yellowpages.pngA San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee voted today to send legislation to the full board that would restrict the distribution of Yellow Pages phone books in the city.

The board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved an ordinance that would create a three-year pilot program requiring distributors of the Yellow Pages to ask businesses and residents if they would like a copy of the phone books before leaving one on doorsteps.

Board President David Chiu introduced the proposal last month and gave a presentation at this afternoon’s committee hearing at City Hall, where he said about 1.8 million phone books are distributed in San Francisco each year–at least two for each city resident.

Chiu called the ordinance “a commonsense proposal” that would reduce waste and neighborhood blight.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment estimates that the phone books, which collectively weigh 7 million pounds, are disposed of each year at an annual cost of $1 million to the city.

Several people spoke in opposition to the ordinance during the public comment period of the hearing, including industry leaders, small business owners and consumer rights advocates.

Yellow Pages Association President Neg Norton said the proposal “is misguided and would be devastating” to small businesses, particularly minority-owned companies that primarily depend on the phone books for their advertising.

Norton said the Yellow Pages launched a campaign to allow people to opt out of receiving the books by visiting, but acknowledged that less than 1,700 San Francisco residents have opted out since the campaign began on Feb. 1.

Mindy Spatt, of the consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network, said the proposal would affect many city residents who cannot access or afford the Internet and depend on the Yellow Pages as a free way to find local services.

Many other people, including some from various environmental advocacy groups, spoke in favor of the ordinance, which Chiu said would require an extensive outreach campaign to make sure residents and businesses were aware of the changes.

The ordinance was passed by the committee but was amended to delay its potential starting date to May 1, 2012, to give the phone book industry and small businesses more time to adapt to the changes.

The full board will now consider the proposal at its March 29 meeting.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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