yellowpages.pngThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors today postponed deciding on a proposal that would reduce the number of Yellow Pages phone books delivered in the city until after the city economist’s office can do a formal study of the legislation.

The ordinance, introduced by Board President David Chiu, would create a three-year pilot program in which phone books would only be delivered, in person, to residents or businesses who request them.

The city’s Office of Economic Analysis did not conduct a voluntary review of the proposed legislation because officials did not think the net economic impact would be significant, San Francisco Chief Economist Ted Egan said.

But concerns have been raised that creating an “opt-in” program for Yellow Pages would lead to both economic hardship for small businesses that advertise in the phone book and job losses–including about 85 delivery positions that could be eliminated.

The board therefore requested a city review and postponed discussion of the proposal until May 10, which would give the economic analysis office six weeks to review the proposal.

The pilot program would not start until May 2012, meaning the board can take more time to review the proposal without jeopardizing its implementation, several supervisors said.

“Even though I’m supportive of this measure, I don’t have any problem with taking more time to review it,” Supervisor David Campos said.

About 1.6 million phone books are delivered in San Francisco every year, according to Chiu. The city has 330,000 households, and disposal of unused books costs taxpayers more than $1 million annually.

Studies have found that only 36 percent of the population used a phone book in the last year, said Chiu, who has argued the legislation has economic as well as environmental benefits.

The ordinance would require a “robust” outreach campaign to elderly, disabled, low-income and non-English-speaking communities so they know they can still get the phone book for free, Chiu said.

City economist Egan said his office identified three main areas of economic activity associated with the Yellow Pages program: active distribution of the phone book, advertising costs associated with the books, and the cost of waste and disposal of the books.

Taken in tandem, the net economic activity was expected to be below $10 million, which is the unofficial threshold for voluntary review, Egan said. He said San Francisco experiences $80 billion to $100 billion in economic activity every year.

While the board waits for the Office of Economic Analysis’ review, Chiu urged the other members to visit the recycling facility where the phone books are disposed of.

He said Yellow Pages already has an opt-out program, but that only 0.25 percent of the city takes advantage of it.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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