San Francisco Legislators Want Tech Workers to Eat Out for Lunch

New legislation would force workers outside for lunch. 

(Photo by Daniel Ramirez)

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Officials offering public incentives to corporations like Amazon often justify those funds with trickle-down logic — if the business takes their deal, those dollars will be made up in increased flow from workers’ salaries to local neighborhoods, restaurants, and stores. But what if the business offered those incentives provides employees many of those goods in-house — like, say, a cafeteria so that workers don’t ever have to go outside?

It’s a problem that two San Francisco supervisors, Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin, have apparently thought a lot about. Tuesday, they proposed a measure that would adjust zoning laws to ban workplace cafeterias, according to the SF Examiner.

From the paper:

Peskin said the measure, was inspired by tech companies like Twitter and Airbnb, which are widely known to have access to dining in their own buildings, depriving nearby restaurants of the dollars usually spent by nearby workers. The measure has the support of Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and other local merchants.

If it passes the legislation, San Francisco would follow in the footsteps of Mountain View, which has prohibited Google from fully subsidizing employee meals at new office locations — hoping to encourage employees to get out and support local businesses on their breaks.

San Francisco officials have a famously uncomfortable symbiosis with the tech sector. The city offers the Central Market-Tenderloin tax exemption in exchange for “community benefits agreements,” but often fails to enforce those agreements. It’s fought to regulate AirBnB, but still allows the company a generous number of listing exemptions.

The measure would not be retroactive, but merely ban industrial kitchens in office buildings moving forward. It could help kickstart similar legislation in other cities, according to Peskin. It seeks to avoid the “Amazon effect that impacts retail and restaurants across the county,” he said recently, according to the Examiner.

“This is forward-thinking legislation,” he added.

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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