San Francisco Considers Allowing Residents to Sue Grocers for Shutting Down Without Notice

Brian Back
By Brian Back
April 18, 2024California

A proposed law promoted by two San Francisco supervisors would allow residents to sue grocery stores that shut down without giving six months’ notice to the city and helping to find a replacement.

The Grocery Protection Act, introduced April 2 by Board Supervisors Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin, comes amid a rash of retail theft critics say is fueled by the city’s drug and homelessness crisis, as well as a state law that reclassified theft of merchandise worth $950 or less as a misdemeanor.

If a grocery store shutters without providing six months’ notice, including posting notices at entrances and exits, people affected by the closure would be entitled to sue for damages or seek a mandate to remedy the situation. The proposed ordinance would require stores to “meet and work in good faith with neighborhood residents” and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to find a way to preserve access to groceries at the site.

The Grocery Protection Act is a resurrection of decades-old legislation vetoed in the 1980s by then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Ms. Feinstein, who became a U.S. senator starting in 1992 until her death in September, called the policy “an unnecessary intrusion of governmental regulatory authority.” Then-Safeway executive Robert E. Bradford argued at the time that micromanaging how and when businesses manage closures would make it less likely a company would open new stores, reported Axios.

But Mr. Preston sees it differently.

“It was a good idea in 1984, and it’s an even better idea now,” he said in a press release. “Meeting the food security needs of our seniors and families cannot be left to unilateral backroom decisions by massive corporate entities.”

Contending that sudden closings restrict food access for vulnerable residents, Mr. Preston first proposed the idea in January after a Safeway location in San Francisco’s Fillmore neighborhood announced plans to close in March.

“I have spoken with over a hundred constituents about this since your announcement and they are uniform in their strong objection to the closure of this store,” Mr. Preston wrote to Safeway executive Wendy Gutshall, along with a list of questions about the supermarket chain’s decision-making process.

Safeway, which operates 15 other locations in San Francisco, planned to sell the 3.7 acres of land on Webster St. to a developer for a mixed-use project with housing and retail. Safeway has since announced it will delay the closure until January 2025.

Mr. Preston called the supermarket chain’s change in plans a major victory for the community. He said he also wants to make sure any future development on the site includes a grocery store.

There are exemptions in the Grocery Protection Act for some businesses, such as those that close because of a natural disaster or business circumstances that aren’t “reasonably foreseeable,” which are not required to provide six months’ notice. Another exception is any business that is actively seeking capital that could allow the closure to be postponed or skipped.

Safeway garnered attention in recent years for adding barriers, automatic gates, and guards at some of its Bay Area locations to try and thwart a barrage of thefts.

A flagship Whole Foods location in San Francisco closed in 2023, just a year after it opened. According to media reports, the reasons for the closure include an abundance of street crime in the area, persistent drug use inside and outside the store, and unsafe conditions for patrons and employees.

It’s not just grocery stores facing struggles.

Nearly 40 retail stores closed in San Francisco’s Union Square from 2020 to 2023, with dozens more in the surrounding area, according to a report by CNN. Retailers including Walgreens, Nordstrom, Old Navy, Adidas, AT&T, and Lego Group have closed locations.

California grocery stores are the target of additional legislation proposed this spring, in this case from the state. California Senate Bill 1446 would require stores to boost staffing at self-checkout lanes, and in some cases ban self-service checkout options altogether.

Under the bill, grocery stores would be required to post one employee for every two self-checkout stations, with the employees relieved of all other duties besides working those stations.

Legislators also want to require grocers and pharmacies to complete an assessment and solicit input from employees before developing or implementing the sort of technology that significantly affects or eliminates jobs.

From The Epoch Times

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