Reporting from San Francisco -- In the age of the online consumer, who needs the Yellow Pages?
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors concluded Tuesday that although some people may still prefer to let their "fingers do the walking," two directories for every man, woman and child in this high-tech city is excessive.
The 10-1 vote puts San Francisco in line to be the first government in the nation to restrict delivery of the hefty books to only those residences and businesses that want them. The legislation, which faces a customary second reading next week but is expected to pass handily, was embraced by environmentalists, some small business groups and apartment managers who struggle with the detritus left in their building lobbies.
Despite aggressive lobbying efforts from the yellow pages industry, the legislation, which creates a three-year pilot project to limit distribution, passed handily in a green-friendly city that also became the first in the nation to ban plastic grocery bags. The nearly 1.6 million business directories dropped on doorsteps here annually would stack up at about 8 1/2 times the height of Mt. Everest, according to statistics provided by the city. The books generate 7 million pounds of paper waste and clog recycling equipment, necessitating costly repairs.
Board President David Chiu said that by allowing delivery of books only to those who want them, the legislation he wrote "will protect the environment, fight neighborhood blight and help our economy." A report released Monday by the city's chief economist said it would actually boost the economy, in part by lowering advertising rates and reducing replacement costs on recycling equipment.
The industry response?
"Hogwash," said Peter Hillan, a spokesman for the Local Search Assn., until recently known as the Yellow Pages Assn. The legislation mandates outreach to seniors, non-native English speakers and others who may not be Internet savvy to explain how to request a directory.
But Hillan said, "Effectively, it's a ban." The industry prefers an opt-out approach, in which anyone can sign on to http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com to restrict or stop delivery.
An eleventh-hour industry proposal to voluntarily reduce distribution was met with some skepticism by supervisors. Still, Amy Healy, Local Search Assn. vice president of public policy, said she plans to "continue to negotiate with the board" in the coming week. If the policy becomes law as expected, a lawsuit is probable, she said.