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How This Election Could Affect SF Restaurants

According to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association

California Voters Go To The Polls In State Primary Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

When it comes to flexing its political muscle, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association has been saving its strength this election season. The local trade group, which represents more than 1,000 businesses, used to endorse candidates for office and lobby strongly on specific ballot measures— but it’s kept quiet in advance of tomorrow’s heated local election, sending out just an informational newsletter to its members last week.

GGRA executive director Gwyneth Borden says that’s partly a reaction to the contentious nature of the surprise mayoral race — “partisan back fighting here is high in our one-party town,” she says — and also a reaction to the organization’s past.

“We were really out there, we had a lobbying firm, we spent millions — millions — on political campaigns,” Borden recalls. In some cases, that backfired.

“At one point, we were the most hated political group in San Francisco,” she says. In 2006, when Supervisor Chris Daly was reelected over his GGRA-backed challenger, Daly’s wife condemned the GGRA’s attacks on her husband in an election night speech.

“To those motherfuckers at the Golden Gate Restaurant Association,” she reportedly yelled, “fuck you!”

Other high profile GGRA efforts, like suing the city over a healthcare law, were similar failures. “Now we’re in a place where we’ve got a good working relationship with everyone,” Borden says.

Restaurant operators are also reluctant to pick sides. “Some of the small neighborhood cafes will hang signs, but by and large... they don’t want to alienate patrons,” Borden says. “Restaurateurs don’t have the time or the inclination to canvass for candidates.”

The GGRA isn’t telling its members to vote against it, but sounds skeptical of one ballot measure, Prop C, co-authored by Jane Kim. That tax increase for universal childcare could incur costs borne by restaurants. “While no one has an issue with childcare, the challenge is that, in the way it’s written, it doesn’t exempt passthroughs to small business,” Borden explains.

One regional measure, RM 3, gets a note of support from the group: That measure seeks to relieve Bay Area traffic, which could help restaurant workers get to their jobs. All other ballot measures are unlikely to affect GGRA members.

As for the mayoral candidates, they’re more alike than different, Borden proposes. “All of them supported a $15 Minimum Wage, the San Francisco Healthcare Security Ordinance, changes in ordinances related to banning certain packaging and plastic bags, and tax increases on business,” she writes in the GGRA newsletter.

That’s not to say SF restaurants won’t be strongly affected by the city’s next mayor — especially by their policies on housing. “All of the candidates are talking about building more housing, but part of the challenge we have is the consistent overregulation of the creation of housing,” Borden suggests.

”We have a NIMBY environment — and that happens not only with housing, but with restaurants.” Borden has fought attempts to ban high-end restaurants and outlaw retail conversions — regulatory measures she considers unnecessary. Restaurants and cafes that don’t attract customers will just close, she assumes, and are in that sense self-regulating. “Restaurants are a great test bed for the idea that supply and demand does work,” Borden says — suggesting that the same principle holds true when applied to housing.