SF public workers return to town hall next week. Will this help the struggling neighborhood?


San Francisco’s Civic Center could receive a much-needed life injection on Monday, as all city workers will have to return to the office after a year and a half of being allowed to work from home.

That means next week could boost San Francisco’s slow economic recovery, especially for small downtown businesses struggling without the normal buzz of lunch, coffee and happy hour crowds.

Officials also hope that the city’s high vaccination rate and the recently relaxed mask mandate will also prompt private companies to bring back their employees.

“I know this will be a big adjustment for some,” the Mayor of London Breed said last week. But “it will help encourage the private sector to bring back its workers and it will help our small businesses which are happy to welcome people again.”

More downtown workers will not only help small businesses, but could also add more money to San Francisco’s coffers, as much of the city’s tax base – its second-largest source of income – is in part based on where employees do their jobs. Increased foot traffic could also make the area safer, as public officials battle the perception that crime has increased in San Francisco amid the pandemic.

Jay Foster, manager of Tenderloin La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, said market operators have been eagerly awaiting the influx of people, especially after plans to reopen the city halted.

“We have really been looking forward to this moment for a long time,” he said, adding that people from town hall had already flocked – bringing in not only income, he said, but “camaraderie”.

The market opened its bar, La Paloma, a few weeks ago, hoping to attract a happy hour crowd after the lunch rush ended, Foster said.

“It’s the perfect trajectory for us before the holidays,” he said.

Of course, thousands of essential city workers have shown up to work throughout the pandemic, including bus drivers, street cleaners and nurses. But now Breed is demanding that even those with more flexibility come back in person at least two days a week. Some departments may choose to require employees to return more frequently.

“It will help us all get back to where we want to be as a city,” Breed said.

The return to work date of November 1 is no accident: it is the same day that all city employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus, unless they have a valid religious or medical exemption. As of Friday, nearly 98% of city workers were vaccinated; Less than 1,000 of the city’s 35,000 employees have not been vaccinated and could potentially be made redundant.

It is not clear whether returning more public employees to the office will encourage more private employers to bring workers back.

Following the delta’s surge over the summer, the city reimposed its mask mandate, prompting many private employers to push back their return-to-work dates. But city workers flooding the Civic Center and other neighborhoods could encourage private companies to follow suit, said Gwen Litvak, senior vice president of public policy at the Bay Area Council.

Litvak showed a investigation released by the board this month, showing that about one-third of companies have already brought back in-person workers they plan to do, while about another third are considering the next 3-4 months to bring back people consistently.

Litvak said that while many companies have already scheduled dates to bring people back, some allow workers to voluntarily show up in person and the city change could encourage that.

San Francisco-based work software company Envoy recently began requiring employees to show up twice a week at its SoMa offices, CEO Larry Gadea said.

He said it could be up to three or four days next year. While he doesn’t associate it with what other people are doing, more people in the offices could mean more events and restaurants open to cater for them, which could make the coming more interesting, Gadea added.

Large companies for the most part did not appear to be affected by the change. Salesforce spokeswoman Kate Wesson said in an email that the change in city would not prompt the company, San Francisco’s largest private employer, to change course and that employees have the possibility of working remotely until the end of the year.

Spokeswoman Chloe Meyere of Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, said the company has limited capacity San Francisco office workers and still plans to bring some people back at least part-time starting in January.

To encourage more people to return downtown, Breed has invested millions of dollars in so-called community ambassadors in neighborhoods like Mid-Market, Union Square, the Financial District, Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown. Unarmed Ambassadors provide general assistance to people and report dangers or emergencies.

There are currently 70 Ambassadors in the Mid-Market, with plans to keep them for two years at a cost of $ 8.8 million to the city and $ 3 million to the state. There are now 25 Ambassadors downtown, but that number will increase to 50, costing the city $ 12.5 million over two years. A separate ambassador program of retired police officers is growing from 10 to 25 people who will be walking around Union Square and downtown in general.

Police teams on foot, motorcycle, bicycle and horse also patrol the long troubled area around Mid-Market and the Tenderloin. UC Hastings College of the Law – which sued the city last year over conditions in the neighborhood – also provided $ 3 million for the plan.

The idea is to create a “welcoming atmosphere for office workers, residents and tourists returning to the city center and to support the reopening of storefront businesses,” said the mayor’s office.

Danielle Echeverria contributed to this report.

Trisha Thadani and Chase DiFeliciantonio are the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] [email protected]

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