San Francisco Mandates Hotel Cleanings in Bid to Revive Economy

Pedestrians cross Cable Car tracks on Powell Street in San Francisco on March 29. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Aiming to recharge a faltering tourism economy hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, San Francisco city officials on Tuesday unanimously approved a set of aggressive new cleaning standards for hotels and large office buildings.

“This is part of the revitalization and recovery package to send a message to the country and our world that San Francisco is at the forefront of having the safest, cleanest Covid-19-free hotel rooms in the United States of America,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, lead sponsor of the ordinance, during a virtual Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

The “Healthy Buildings” ordinance will require hotels and large office buildings clean and disinfect “high-contact” areas and surfaces multiple times per day, keep logs of every cleaning cycle, provide employees with protective gear and prohibit retaliation against workers who complain about health risks.

Areas that must be cleaned include lobbies, lounges, hallways, restrooms, elevators, escalators, stairways and meeting rooms. The law also requires enhanced cleaning for “multiuse instruments,” such as keyboards, touch screens, credit card readers, telephones, light switches, restaurant menus, and ice and vending machines.

The legislation initially sought to require cleaning every 30 minutes. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco opposed that mandate, arguing it would be “impracticable and likely impossible to accomplish” given that proper cleaning is a slow, laborious process that often requires letting disinfectant sit on surfaces for several minutes at a time.

“To actually do this would require an army of employees disinfecting continuously,” the two groups wrote in a letter to supervisors on June 24.

The industry groups further complained that San Francisco had exempted its own municipal buildings from the law’s requirements, which they described as a tacit acknowledgement that “compliance with this ordinance will be burdensome and expensive so the city does not want to impose those burdens on itself.”

Facing intense pushback from the industry, supervisors who introduced the legislation agreed to replace the every-30-minutes cleaning mandate with “multiples times per day.”

The ordinance also includes additional requirements for hotels, mandating that guest rooms be cleaned daily unless guests specifically ask that their rooms not be cleaned. Light switches, door handles and other surfaces must be sanitized as part of the daily cleaning ritual. Bed linens and towels must also be changed daily.

That requirement comes after a recent Inside Edition investigation found several New York City hotels did not change bed sheets and bath towels between guests, despite the ongoing public health emergency.

The law further requires hotels to install hand sanitizer dispensers at entrances and exits of high-traffic areas, including fitness centers, pools, elevators, lobbies and check-in counters.

Additionally, the law requires companies that manage hotels and large office buildings provide protective gear, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, at no cost to employees. It further requires that any clothing or equipment used by one worker be cleaned and disinfected before another worker uses it.

The ordinance forbids hotels and building managers from retaliating against workers who complain about health risks or refuse to do work that they feel poses a risk to their health or safety. It empowers workers to sue their employers for $1,000 per violation or actual damages for lost wages and benefits, whichever is higher. 

“We’re elevating workers in office buildings and the hotel industry — workers and janitors — so we can ensure the survival of this industry,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who co-sponsored the ordinance. “When people feel safe in an environment, they’re going to come back to that environment.”

With attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and vintage cable-car trolley rides, tourism is a major driver of San Francisco’s $500 billion economy. The city welcomed more than 26 million tourists in 2019 who spent more than $10 billion, according to San Francisco Travel, the city’s tourism bureau.

During a June 29 committee meeting on the proposed ordinance, Supervisor Peskin said tens of thousands of jobs depend on San Francisco’s ability to attract visitors.

He insisted San Francisco “has really set the standard” for mitigating the impact of Covid-19 by being one of the first cities to order residents to shelter in place on March 16.

“As we move into the recovery phases, it’s critical we set the standard once again particularly for other Bay Area jurisdictions and environments around the country that will be looking to San Francisco for our leadership,” Peskin said.

Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously approved extending a ban on rent increases by two months.  The ban was first enacted on April 21 and set to expire after 60 days.

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