Restaurants may close to protest City costs 

San Francisco restaurant owners are threatening to shutter their doors for a day to protest city mandates and costs that they say make it onerous to run a restaurant in San Francisco.

The costs include a voter-approved minimum wage in San Francisco that’s $1.14 over the state minimum hourly wage of $8. In November, voters also approved a measure — put on the ballot by members of the Board of Supervisors — requiring companies to provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours an employee works. There’s also a new city mandate effective January 2007 that requires businesses with 20 employees or more to pay up to $1.60 per employee hour toward worker health care.

Kevin Westlye, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which represents about 800 of San Francisco’s approximately 2,000 full-service restaurants, said the costs are forcing restaurateurs out of The City and discouraging new dining establishments from opening.

At a meeting of the association last week, attended by about 100 owners, Westlye said the idea of a shutdown surfaced.

"The idea came to, what if we closed on one chosen day to show The City what it would be like if they chased the restaurant industry out of here?" Westlye said.

The restaurant owners have also considered putting a service charge of 3 percent to 5 percent on their bills with an explanation that it’s an offset to pay for the various mandates, Westlye said.

"If all we do is raise prices, the public would just think we’re being greedy restaurateurs," he said.

No date has yet been established for the publicity move, said Westlye, who added that the restaurants might not even give advance warning. He also said there’s been some discussion about holding the food strike on a busy convention day.

"We’re not closing tomorrow," he said. "This is a serious issue and we’d like to be strategic about it. We’re not going to just go to public meetings and try to defend our industry like we normally do."

The head of San Francisco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joe D’Alessandro, said tourism — The City’s No. 1 industry — is built upon San Francisco’s reputation as a "culinary scene."

"Not to say that the restaurants don’t have a valid beef, but I hope it doesn’t come to the level of a shutdown," D’Alessandro said.

With a number of high-profile events and conventions on the horizon — two major national conventions in April that will overlap and bring more than 17,000 people, the ever-popular Gay Pride weekend and the upcoming televised All-Star baseball game — the association could likely garner national and international attention and cost The City millions.

About 20 percent of The City’s $136 million sales tax dollars within the last year came from the restaurant industry, according to San Francisco’s Controller’s Office. A one-day shutdown could result in a loss of approximately $75,000 worth of tax revenue to The City.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who, along with Mayor Gavin Newsom, has championed The City’s new universal health care ordinance, said he has tried to work with the restaurant industry and other businesses to address concerns and postpone implementation.

"I guess no good deed goes unpunished. They’re having a two-year-old tantrum, embarrassing themselves and San Francisco with their self-importance and sense of entitlement and privilege," Ammiano said.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association has also filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of The City’s employer spending mandate for employee health care. A June 1 court hearing date for the lawsuit had been scheduled, according to Westlye; last month The City asked for an extension.

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Bonnie Eslinger

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