SF Supervisor Rethinks Where Robots Fit on City Sidewalks

After an outright ban on the technology fell short of support, one supervisor suggested permitting as a possible solution.

by Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle / October 18, 2017

(TNS) -- Robots may be allowed on the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco — but only if they have permits, according to a revised ordinance that Supervisor Norman Yee presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The law was supposed to get its first vote that day, but Yee kicked it back to the board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee after offering a lengthy list of amendments to placate technology startups that are testing the robots. One such company, Marble, has several robots delivering meals in the Mission and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, to people who order via the Yelp Eat24 app.

Yee said the sentiment behind his proposal is more pro-person than anti-machine.

“I resolutely believe that our sidewalks should be prioritized for humans,” Yee said.

His initial ordinance, which would have outright banned the devices from city sidewalks, did not appear to have enough votes to pass the board. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy opposed it in the board’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, and Supervisor Mark Farrell criticized it at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think it’s a mistake to ban things or stick our heads in the sand and say we’re not going to tolerate these things in San Francisco,” said Farrell, who runs a Silicon Valley venture capital firm in addition to holding office.

But Yee said he hopes the amended proposal will please everyone. It would allow companies to apply for a limited number of permits to test the delivery robots within areas circumscribed by the City Planning Department. Companies would also have to keep a human nearby to monitor the devices and agree to a labor clause protecting their human workers’ right to unionize.

Also on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee introduced legislation to lease new buildings for city departments that are currently housed in the squalid Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. Lee also told the board to come up with an exit plan for inmates in the building’s seventh-floor jail.

Supervisor Mark Farrell’s law barring flame-retardant chemicals from upholstery and children’s products sailed through the board Tuesday, getting unanimous approval on its first reading. The ordinance, which would take effect in 2019, was inspired by numerous scientific studies linking these chemicals to cancer, hormone disruption, lowered IQs, attention problems and reproductive issues.

The supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance, sponsored by Sheehy, requiring big grocery stores to report the antibiotic content in their meat. Sheehy characterized it as a strike against “superbugs” that spread infections, killing 23,000 people in the United States each year, according to data from San Francisco Health Officer Tomas Aragon.

And the board voted 9-2 to approve another Sheehy ordinance to prevent bicycle chop shops from obstructing city sidewalks. Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Sandra Lee Fewer voted against the law, which allows the city’s Public Works Department to seize disassembled bicycles. They said it would do nothing to curb bike theft.

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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