The law would force restaurants with at least 15 California locations to post the amount of calories, trans and saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium on the menu or a menu board. A restaurant that does not have nutritional information listed could lose its operating permit or face other sanctions.
County officials said they became wary of passing the ordinance when the California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco and its health department in federal court last week. The restaurant trade group claimed the menu-labeling ordinance was unconstitutional, a claim already denied by a U.S. court in New York.
The county could be vulnerable to a lawsuit from the restaurant association but the litigation filed against San Francisco is not strong, local officials said. A county health subcommittee of two supervisors approved the ordinance Tuesday after county attorneys evaluated the San Francisco lawsuit. The ordinance now needs approval from just one of three remaining supervisors to become law. The county ordinance is modeled nearly verbatim on the San Francisco law.
The law would affect only restaurants in unincorporated parts of the county initially, but if it were passed officials said they would likely send the ordinance to individual cities for consideration, said Supervisor Jerry Hill, chair of the health subcommittee. He said the county would provide the money and staffing necessary to enforce the rules.
Restaurant Association spokesman Daniel Conway said his group would not take a stand on the San Mateo County ordinance, including whether any lawsuit would be filed on it, until after it is set to become law.
Chief Deputy County Counsel Brenda Carlson said she was confident the county would prevail if a lawsuit were to be filed over its own ordinance.
“It’s our assumption that the grounds of the suit are unfounded,” Hill said.
Current state law does not require restaurants to provide nutrition stats but two bills are circulating the state Legislature — one similar to San Francisco’s and another that would force chains to make health facts available to all restaurant patrons.
The ordinance will come before the full Board of Supervisors Aug. 12 after Hill and Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson recommended its approval in the subcommittee Tuesday.
“I’m on a diet and want to know what I’m eating — I can’t stand grease and trans fat and sodium.”
By the numbers
San Mateo County nutritional information ordinance
10-20 Unincorporated area restaurants immediately affected
200 Restaurants in county that eventually could be affected
2 Bay Area counties with similar ordinances (San Francisco, Santa Clara)
Aug. 12 Board of Supervisors votes on ordinance
Jan. 1, 2009 Law would go into effect
Source: San Mateo County