yellowpages.pngAbout 200 people gathered outside San Francisco City Hall today to protest a proposal being considered by the Board of Supervisors to restrict the distribution of Yellow Pages phone books.

The legislation, introduced by board president David Chiu last month, would require distributors of the Yellow Pages to ask businesses and residents if they would like a copy of the phone books before leaving one on the doorstep.

Chiu has argued that the proposal would reduce waste and neighborhood blight.

However, members of the group that gathered outside City Hall this morning said many small businesses depend on Yellow Pages ads for their livelihood and that a majority of the city’s residents still use the books to find services or products.

Dina Kourmalos, owner of Continental Appliance, a company based in the city’s Ingleside neighborhood, said the phone books have “helped us to bring in new customers.

The supervisors “think they can dictate to every one of us how to operate our business,” Kourmalos said. “I don’t want them to tell me how to keep my business going.”

Miklos Kovacs, owner of Bay Cities Electric, a San Mateo-based electrician service, said he had tried to advertise on the Internet, but 90 percent of his business still comes from the Yellow Pages.

“It’s not that I haven’t tried (online options)…they just don’t work,” Kovacs said. “I’m barely surviving, and this would put us under.”

Amy Healy, vice president of public policy and sustainability for the Yellow Pages Association, which represents the publishers of the directories, said the association’s research shows that about seven out of 10 people still use the phone books.

“Supervisor Chiu thought this would be an easy target, and his personal experience or that of his staff may be that they don’t use Yellow Pages, but that doesn’t mean that all of these thousands of small businesses don’t make money off it,” Healy said.

Opponents of the proposal say consumers can already choose to not receive the books by visiting, and that the industry reduced paper usage by 30 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Members of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1269, the union whose members print and distribute most of the directories in San Francisco, were among the other speakers at today’s rally.

Chiu said in a statement today that he is “not surprised by this well-funded opposition, but it’s important that San Franciscans know the facts, and the fact is that this legislation is not a ban on the yellow pages and will not harm small businesses or other communities in San Francisco.”

Under the proposed law, distributors of the phone book would have to get the approval of San Francisco residents and businesses by mail, phone, e-mail or in person upon delivery.

The law would establish a three-year pilot program beginning Oct. 1 that would be accompanied by a public outreach program by the city on the environmental costs of excessive Yellow Pages distribution.

Chiu said the industry distributes at least 1.6 million books in San Francisco every year – two for each city resident.

“This benchmark legislation will conserve resources, promote green business practices and fiscal responsibility, and reduce our carbon footprint,” he said. “I look forward to a robust discussion of the facts at the Board of Supervisors in the weeks ahead.”

Judson True, Chiu’s legislative aide, said a committee hearing on the proposal could take place as soon as next Monday.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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