Better Roofs Ordinance Reaches Planning Commission Hearing

​On September 15, 2016, the Planning Commission considered a Planning Code Amendment that would add new requirements for green roofs in construction projects. 

Currently, Title 24, which provides State standards for building energy efficiency, requires 15% of roof area of new buildings to be “solar ready”, which means 15% of the roof will be un-shaded by the proposed building itself and unobstructed by rooftop mechanical equipment.  Title 24 applies to all new residential and commercial buildings of 10 floors or less.  The Board of Supervisors previously supplemented the State law by requiring that the 15% of roof area set aside actually had solar panels installed on it.

The proposed ordinance would allow for an alternative to the solar panel requirement.  Under the proposed ordinance, between 15% and 30% of roof space on most new construction will be required to incorporate solar panels, living (green) roofs, or a combination of both.  If the living roof option is selected, the builder will be required to replace the otherwise required solar panels on a 2:1 basis (2 square feet of living roof for every 1 square foot of solar panels otherwise required.)

The City believes that green roofs such as grass and vegetation will reduce storm-water entering the sewer, reduce energy consumption, enhance biodiversity, sequester carbon, and capture pollution.  The City provides resources including a living roof manual, a living roof webpage, and a living roof map of San Francisco.  These resources are currently online at the following websites:

1. San Francisco Living Roof Manual

2. San Francisco Planning Department Living Roofs

With regard to the cost to the builder, the City believes that the one-time installation cost will be largely offset by the avoidance of one-time stormwater management equipment costs that would otherwise be incurred.  

San Francisco would become the first major U.S. city to impose such requirements on new roof tops.  The requirements will be implemented by the Planning Department. 

If the Planning Commission approves the proposed ordinance, it will forward it to the Board of Supervisors for further review and action.  The Planning Department will review proposed projects for compliance with the Better Roofs Ordinance in Preliminary Project Assessments.  Additional informational materials are planned to be provided in a Better Roofs Project Guide and a Zoning Administrator Bulletin for assistance with implementation and compliance. 

New Regulations on Signs

Also on September 15, 2016, the Planning Commission considered a proposed ordinance that would supplement the rules and restrictions regarding signs.  In general, Article 6 of the Planning Code allows identifying signs that serve to tell only the name, address and use of the premises upon which the sign is affixed.  All proposed signs are subject to approval by the Planning Department.  In general, new advertising signs and billboards are not permitted.  General advertising signs that received valid permits in the past are grandfathered, and must show the permit number, the name of the sign company, and the permitted sign dimensions on the sign.   

The definition of historic signs will be changed to include historic movie theater projecting signs and theater marquees, and any sign listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources, and any sign that is designated a City landmark or a contributor to a City landmark district, or is designated as significant under Article 11 of the Planning Code.  Historic signs are subject to their own separate set of regulations.   

The proposed ordinance clarifies that “vintage signs” are defined as signs that depict a land use, a business activity, a public activity, a social activity, a historical figure, or an activity or use that recalls the City’s historic past.   Such signs shall be allowed to be restored, reconstructed, maintained, or technologically improved only by conditional use authorization of the Planning Commission.  In general, such signs must be at least 40 years old.  

Once designated as a vintage sign, a sign may not be removed without conditional use authorization of the Planning Commission.  Similarly, a three dimensional vintage sign may be relocated to a new location only with conditional use authorization from the Planning Commission.  In some cases, vintage signs are required to be maintained on the property even if they advertise a business that left the property decades ago.  Historic signs, vintage signs, historic theater marquees, and historic theater projecting signs are generally exempt from the size and projection restrictions that would otherwise apply under the Planning Code.

San Francisco has eleven distinct special sign districts, each with its own specific sign restrictions, which are found in the San Francisco Zoning Maps designated SS01 and SS02.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.