Land Use Legislative Update

Two legislative measures introduced at the Board of Supervisors last week provided some updates to land use policy in San Francisco.

Mayor Breed Gives a Lifeline to Stalled Housing Projects

Proposition C, which significantly increased affordable housing requirements on new housing projects, provided some relief with grandfathering provisions for many pipeline projects.  Projects that had applications submitted between January 1, 2013, and January 12, 2016, qualify for the grandfathering if they secure a site or building permit on or before December 7, 2018.

Many of these projects, due to lengthy permit processing times, are at risk of not meeting the upcoming December 7 deadline.  Mayor Breed’s legislation effectively extends this deadline by giving projects that do not get a site permit by December 7 a total of 30 months from the date that the project is approved, including any appeal to an administrative body or City board, to secure a building or site permit.

By some estimates, the Mayor’s measure would keep alive 3,420 units of housing, 498 of which would be permanently affordable.  While promising, this proposal at this time is just that – a proposal.  The legislation must be approved by the full Board of Supervisors to become operative.

Supervisor Peskin Introduces Permanent Union Square Controls

The significant, nation-wide changes that have happened in recent years in the retail economy, caused by the massive growth of online shopping, have had an impact on Union Square.  Large brick and mortar retailers are increasingly rare, and instead, the trend is moving towards experiential retail requiring less floor area, thus leaving significant vacancies in Union Square properties.  The Planning Department, Planning Commission, Mayor’s Office, and Union Square Business Improvement District have been studying these issues over the last two years.

One of the primary questions has been the extent to which office use should be allowed in Union Square (i.e. within the C-3-R zoning district).  Many suggest that allowing office use would fill vacant spaces and vitalize the district, which in turn would help support Union Square retail and restaurants by bringing more patrons to the area.

New office uses in excess of 5,000 sf in the Union Square area have required a conditional use authorization, and thus have been regulated, since the adoption of the Downtown Plan in 1985.  However, in the last few years, due to the changes in the retail industry, policy discussion has taken place on the desired amount and location of office uses in Union Square.  Last week Supervisor Peskin introduced legislation that would impose stricter, permanent controls on office use in Union Square.  Currently, office uses are prohibited on the first floor, but are allowed on upper floors with a conditional use authorization, so that the existing controls have provided Planning Commission the ability to evaluate office proposals on a case-by-case basis taking into its consideration location, amount of street frontage, floor plate size and other circumstances that may impact retail viability.

Pursuant to the proposed office uses would be prohibited on floors 1 – 3.  On floors 4 – 6, a conditional use authorization would be required for a use size greater than 5,000 square feet.  Office use would be allowed on floors 7 and above with no restrictions.  The legislation also imposes a new $4/square-foot impact fee on new retail-to-office conversions.  The legislation is expected to be heard by the Planning Commission on October 18, 2018, which is the first opportunity for any members of the public to comment on the proposed permanent controls.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP  Attorney, Thomas Tunny

Photo from San Francisco Examiner 

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.