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Corporate Cafeteria Ban Unanimously Opposed by Planning Commission

The proposal was introduced to boost local businesses and street activity

Kevin Krejci/Flickr

A proposal to ban new corporate cafeterias in San Francisco — an effort to boost local business and street activity — was met with unanimous disapproval from the city’s Planning Commission yesterday. But the commission’s 5-0 negative recommendation doesn’t doom the legislation outright: Instead, the proposal will move forward for consideration by the Land Use and Transportation Commissions.

Introduced this summer by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and co-sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the proposed cafeteria ban would change the language in San Francisco’s Planning Code to forbid new “employee cafeterias within office space.” It would allow the 40-plus cafeterias that already exist to continue their operations as usual.

Safaí isn’t angry that businesses have flocked to Mid-Market. “It’s had a mostly positive impact on the environment [and] created a phenomenal amount of jobs,” he says.

“At the same time we want to think about the ground floor retail and how we will activate that retail and how we will get people out on the street — more eyes on the street, more people activating and interacting in our community.”

The owners of one downtown business, cafe and bottle shop SOMA Eats, say they’d hoped to see more workers from nearby offices like LinkedIn at lunch and happy hour — but that the company’s cafeteria has kept most workers indoors.

“As much as we see expansion [downtown], I don’t think small businesses would say we’re getting all the benefits of that expansion,” co-owner Shirley Azzghayer told Eater this month as she opened a second SOMA Eats location.

She isn’t giving up: “Our hope is that these companies will support the communities they’re in.”

At yesterday’s hearing, planning commissioner Diego Sanchez agreed that “creating and maintaining vibrant neighborhoods with high levels of pedestrian activity is an important goal. Increasing patronage of restaurants and other retail establishments is also important.”

“However,” he concluded, “the department believes a set of incentives and new requirements is a preferred method to an outright ban for employee cafeterias.”

Dante Ballard, a senior supervisor at Airbnb’s corporate kitchens, was one cafeteria worker to speak out against the legislation yesterday. “When Airbnb opened a second office this year, many of us were able to benefit from promotions,” he said. “We should keep these opportunities for employees so they all have a chance to advance in their careers.”

Other speakers from the food industry highlighted the upside of cafeterias for their businesses. According to the owner of Five Mountains Organic Tea, 75% of his company’s annual revenue comes from tea sales to companies in San Francisco, where it’s available in corporate cafes and cafeterias.

While critics might characterize the proposed ban as government overreach, “It’s a city’s job to plan how their city grows and develops,” Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director Gwyneth Borden told Eater this summer. “It’s squarely within the responsibility of elected officials to think about that.”

Regardless of the legislative outcome, she’s glad the proposal has San Franciscans considering the role of businesses downtown. “If it means that tech cafeterias close their private cafeterias just once a month, that’s a huge victory.”