Under the Office of Emerging Technology, new technology companies would have to pitch to The City before launching in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SF to establish Office of Emerging Technology

San Francisco will create an Office of Emerging Technology, where tech companies can pitch their services so The City will no longer be taken by surprise and have to scramble to address impacts of the businesses.

In recent years, San Francisco has struggled to keep up with tech companies and their new gadgets that often exploit gray areas in the laws that hadn’t contemplated things like robots using sidewalks to make deliveries or an overnight explosion of rentable e-scooters over cell phone applications.

The legislation to create the office was introduced Tuesday by Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee with the support of City Administrator Naomi Kelly. Public Works would house the new office, and there is $250,000 in the current fiscal year’s budget to fund the effort.

Before any new tech device is used, tested or piloted in The City, the office would coordinate the review with relevant departments and would “issue a Notice to Proceed if the net result is for the common good,” according to the announcement.

The office will not only give The City protections against emerging technologies, but companies will also have a better understanding of how they could lawfully obtain permission to provide their services.

“I am often incredibly impressed by the ingenuity of start-ups and the pace of technological innovation,” Yee said in a statement. “But technology should serve the public’s best interests, not the other way around. As a City, we must ensure that such technologies ultimately result in a net common good and that we evaluate the costs and benefits so that our residents, workers, and visitors are not unwittingly made guinea pigs of new tech.”

The legislation comes after Yee and Kelly collaborated beginning last year to form working group to recommend city policies addressing the emerging technology sector.

“The number one recommendation was a centralized ‘front door’ to pilot technologies and evaluate their impacts. President Yee’s leadership was critical to ensuring that San Francisco responds in a coordinated manner consistent with our values,” Kelly said.

The office is to monitor the emerging technologies currently in use and work with city departments to create requirements for managing and testing them “to help ensure emerging technologies can operate to serve the public good while minimizing harms to public health, safety, welfare, and convenience, and public space,” the legislation said.

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