Board of Supervisors Considers Office Cafeteria Ban

One of the major themes in San Francisco land use regulation over the last few years has been an ongoing tug of war between the Board of Supervisors and the thriving tech industry.  As tech companies have moved in and brought new life to areas like Mid-Market (and soon Central SoMa), those companies have received push-back from some members of the Board. Most recently, on July 24, 2018, Supervisors Safai and Peskin introduced legislation that would amend the Planning Code to prohibit new employee cafeterias in offices. The cafeteria legislation would ban office food facilities that provide or sell food to employees on a regular basis, where food and drink are not regularly served to the public and cafeteria is not subject to tax.

The cafeteria legislation, currently lacking in detail, does not distinguish between large cafeterias and the small office coffee or snack areas found in offices of all sizes.  Employee cafeterias that lawfully existed on or before July 24, 2018, are not subject to the changes. The legislation does not, however, contain grandfathering for projects currently undergoing Planning review or permitting.

The stated goal of the legislation’s sponsors is to get tech workers out of their increasingly full-service buildings and into the community. Supervisor Peskin has expressed frustration that the tech companies moving into the Mid-Market area have not provided more benefit to local businesses and improvement in street life. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) has endorsed the legislation.

Opponents see the legislation as a significant overreach.  They express skepticism that it will solve any of San Francisco’s or Mid-Market’s problems, which were present long before Twitter and Uber existed. Labor leaders point out that while the legislation could result in some increase in business at surrounding restaurants, it would cause a loss of many jobs that would otherwise be generated at employee cafeterias. In addition, office workers already struggling to pay rent in San Francisco worry about adding food costs to their budgets.

The legislation has garnered nationwide attention and Citywide debate. It remains to be seen where the other Supervisors stand.  We may not know until this fall after the legislation is considered by the Planning Department and Planning Commission, Land Use and Transportation Committee of the Board of Supervisors (currently, Supervisors Tang, Kim, and Safai), and then the full Board. We will watch for clarification regarding the size of facilities covered and any addition of grandfathering for cafeterias already proposed as part of a pending project, with additional updates to follow.