More San Francisco Land Use Regulations for 2009

The quantity of new land use ordinances that came out of the Board of Supervisors in 2008 was truly mind-boggling. From the very large (the Eastern Neighborhood rezoning, that we reported on in our Dec. 9 E-Letter) to the very small (legislating the size and font type for historic movie theater marquees) there was more than enough coming out of City Hall to keep everyone on their toes.

That said, here are several new laws and procedures we have not yet reported on that we will be dealing with in 2009:

Air Quality Assessment and Ventilation Requirements

On January 5, 2009, new air quality and ventilation rules for urban infill projects went into effect. Their stated purpose is to limit the negative health effects that automobile exhaust and other air pollutants cause to those living in close proximity to freeways and other major roadways. The rules apply to newly-constructed buildings containing ten or more dwelling units located within a new Potential Roadway Exposure Zone. The Exposure Zone has been established by a map that was included in the legislation, and includes areas of the City of San Francisco that are near freeways and other major roadways.

An air quality assessment must be performed on all subject projects. A subject project that has an air quality assessment that demonstrates the project has a PM 2.5 (fine particulate) concentration of greater than 0.2 ug/m3 attributable to traffic on roadways within 500 feet must be redesigned to avoid such level of exposure to air pollutants or the project must have a ventilation system installed on site.

Interdepartmental Project Review

Effective February 1, 2009, the Planning Department is requiring that an interdepartmental project review meeting be held for all new projects proposing eight stories or more and new construction on parcels located within Seismic Hazard Zones in San Francisco. The meeting will include representatives from the Planning Department, the Department of Building Inspection, the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Fire Department. The Planning Department recommends project sponsors request this meeting before they submit any entitlement applications. Fees for this review meeting consist of $1,059 for projects of five or fewer dwelling units and all affordable housing projects and $1,530 for all other projects.

Draft CEQA Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

As mandated by Senate Bill 97, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) has issued draft CEQA guidelines for assessing the impact of greenhouse gases (“GHG”) a project has on the environment. SB 97 expressly includes GHG emissions in CEQA analyses of proposed “projects.”

The draft guidelines include factors to consider when determining if GHG emissions from a project have a significant effect on the environment, including whether the project would help or hinder attainment of the state’s goal of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2030, whether the project increases fossil fuel consumption, and whether the project results in increased energy efficiency of an existing facility. The draft guidelines also provide potential mitigation measures for a project with GHG emissions that have a significant effect on the environment, including reducing fossil fuel consumption, changing the project’s design, incorporating carbon sequestration, or the purchasing of carbon offsets.

As of now, these guidelines are in draft form, and do not apply to current CEQA analyses. OPR will hold several public meetings on the draft guidelines, update the guidelines based on the meetings, and submit the updated guidelines to the California Resources Agency for formal rulemaking. Until the draft guidelines are adopted by the agency, OPR’s interim guidance, which recommends that lead agencies adopt systematic mitigation approaches to projects with GHG emissions that have a significant effect on the environment, applies.

What does this mean for projects in San Francisco going through the entitlement process? So far we are seeing the Planning Department require some new GHG analysis be performed. But since there has been no CEQA threshold of significance established, there is really nothing that can be done with the analysis except report it in the CEQA document.

Also of Note:

The new Historic Preservation Commission (“HPC”) that we reported to you back in November 2008 will have its first meeting on Wednesday February 4. The four Commissioners that have been confirmed are Charles E. Chase, Courtney Damkroger, Karl Hasz, and Alan W. Martinez. There remain 3 vacant seats on the HPC. At the meeting this Wednesday, the four will elect officers and adopt its own rules and regulations.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact us at 415.567.9000 or by email to one of the attorneys listed above.

Reuben & Junius, 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 leases, purchase and sale agreements, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.