Legislation approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday will require businesses to accept cash payments. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF approves ban on cashless stores

City law requiring businesses to accept cash follows similar moves in Philadelphia, New Jersey

San Francisco outlawed cashless businesses Tuesday, ending a practice widely viewed as discriminatory against low income residents.

The Board of Supervisor unanimously approved legislation introduced by Supervisor Vallie Brown that will impose a ban on cashless businesses 90 days after its final approval.

The vote follows Philadelphia’s cashless business ban, approved in February, and New Jersey’s, which passed last month.

Brown said that the “future may be cashless,” but in the meantime denying cash payments is “excluding too many people.”

“This legislation will go far in ensuring all San Franciscans have equitable access to the city’s economy,” she said

In the United States, 17 percent of all African-American households and 14 percent of all Latino households had no bank account, according to a 2017 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation survey.

There are currently only a handful of businesses that do not accept cash in San Francisco, requiring payment through smart phone applications tied to a person’s bank account or credit card. The number, however, was increasing. Those without bank accounts or credit are unable to purchase goods in these types of stores.

“The City must remain vigilant in ensuring its economy is inclusionary and accessible to everyone,” the legislation states. “The purpose of this [law] is to ensure that all City residents — including those who lack access to other forms of payment — are able to participate in the City’s economic life by paying cash for goods and many services.”

Businesses argue going cashless creates a safer work environment and more efficient service.

But in the face of new laws seeking to beat back the trend, one of the most well-known cashless stores, Amazon Go, which is also devoid of cash registers, announced last month it would start accepting cash.

Amazon Go’s latest location to open in New York City on Tuesday was also the first of its 12 locations to start accepting cash, according to an Amazon Go spokesperson. The company plans to over time start accepting cash payments at its other locations, including the three in San Francisco.

Under the legislation, repeat violations would constitute a misdemeanor and carry a fine of up to $1,000.

The law applies to brick-and-mortar businesses, those with a fixed location. It does not impact food trucks, ride hail services or temporary “pop up” retail.

A second and final vote on the legislation is scheduled for next week.

In other business, Mayor London Breed jointly introduced with board president Norman Yee a $500 million bond for the November ballot that they said would help start construction on about 2,000 units of affordable housing over the next four years.

The funding breakdown includes $150 million to repair and rebuild public housing, $210 million to build, acquire or rehabilitate low-income housing and about $20 million for middle-income housing, including to fund down payment assistance loans, land purchases and construction.

In addition, $90 million would go toward acquiring and building senior housing and $30 million “for the acquisition and rehabilitation of rental housing at risk of losing affordability, whether through market forces or a building’s physical decline.”

Supervisor Gordon Mar also asked the budget analyst to study the social and economic impacts of proposed City College of San Francisco budget cuts that would reduce the number of classes offered. The request comes as a discussion about the “proposed course changes and reductions” is scheduled for Friday before the Board of Supervisors’ newly formed Joint City, School District, and City College Select Committee.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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