The Healthy Buildings ordinance would impose cleaning and COVID-19 prevention measures. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS). Proposed legislation would require daily cleaning of hotel rooms and regular disinfection of public spaces. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF hotels and offices could face strict new cleaning requirements

Hospitality industry argues ‘Healthy Buildings’ legislation could actually increase coronavirus risk

Despite opposition from the hotel industry, the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee unanimously recommended approval of an emergency ordinance Monday to impose cleaning and COVID-19 prevention measures for hotels and offices.

While the hotel industry slammed lawmakers for the proposal, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who co-sponsored the Healthy Buildings ordinance, batted away criticisms.

“There is a multi-billion dollar industry that has been cutting corners when it comes to reopening,” Peskin said during the meeting. “We have seen that in Las Vegas [and] Arizona where the health of guests and their workers has been compromised.”

“For the corporate CEOs in this hotel industry, many of whom have gotten federal bailout from the Trump Administration … let’s be real: This is all about money,” he added.

The ordinance require tourist hotels and large commercial office buildings to regularly clean and disinfect surfaces in areas such as lobbies, elevators and restrooms, among other areas. Hotel guests rooms that have been occupied in the past 24 hours would have to be cleaned and sanitized, although guests may request that their room not be cleaned and disinfected daily.

“We want to elevate and ensure that the workers are protected. As we’ve seen this week, if we open up too soon, there are some false starts that happen and cases begin to rise, and we put people’s lives in danger,” Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who co-sponsored the legislation, told the committee, referring to recent delays in The City’s reopening plans. “And [whose] lives are being put in danger? The essential workers that are doing this work.”

The measure would also prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who refuse to work if they believe that their health is at risk and grant the Department of Health the authority to enforce it.

The hotel industry opposes the ordinance, saying it would endanger the health of employees and guests.

“Requiring the regular cleaning at least every 30 minutes of dozens of locations, furniture, fixtures and equipment exponentially increases COVID-19 exposure opportunities between guests and employees, risks further health impacts due to excessive use of cleaning products and is operationally impossible,” Chip Rogers, president and CEO of trade group American Hotel and Lodging Association, wrote in a letter dated Monday to the Board of Supervisors.

Rogers added that the ordinance would jeopardize small business hotel owners who could not afford to implement the mandates, placing them at risk of closing permanently. Up to 35,000 people could lose their jobs, he said, and up to $800 million in tax revenue could be lost.

In response to the testimonies, the committee amended the provision to mandate hotels and offices to clean and disinfect the areas “multiple times daily,” Peskin said, instead of at least every 30 minutes.

Trade groups said that they have already launched an industry-wide standard for health and safety protocols in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“This legislation exempts all city, state and federal buildings,” Kevin Carroll, president and CEO of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, said during public comment. “I’d ask: Why are these standards being added for a targeted industry and not the public buildings where the legislation is being considered?”

Anand Singh, president of the hotel workers union UNITE HERE Local 2, said “If you want to see what happens when you leave it to big hotel chains to decide their own cleaning standards, just look at some places that have reopened – tourist destinations like Las Vegas and Florida.”

“Hotels actually reduced cleaning services, public health guidance went unenforced, and case rates soared,” Singh said in a statement. “Thousands of workers, overwhelmingly immigrants and people of color, depend on jobs in San Francisco’s hotel industry, but visitors won’t come back unless they can trust that our hotels are held to the highest standards for cleaning and safety.”

Peskin indicated that the board would move forward with similar legislation for other industries as they reopen. The board passed an emergency ordinance last month to create guidelines for single-room occupancy hotels, hoping to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

“The sky is not falling,” Peskin said. “[The ordinance] will make hotels safer. It will generate confidence in tourists when the industry reopens.”

The full board is scheduled to vote on the legislation next week.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.

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