Windows and tiles broken by constant jackhammering. Spewing water mains flooding storefronts. Wiped away parking for preschool dropoffs and orthodontic appointments. Drugstore workers washing their hands with bottled water in lieu of working sinks.
You could call it "the nightmare on Taraval Street"—but it’s an everyday reality for a string of small business owners, residents and workers in San Francisco's Parkside neighborhood, who have endured years of costly disruptions related to a construction project wreaking havoc outside their front doors.
The L Taraval Project, a $90 million joint endeavor between the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, began in 2019 and will continue at least through this fall. The work is intended to make the high-injury corridor of Taraval Street safer for pedestrians and Muni riders with improved crosswalks, traffic signals and bulb-outs.
But for small businesses and neighbors, the project has been a slow-motion disaster. According to the project’s website, the first segment was completed on time and on budget in 2021. But it has taken almost three years for the second segment to finish, and the deadline of fall 2024 feels, to most neighborhood dwellers, like a pipe dream. In the meantime, businesses have suffered from lost customers, building damages, broken plumbing and more, and merchants say they feel abandoned and forgotten by the city.
“I know the struggles of the Taraval merchants,” said Mike Farrah, an aide to Supervisor Myrna Melgar, whose district includes the current construction zone. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Farrah lives a few blocks from Taraval and said he has personally spent thousands of dollars with local businesses in an attempt to support the merchants. Supervisor Melgar could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
By way of comment, the SFMTA provided a statement pointing to a “suite of services” it is offering businesses on Taraval Street that includes grants, loans, marketing support, events and activations. According to the project’s website, the SFMTA has been providing updates via email, on the website and with posted notices. The L Taraval is one of San Francisco’s few original rail lines, celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019.
Businesses forgotten and abandoned
For the Gold Mirror Restaurant, a more than half-century-old restaurant at 800 Taraval St., the construction has led to a Byzantine, bureaucratic maze that ultimately contributed to the business closing temporarily for repairs.
“The city acknowledged the work being done had damaged our pipes,” said Francesca Villani, the restaurant’s general manager. “But they told us to submit a claim and they would deny it so that the construction company could take responsibility.”
Villani described a maddening circle of blame between the SFMTA and NTK Construction, the San Francisco-based firm responsible for building the project, in which no one ended up footing the bill for the broken plumbing.
Down the street from the Gold Mirror at Guerra Quality Meats, another legacy business at 490 Taraval St., owner Robert Guerra described similar experiences. “It’s a humungous finger-pointing process,” he said.
Guerra said tiles popped loose on the front of his building due to jackhammering, which also broke his gold leaf window and awning, forcing him to replace them. He already submitted a claim with the city for damages, but it was denied last week. While the claim he submitted was for $13,800 in building damages, he estimates he’s down $2.5 million in lost business over the last three years.
“People have been avoiding the entire area since the construction began,” Guerra said, noting that there have been frequent disruptions by the electric, water and gas companies and that the project has not occurred according to the SFMTA’s original timeline.
In documents viewed by The Standard, the original completion date for the entire project as presented to the community was in 2021—a full three years before what SFMTA is now citing as the end date.
“You’re always on time if you keep changing the goal line,” said Karl Aguilar, a partner at Papenhausen Hardware at 32 West Portal Ave., adjacent to the construction.
'They had 10 days; we’ve had two years'
Orlando Gomez, the owner of the New Taraval Cafe at 1054 Taraval St., said that the project is not moving fast enough and that sometimes he sees only one or two construction workers attending to a stretch of three or four blocks. “They don’t make it a priority,” he said. In the meantime, Gomez said business is down and customers are going elsewhere due to the lack of parking in front of his diner.
Phan Tien, who works at a Walgreens down the street at 1201 Taraval, said that the lack of parking is particularly difficult for customers in search of urgent medicine or health services—and that the ongoing disruption has gone beyond just slowing business.
Tien said the no parking signs will go up and come down with no notice on the street and that the construction feels erratic. But the worst was when the water was shut off for two days. “And no one even warned us,” she said.
Walgreens employees resorted to using bottled water from the shelves to wash their hands and had nowhere to go to the bathroom, Tien said, since the library across the street didn’t open until 1 p.m. “It was a nightmare,” she said.
At Tabita’s Cafe down the block at 1101 Taraval St., the jackhammering damaged a window, creating a large crack beside a preexisting one, said owner Romania Daza. Daza estimated it would cost her $1,500 to replace the window but said that she didn’t have time to deal with the bureaucracy related to making a claim.
Daza feels frustrated that SoMa small businesses could receive millions in aid due to the impact of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on business last November but that Taraval shop owners have been ignored. “They had 10 days; we’ve had two years,” she said.
Happy Day Preschool at 809 Taraval St. has also suffered from window damages to the second floor, said school director Mindy Louie, and the ongoing noise has been a struggle for the students. Louie said it was unfair that she paid $1,700 a year for white zone parking, even though now there is no parking, which makes it difficult for parents dropping off small children.
Ken Ma at Sunny Dry Cleaners at 745 Taraval St. said that PG&E destroyed his air-compression machine when it sent a high-voltage current through the wires connected to his shop, but he was lucky—the power company has already replaced it.
Dorothy Pang, a doctor at Orthodontics Pediatric Dentistry San Francisco at 823 Taraval St., has worked in the area for 30 years and has seen a lot in her time—but nothing like a disruption such as this. “You think they’re done, and then they start digging again,” she said. “There’s no efficiency.”
Pang said she can’t hire staff and that the population she serves—mostly children and those with special needs—have difficulty accessing the practice with no nearby parking. In addition to the parking issue, she said the business has had periodic power outages and interruption of Wi-Fi, which was out the entire day a few months ago.
“This is the foundation of this area’s economy,” she said. “The city is so shortsighted.”
The construction has had a particularly dramatic impact on the economy of one particular business—Bluemoon Beauty Salon and Spa at 642 Taraval St., where owner Lily Yu had to let go five employees because her business had evaporated so much. Already trying to recover after a robbery in the summer of 2023, Yu has reached a breaking point.
“I’m a single mom, and I’m working 14 hours a day, trying to get by,” she said. Yu showed The Standard pictures and video of water spurting up from the sidewalk and of construction workers placing a black and yellow bar across the front door of her business.
“Everybody knows Taraval Street has issues,” she said. Customers “don’t want to come, and then it becomes a habit.”
Tired of the periodic chopping up of the street, lost business, lack of parking and inefficient workflow, merchants along Taraval have reached a breaking point. They are planning to gather for a protest on Feb. 18 at 19th Avenue and Taraval Street, where they hope to get their message out to media outlets and local politicians.
“The SFMTA, they’re nothing but a bunch of pimps,” Guerra said.