The city of San Francisco is an overpriced mess these days. Its cost of living is so high that a family of four with a six-figure household income is considered low-income and qualifies for federal housing assistance.
Who’s to blame for San Francisco's many problems? Tech workers who eat their lunches in their companies’ cafeterias, according to some City Supervisors.
Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin introduced a workplace cafeteria ban last July. Peskin called the ban “forward thinking legislation.” Without on-site cafeterias, he explained, “People will have to go out and eat lunch with the rest of us.”
Embarrassed by the national media coverage their cafeteria ban generated, Safai and Peskin backpaddled last week. Instead of an outright ban, they’ve proposed requiring cafeterias to get “conditional use” permits to operate.
Whether they use an outright ban or a punitive zoning code, Safai and Peskin are still treating hard-working adults like unruly school children in need of lunch-room monitors. Safai admits as much, as the San Francisco Examiner reports:
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.
No amount of noble-sounding rhetoric about togetherness and community-building will change that fact San Francisco’s many woes are largely a problem of the city government’s own making.
Instead of scapegoating tech workers, City Supervisors should listen to folks like the San Francisco Chronicle’s Roland Li and Paolo Lucchesi, who tracked restaurant openings and closings going back to 2011:
Since Twitter signed a lease in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood in April 2011, a mass of upscale restaurants (and other tech companies) followed, hoping to ride the wave and cater to the area’s new office workers. However, many once-hopeful chefs have found the neighborhood challenging for a number of reasons, be it a lack of evening foot traffic or accessible parking, or simply market saturation and their own hubris. Proposed legislation in San Francisco that would limit in-house cafeterias offering free meals might boost lunchtime crowds, but it won’t solve the Mid-Market area’s other problems for eateries.
Then there’s Michael Cohen, a life-long grocer, who explains, “I’ve operated grocery stores all over the country…[San Francisco’s Mid-Market] environment is the most challenging I’ve ever been in.”
Specifically, the New York Times reports:
… the bigger issue for [Mr. Cohen] is crime, street chaos and the staggering expense of security (there are several security guards at the door and inside). Recently, someone took off their pants in the store and had to be carried out by a guard, only to come back and urinate on a window.
Those aren’t the only issues. Tech workers say that rent is so expensive they can’t afford to eat out, including 35-year-old K. C. Clawson, who works at Microsoft:
There’s no other choice. Even on weekends. You know, I used to go out…to restaurants all the time. I used to love it. Now in San Francisco, when I don’t eat at the office, I cook.
Vibrant communities are voluntary, built by free exchange among people. Such communities are not creations of government busy-bodies who over-tax and over-regulate us then try to tell us where and with whom to eat our lunch.
To revitalize San Francisco, City Supervisors should put basic freedom back on the menu, instead of the chopping block.