerts every Saturday.”

The owner of these restaurants is not the only one citing San Francisco issues as the reason for their closures.

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Last year, Westfield pulled out from operating the shopping center citing a “deteriorating situation in downtown San Francisco.”

Nordstrom’s flagship also left the mall since then many others have closed. Supervisor Matt Dorsey represents the downtown area.

“What I have been hearing from businesses and retailers is that if San Francisco can get public safety right, everything else will come together. So that is why it’s been a priority for me. If we get to a fully staffed police department,” said Dorsey.

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Attorney Matt Davis served as San Francisco deputy city attorney for about nine years. He believes lawsuits against the city could have merit:

“If they can show that the city engaged in some affirmative conduct or engage in an actual policy that caused the homeless to come to their particular area or if the city somehow directed dangerous activity towards their premises, then they might have a claim against the city. Again, they are tough claims,” said Matt Davis, Partner at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger.

There are trends impacting retailers. In downtown, people working from home are leading to less foot traffic and In Fisherman’s Wharf a lot has to do with tourism not being entirely back.

Full statement by the attorney’s representing Herringbone Tavern Inc.:

“As a result of the City of San Francisco’s and the Port Authority’s willful failure to safeguard the historic Fisherman’s Wharf against out of control unhoused population, criminal activity in and around the Fisherman’s Wharf, and unsafe structural conditions, Herringbone Tavern, Inc., a once thriving local business operating Fisherman’s Grotto and Tarantino’s, was irreparably harmed. The City of San Francisco, by way of its own Lease language, was committed to:

“(M)aintain the character of Fisherman’s Wharf in the same general manner as it exists at the date of this lease. In this connection, the parties recognize that the area of Fisherman’s Wharf is a major tourist attraction and that it is to the benefit of both the Port and Tenant that such condition be maintained throughout the term of this lease.”

Both the City of San Francisco and the Port Authority failed to deliver on its contractual promise. As a result, Herringbone Tavern Inc.’s businesses, and those of many others, have been tragically lost. The City has looked the other way and expected business owners and citizens alike to fend for themselves”

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