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Why it sucks to operate restaurants in Calif.

Photograph: Shutterstock

Say what you will about California Gov. Jerry Brown, he’s no slacker. The 80-year-old has been a whirlwind for the last two weeks or so, signing bills into law at a speed and volume that would burn out the circuits of a Silicon Valley robot. Unfortunately for restaurants, the lifelong politician suffered nary a hand cramp.  

A slew of the measures that left his outbox with a signature will make operators’ lives more complicated. Full-service places will now have to hold off on providing a straw with a beverage, though servers will still have to lug them around because a customer can request one.

The requirement doesn’t extend to quick-service restaurants, which presumably distribute far more of the potential hazards to ocean wildlife. But limited-service places have their own unique challenges courtesy of the governor, including a change in what beverages they can bundle into a kids meal: no more sodas or sports drinks, even if they’re calorie-free.

There was also an expansion of the state’s paid-leave law to cover more families with a member in the military.

But the Big Kahuna of the signed pile on Brown’s desk has to be the groundbreaking requirement that public companies based in the state include at least one woman on their board starting next year, and at least two by 2022 if they have at least five seats. Even the governor raised an eyebrow with that one, knowing it marks government’s intrusion into an area that has traditionally been off-limits. What comes out of the board room is subject to regulation, but the inner workings have been allowed left alone.

A quick check shows restaurant companies will have to make some key changes if they’re to comply and avoid yet-to-be-determined fines. Although most of the public restaurant companies based in California have appointed female directors because it’s the smart business move, the state of California has decided they should be even smarter. So much for blindness to gender in making key decisions.

Brown made no feint about why he was signing a bill that gave him qualms and may never actually be adopted because of questions about its legality. He cited last week’s high-profile developments in Washington, D.C., without mentioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh or constituent Christine Blasey Ford and the gender sensitivities that were heightened by the hearing. It was politics, plain and simple.

Politics often are an unpleasant fact of business life for restaurants throughout the United States. But the impact seems particularly bruising in California because it is the industry’s closest thing to Eden from a demand standpoint. Restaurants are arguably more interwoven into the social fabric there than they are anywhere else, which helps to explain why the state is the nation’s largest market ranked by sales.

And that demand is likely to grow in many sections of the state. A new study by WalletHub, the personal finance website, shows that five of the nation’s 21 fastest-growing cities are in California. Four of the six with the highest income growth also call that state home, and all six of the U.S. urban locations with the highest GDP growth are located there.

Brown shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for the firehose blast of new laws and regulations that complicate the lives of restaurateurs in California. Everything he signed was the handiwork of a state senator or representative, and none of the measures was a pet project of his.

But restaurants can be excused for showing a little delight in knowing the onetime boyfriend of Linda Ronstadt is about to retire to his farm in Northern California.





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