A controversial proposed ban on in-house cafeterias at San Francisco tech companies is returning in a revised (and much less onerous) version before the Board of Supervisors this week. The latest version is not an outright ban on cafeterias, but it will restrict how significantly local companies can alter or expand their existing food options, and it will require conditional-use approval for any new cafeterias to be built.
The initial ban, sponsored by Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin, was met with significant backlash when it was first introduced last summer. The New York Times headline at the time read, "San Francisco Officials to Tech Workers: Buy Your Lunch," and Safai and Peskin explained that the goal was penetrate the walled-off corporate cultures that are occupying prime office real estate but dis-incentivizing workers from ever going outside and patronizing local businesses.
"These tech companies have decided to leave their suburban campuses because their employees want to be in the city, and yet the irony is, they come to the city and are creating isolated, walled-off campuses," Peskin told the Times. "This [ordinance] is not against these folks, it’s for them. It’s to integrate them into the community."
But tech workers who enjoy their free lunches and other meals pointed out that a) it's an important perk that saves them money, letting them afford to live in a city that is only barely affordable to some of them; and b) it feels like a misguided effort on the part of a city that has far bigger fish to fry with things like homelessness, trying to dictate where workers can and can not eat. Companies also talked about the loss of jobs that would come with closing down these cafeterias, which employ thousands of people in the city.
The San Francisco Planning Department also expressed some displeasure, and this revised ordinance made its way through Planning earlier this year. Under the new law, as the SF Business Times reports, new tech firms or those looking to add cafeterias would need to seek conditional-use authorization to do so. And factored into their approval would be street activation — whether the cafeteria occupied ground-floor space accessible by the pubic — as well as how many jobs they create.
Diego Sanchez, a legislative analyst for the city's planning department, tells the paper that the revised law will let new companies moving in "mold" their cafeteria plans to better suit city policy.
The new ordinance will not, however, do much to change the behavior of the workers at places like Uber, Twitter, Thumbtack, and Square, who tend not to patronize the restaurants in the mid-Market area as much as those restaurants would like. Michael Cohen, the managing partner of The Market in the same building as Twitter and Thumbtack, told the Times that the issue wasn't just workers grabbing free lunches, they were actually "shopping" in these cafeterias as well, grabbing fruit, snacks, and meals to take home for later.
And Cohen added that he'd rather see the city doing more about the vagrancy and crime on the street, which isn't helping his business any and it costing him too much in private security.