Legislative Updates: San Francisco


With the end of the Covid-19 Health Emergency on the horizon, San Francisco is seeing an influx of land use legislation as City leaders set their sights on post-pandemic recovery. Below are two recent proposals to watch as they make their way through the approval process.

Small Business Recovery Act: Simplifying and Streamlining Small Business Approval

On March 16, 2021, Mayor London Breed introduced the Small Business Recovery Act (the “SBRA”), an ordinance proposing sweeping amendments to the Planning, Business and Tax Regulations, and Police Codes that are designed to stimulate and retain commercial and entertainment uses in the City.

After receiving a 4-3 approval at the April 22, 2021 Planning Commission hearing, Mayor Breed introduced a third version of the SBRA on May 11, 2021. The SBRA will need to go through further review before the Board of Supervisors ultimately votes on the ordinance.

The current version of the SBRA (as of May 13, 2021) would make the following changes:

  • Conditional Use Authorizations would no longer expire from abandonment as long as there is no intervening use. Currently, a Conditional Use Authorization expires after three years of disuse.
  • ADUs would be allowed in commercial spaces in Neighborhood Commercial Districts as long as the first 25 feet of lot depth is reserved for commercial use.
  • Neighborhood Notification would no longer be required for changes of use in the Eastern Neighborhoods, potentially removing the 30-day notification hold.
  • The eligibility for expedited 90-day processing for Conditional Use applications would be expanded to include Formula Retail uses with fewer than 20 locations, Bars, Nighttime Entertainment, Cannabis Dispensaries, non-retail sales and service uses, and any eligible use seeking to operate outside of principally permitted operating hours.
  • The Planning Department would be mandated to develop and use an abbreviated case report format to ensure the efficient processing of expedited Conditional Use applications.
  • Catering would be permitted as an accessory use in most Restaurants, subject to certain accessory use restrictions.
  • Additional code modifications would be implemented to give Entertainment Uses greater flexibility.

Elimination of Historic Preservation Commission Review and Appeals for Certain Alteration Permits

The SBRA would also eliminate the review and appeals period for Administrative Certificates of Appropriateness and Minor Alteration permits, which are required for certain projects involving landmarks or historic structures. Under current law, the Planning Department reviews and makes an administrative determination on these permits. After the Department makes a determination, anyone can appeal the decision to the Historic Preservation Commission (“HPC”) within 15 days. The HPC can also review any determination of its own volition within 20 days.

The SBRA would remove both the appeal and review periods, meaning the determination of the Department would be virtually final. This could significantly speed up certain projects by eliminating the ability of project opponents to contest approvals. However, it also means that project sponsors would lose a guaranteed avenue to quickly appeal a denial.

Removal of Life Science and Medical Special Use District

On May 4, 2021, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced legislation to remove the Life Science and Medical Special Use District (“SUD”) in the Dogpatch Neighborhood.

The SUD was created 12 years ago to encourage Life Science and Medical uses that would benefit from the close proximity to UCSF Mission Bay, which opened directly to the north in 2003. The SUD covers about a third of the Dogpatch, and is concentrated on the blocks immediately south of UCSF Mission Bay, a thin corridor adjacent to I-280, and along 23rd Street. The SUD overlays the existing Urban Mixed-Use zoning and principally permits Life Science Office, Life Science Lab, and Medical Service uses and exempts them from certain size and PDR replacement controls.

In his proposal to remove the SUD, Supervisor Walton expressed dissatisfaction with the SUD and claimed it was operating contrary to Eastern Neighborhoods Plan by failing to provide a buffer around the Dogpatch and allowing encroachment of large office uses. The proposal claims that the SUD does not contribute to the neighborhood, and that placement of Life Science start-ups in the Dogpatch increases rents and pushes out vibrant and varied community-serving uses.

Under San Francisco’s 30-day rule, consideration of the proposed ordinance cannot take place until after June 3, 2021.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Daniel Turner.

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.