Barklee Sanders shows a non-delivery message on food delivery app Caviar in his Treasure Island apartment on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Treasure Island hungry for food delivery options

Apps don’t serve neighborhood’s residents

On Guard column header Joe

Treasure Island residents are already used to being treated like second-class San Franciscans.

Despite being officially considered part and parcel of The City, the island is often ignored: Its contaminated soil was long on city officials’ back-burner, its residents have for years suffered rolling blackouts, and it generally lacks many amenities other San Francisco neighborhoods take for granted.

Now the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting yet another gap in service for Treasure Island residents.

Popular food and goods delivery apps simply don’t go there.

Shef, Doordash, Uber Eats, Postmates — Treasure Island residents speaking to this columnist could not order from any of them this week.

While a lack of restaurant delivery may seem like a “first-world problem,” as folks sometimes say, it’s a more pressing need during the shelter-in-place order as Treasure Island residents, along with the rest of The City, stay inside for their safety. The island has few restaurants, and one of its only mainstays, Mersea, has remained closed amidst the crisis.

“Treasure Island is always an after-thought for most people. Most people don’t know Treasure Island is part of San Francisco. That extrapolates down to everything the community needs,” Barklee Sanders, a 26-year-old Treasure Island resident, told me Friday.

Sanders, a formerly homeless member of the Army National Guard, spent roughly six months couch-surfing in friends’ homes, only to finally land on his feet through Swords to Plowshares, which helped him obtain a job at Facebook. Sanders then settled down on Treasure Island in late 2018. Finally, he had a place to call his own.

But the 26-year-old was shocked to find the community lacking in so many basic services, food delivery included. Sanders first raised the alarm on a lack of food delivery to San Francisco officials this week, noting it was vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, and collected a bevy of screenshots showing his delivery orders rejected.

As if to underline his point, when Sanders reached out to chef-to-customer delivery company Shef asking, “Why don’t you guys support Treasure Island in SF?” A representative from the “Shef Team” replied, in an email, “I don’t think we ever considered that people lived there, to be completely honest.”

Shef’s website touts the service as “Traditional recipes. Homemade. Delivered.”

Sanders garnered the attention of Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents Treasure Island, among a bevy of other neighborhoods, on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Haney directed his ire at Uber Eats, Door Dash, Postmates and Caviar on Twitter, saying the companies left his constituents “uniquely isolated.”

Haney told me he’s now in talks with representatives of some of those apps. But the need is great, as Treasure Island restaurants are no longer open, and many of the roughly 2,000 people living there don’t have cars and rely on Muni buses to get off the island to shop.

Forcing residents to leave the island for essentials puts them “unnecessarily at risk,” he said, as social distancing becomes difficult aboard public transit. Treasure Island’s residents are mostly low-income, seniors, and people of color, Haney noted. That makes the apps lack of delivery akin to “redlining.”

“These delivery services are, for better or worse, something like essential services in these times,” Haney said.

There may be some precedent for not delivering as far as Treasure Island.

Laurie Thomas, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and owner of Terzo and Rose’s Cafe, told me food can lose its luster when it travels too far.

Some cuisine, like Indian food, she said, can travel far without becoming less palatable. But she told me she wouldn’t even eat her own restaurant’s food if she was too far out of its delivery range.

“Terzo’s food doesn’t travel,” she said. “I won’t even eat the pizza across town. After 15 minutes sitting there it’s ew, yuck. It’s good when it’s there — when it’s hot.”

And that’s not just a consideration for people’s palates. If food delivery tastes bad, a restaurant can lose a valuable customer, or earn a dreaded negative online review and see other customers driven away, hurting a restaurant’s bottom line when they are already operating on razor-thin margins amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fair reasoning or not, it’s cold comfort for the rumbling stomachs of Treasure Island residents.

Sanders is far from the only Treasure Island resident trying to get food delivered. In a Facebook post, one resident wrote, “I am screaming in my mind. Are there ANY restaurants or pick up and deliver services that still serve treasure island?”

Shea Rasmus called me about the dearth of food-delivery options using a sign-language interpreting service. A 29-year-old woman who is deaf, Rasmus has lived on Treasure Island for a half a year. Much like the restaurants Thomas described, Rasmus also lives financially on a razors’ edge as a gig-worker who has seen those gigs evaporate during the pandemic.

“I have lost all work and will not be receiving any pay until who knows when,” she said. “There’s a (Muni) bus service that runs ‘24/7 ’ there are concerns about it not being clean and also many residents here are without health insurance.”

The local market is tough for Rasmus to afford, she said, and so she’s hoping delivery becomes more available soon.

Already, one of these app companies has changed their tune. After the outcry, Uber Eats became available on Treasure Island, though the company declined to comment for this column.

A Postmates spokesperson said they may “unveil an updated delivery zone for all D6 residents early next week.” San Francisco’s District 6 includes South of Market, the Tenderloin and Treasure Island, among other neighborhoods.

“Postmates is proud to support the entire City of San Francisco and has already taken steps to ensure our fleet of flexible workers and restaurants can deliver to our neighbors in Treasure Island,” a Postmates spokesperson wrote in a statement.

A spokesperson for DoorDash also said a solution for its customers in Treasue Island would emerge “in the coming days,” adding, “our goal is to make delivery accessible to all residents across the Bay Area community.”

Considering the speed at which these companies responded to the call for service, and the ease at which they’ve flipped their digital switches to bring service to Treasure Island, it certainly arouses suspicion that they simply did not know residents live there.

At any rate, Haney wants those companies to step up to the challenge of meeting Treasure Island’s needs in a crisis.

“During a public health epidemic when people are told to stay home,” he said, “if it’s anyone that needs delivery, it’s Treasure Island.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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