The following article by our dear friend, Michael Bauer was taken from Inside Scoop SF. The original publication can be viewed here: Inside Scoop SF
Some restaurants such as Delfina Pizzeria on California are dealing with the noise issue, but Richard Skaff would like to have noise reduction included in building codes. Photo: WCD website.
Richard Skaff has a new mission — to make restaurants quieter. As executive director of Designing Accessible Communities, he’s trying to help restaurants become more aware of building codes and Universal Design and he thinks he’s in a unique position to understand both sides of any debate.
Before an accident that left him paraplegic, he worked in restaurants, including managing the Franciscan on Fisherman’s Wharf. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was a chief building inspector for San Francisco and in 1998, under Willie Brown, he opened the Mayor’s Office on Disability as the deputy director .
That’s to say, he knows his building codes. He’s now retired, but through his nonprofit he has been at the forefront of pointing out non-compliant issues in restaurants, trying to work with owners to correct problems and avoid lawsuits. He’s now working with La Mar, the Crab House on Pier 39 and Yankee Pier and other Lark Creek group restaurants including the Tavern at Lark Creek and One Market. He dines at many restaurants and he says that when he finds problems he lets the restaurants know. In most cases the owners appreciate his efforts, but in one case with a Larkspur restaurant he had to file a lawsuit before the problems were corrected.
Noise is a new frontier. He recently approached the California Restaurant Association to help. “They could be a part of the solution, rather than fighting the solution,” he says.
Skaff is a longtime member of the State Architect’s Access Advisory Committee, but he’s had little luck in getting them to listen. He wrote in an e-mail, “I raised the issue and tried to get the Advisory Committee to agree that there was a need for the State Architect’s Office to develop a new building code that would require that there would be a sound level for public accommodations like restaurants.”
He also noted, “California recently adopted a new code section that will control the decibel level in school classrooms, recognizing that sound levels in classrooms affect the way students learn and teachers teach.”
He’s encouraged that they see the relationship between sound levels and learning. He’s hoping to extend that type of thinking to restaurants and other public businesses in an attempt to help the hearing-impaired and also workers who spend hours in those environments. His plan is to make certain areas of the restaurant quieter for those with hearing impairments, but he hasn’t yet proposed decibel levels or what percent of the interior would have to comply. He also realizes it’s an ongoing problem for staff who have to work c0ntinuously in very noisy places. In the future he hopes to work with unions to advocate a safer environment for workers.
In any regard, he vows that this isn’t the last time we’ll hear from him.