San Francisco Bay Area cities are cracking down on free food at Facebook and other tech companies

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  • Mountain View, a city in Silicon Valley, says that a new office development - where Facebook will move to this fall - will not be allowed to have a cafeteria with free food for employees.
  • The legislation aims to increase business for local food retailers.
  • San Francisco - home to Twitter - is proposing a similar rule that would ban new workplace cafeterias for the same reason.

It's no secret that Facebook employees love their office meals. On Instagram, there are countless photos of free meals - from sushi to tacos to coffee waffles - served at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California.

But come this fall, when the tech giant moves to a new Mountain View office complex called the Village, that perk will no longer exist.

That's because the city is prohibiting companies from fully subsidizing meals inside the Village, a rule that could spread to other Bay Area cities in the future. On Tuesday, San Francisco legislators proposed a similar ban, the Examiner reports. If passed, it would adjust zoning laws to bar new construction of on-site workplace cafeterias. (The ban wouldn't be retroactive, however, so on-site food at companies like Google and Twitter would still be available.)

The Village is part of the larger San Antonio Center development, which features a number of restaurants open to the public.

Mountain View passed the project-specific requirement in 2014, but as the San Francisco Chronicle notes, the decision attracted little attention at the time because its construction still had years to go.

Facebook declined to comment on the ban, but spokesperson Jamil Walker added that the company found the new location attractive due to its proximity to public transit, housing, shops, and restaurants.

In both San Francisco and Mountain View, supporters of the regulations argue that the cafeterias take away business from local restaurants and cafés, because they discourage workers from leaving their offices.

In San Francisco's Mid-Market neighborhood, local food retailers have especially struggled to gain foot traffic due to the prevalence of free workplace meals, according to Gwyneth Borden, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association , an organization supporting the rule.

"Restaurants often provide the anchor to get people on the street, and while they're out, they patron other retail," Borden told Business Insider. "While there will always be competition for the food dollar, it goes without saying that it's hard to compete with free."

Twitter, which employs around 2,000 people in San Francisco and is one of the biggest tech employers in Mid-Market, opened its headquarters in the neighborhood in 2012. Since the new rule wouldn't apply to existing on-site food, it would only affect Twitter - and other tech companies like it - if the company decided to expand its footprint in the city. Twitter declined to comment regarding the proposed legislation.

Some San Francisco residents have argued on Twitter that the regulation wouldn't achieve what it intends, since it would only technically ban on-site cafeterias. Companies could still strike up deals with off-site caterers to feed their employees.

Regardless, supporters of the proposal argue that local brick-and-mortar retailers are hurting, and any changes would help them. Borden added that several restauranteurs that have tried to revitalize the Mid-Market food scene have closed in recent years. As Eater has also pointed out, it can take hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get a restaurant off the ground.

"With food being provided for free ... there's no competition in terms of choice nor a reason for employees to leave their building," Borden said. "Perhaps that's great social engineering to get employees to work longer hours and never leave their offices, but it doesn't do much to support the city around them."

This latest proposal from San Francisco follows the city's recent call for tech companies to help with rising housing prices, which are exacerbated in part by the local tech industry's growth. In November, the city of San Francisco will vote on a business tax for large companies which would go toward projects that aim to address homelessness.

Mountain View will have a similar initiative on the November ballot. There, the tax would go primarily toward transit projects, and a sliver of the revenue would help finance affordable housing developments.

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