Pedestrians walk by the headquarters of Square at 1455 Market Street on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Ban on tech cafeterias dropped in favor of special permit requirement

San Francisco abandoned a proposal to ban tech cafeterias outright Monday but instead may require a special permit for them to open in new office space.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai introduced the cafeteria ban with Supervisor Aaron Peskin in July, but announced changes to it Monday after months of feedback since news of it “went wildly national.”

Instead of a ban on the cafeterias, the legislation would require a special permit, known as a conditional use permit, which someone can appeal to the Board of Supervisors if it is granted by the Planning Commission.

Safai amended the proposal Monday during the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee, after the committee postponed a vote on the legislation last week.

Factors taken under consideration when determining to grant the permit could include whether the proposed cafeteria would be open and accessible to the general public, the impact it would have upon existing eating and drinking establishments in the neighborhood and whether the employer will subsidize or pay for employee meals outside the proposed employee cafeteria.

The legislation is backed by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

The proposal now goes back to the Planning Commission for review. The commission has 90 days before making a recommendation on the amended version. The commission had voted to recommend against the outright ban of cafeterias.

Safai noted that the proposal is particularly relevant given The City’s recently approved rezoning of the Central SOMA area allowing for 6 million square feet of office space.

“What you are proposing is better,” Supervisor Katy Tang said. She said that she heard from residents in the Sunset she represents who work “in a lot of these employee cafeterias and have found their jobs to be quite stable and they like their wages.”

Safai pointed to the culture of tech workers “not going out to eat” and the proposal’s intent to “change that dynamic and culture in a positive way.”

He noted that some of the criticism he got after introducing the proposal was that he should focus on more pressing issues like homelessness, but he said that having more people engaging in the community can help with those issues. “The more eyes that are on the street, the more people that care and are responding to and are part of the larger community,” Safai said.

Supervisor Jane Kim noted that when The City lured tech companies to the Mid-Market area with a tax break the expectation was that “small businesses would really flourish with so many new workers coming into this area, and that isn’t what happened.”

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