Proposition H and New Processing for ADUs

Save Our Small Businesses Initiative

Proposition H Adopted by Voters

Proposition H was adopted by the voters at this November’s election.  Titled, “Save Our Small Businesses Initiative”, the initiative ordinance gives existing businesses more flexibility in their operations and speeds approvals for new businesses in the City’s Neighborhood Commercial (“NC”) Zoning Districts.  The initiative reduces the approval requirement for many uses from a conditional use authorization from the Planning Commission to an over-the-counter administrative approval.  Restrictions on office uses are relaxed.  The initiative eliminates neighborhood notification for changes to a principally permitted use and provides existing businesses with greater flexibility to adapt their operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting retail landscape.  The initiative calls upon the City to streamline the approval for small businesses to 30 days.

In particular, the initiative provides as follows:

Neighborhood Notification

  • Eliminates neighborhood notification for new principally permitted uses in Neighborhood Commercial Districts, for Limited Commercial Uses, and for Limited Corner Commercial Uses. These change of use permits can now be approved over-the-counter.

Permitted Uses

  • In all NC Districts except for the Mission Street NC, 24th Street-Mission NC, and SOMA NC, more principally permitted and conditionally permitted uses are now allowed:
    • Non-Retail Sales and Services (e.g., office uses) are principally permitted on upper floors and permitted with a conditional use authorization on the ground floor.
    • General Entertainment, Movie Theaters, Community Facilities, Restaurants, Limited Restaurants, Animal Hospitals, and Retail Professional Services (e.g., realtors, accountants, insurance agents) are now principally permitted where currently permitted with a conditional use authorization, and conditionally permitted where currently not permitted. Restaurant controls were not changed in the North Beach Special Use District, where a conditional use authorization is required and any new restaurant may only occupy a space where the last use was a restaurant.
    • Arts Activities and Social Service or Philanthropic Facilities are now principally permitted on all floors.
    • Formula retail controls (conditional use authorization required) were not changed by the initiative.

Approval Process

  • Requires the creation of a streamlined review and inspection process for principally permitted storefront uses in NC Districts with a target approval in 30 days or less. The City is in the process of implementing these new procedures;
  • Requires that in cases of City error, permits to remedy that error be prioritized and have fees waived;
  • Establishes policy to allow restaurant table service within parklets in addition to the existing use of parklets by any member of the public; and
  • Locks-in the initiative’s provisions for 3 years from passage, except to further relax restrictions.

Processing ADU Applications Moves to Planning

In an effort to ease the administrative burden on DBI and hasten the approval of ADUs, the City has shifted the intake and processing of ADU applications from DBI to the Planning Department.  This includes new applications for ADUs and work related to ADU construction, such as expansions required for an ADU, excavations required for an ADU, new construction for a detached ADU, and interior remodel work to create independent access to the ADU.

Applications consist of the standard Planning Department Project Application, the ADU checklist form, the ADU screening form, a fixture count form for the PUC, and a pdf of the project plans.  Applications are submitted online at a new, easy-to-use website just for ADUs.  The application can be a full building permit or a site permit with addenda.

Once the application is submitted, Planning will send the applicant a confirmation email with the planning application number.  Planning’s Property Information Map (PIM) will provide updates about the application.  It will take one day for the record to appear in the PIM.  A planner will email the applicant about next steps within 14 business days.  The application still will be routed as before to other City agencies having jurisdiction over the proposed work for review, including DBI.

Once the permit is approved, Planning will coordinate with the applicant to verify their licensed contractor information and pay the fees.  Planning will email the job card to start construction.

For questions or assistance, email the Planning Department.



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

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.

San Francisco Expands ADUs and Electronic Permitting


State Law Changes to ADUs Incorporated into Planning Code

Early this year, state law changed to allow additional flexibility in adding Accessory Dwelling Units (“ADUs”) to existing and proposed housing. In May, some of those changes were incorporated into Planning Code Section 207. Additional changes to align the Planning Code with state law are expected soon.

The changes to the ADU program include an allowance for construction of ADUs in single family homes or detached auxiliary structures on the same lot. The Code changes allow for single-family “no waiver” ADUs under Section 207(c)(6), but limit expansion of the envelope of the single-family home or auxiliary structure for the ADU to 1,200 square-feet. State law also allows a Junior ADU (“JADU”) of no greater than 500 square-feet to be developed within the existing or proposed primary residence in addition to an ADU. Therefore, under the new state law, every lot can have at least three units. Single-family ADUs will require posted notice at the site, even if the ADU is built entirely within the envelope of an existing building.

“Waiver” ADUs for single family homes and ADUs in multifamily buildings are regulated by Section 207(c)(4). For lots that have four or fewer existing dwelling units or where the zoning would permit the construction of four or fewer dwelling units, one ADU is permitted. For lots that have more than four existing dwelling units or are undergoing seismic retrofitting, or where the zoning would permit the construction of more than four dwelling units, there is no limit on the number of total ADUs permitted, subject to restrictions for prior evictions. No minimum lot size is required for construction of an ADU.

Under Section 207, ADUs may be constructed in the buildable area of a lot, be converted from auxiliary structures, or be built within the envelope of an existing residential building. For auxiliary structures, dormers may be added even if the structure is within the required rear yard. The new state law also allows construction of a new detached unit, not otherwise subject to local development standards, if it is not more than 800 square feet, no more than 16 feet in height, and provides four-foot side and rear setbacks. In San Francisco, ADUs are not to be constructed from space within an existing dwelling unit, except that an ADU may expand into habitable space on the ground or basement floors if it does not exceed 25% of the gross square footage of the space. This limitation may be waived by the Zoning Administrator if waiver helps with the layout of the proposed ADU.

In an effort to incentivize creation of new units, ADUs of up to 750 square feet are now exempt from impact fees by state law. ADUs of 750 square feet or larger are only subject to impact fees proportional to the size relationship of the ADU to the primary dwelling. In addition, ADUs are not required to be sprinklered where the main unit is not required to be sprinklered.

Finally, state law now requires processing of ADU applications within 60 days. However, many property owners have experienced delay based on when the City deems a project application “complete.” The Planning Department continues to refine its procedures for ADUs, and we hope that property owners will encounter less red tape than they did in the past.

DBI (Department of Building Inspection) Implements Electronic Processing and Over-the-Counter Permits

COVID-19 has pushed DBI to implement its long-planned transition to electronic processing of permits. Electronic Plan Review (“EPR”) has a new online portal for building permit submittals that allows EPR through Bluebeam. For permits previously started in paper, DBI is evaluating the need to convert to EPR on a permit-by-permit basis. Conversion to EPR has resulted in delays as electronic submittals are processed, but should allow more efficient simultaneous review once permits move forward.

DBI has also restarted processing Over-the-Counter (“OTC”) permits. On June 24, DBI began offering OTC curbside services in coordination with its permitting agency partners (Public Works, Planning, Fire, and the Public Utilities Commission). Curbside services are offered from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, including the following:

• Drop-in service for OTC without plans for up to two permits is available for up to 30 people per day between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Starting at noon on Fridays, Eventbrite tickets are available for the following week’s slots.
• Previously submitted electronic OTC permits with plans are being processed by appointment between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., with appointments prioritized by length of time in the queue. Currently, DBI is processing permits submitted electronically between 6/1/2020 and 6/14/2020; new applications for OTC permits with plans are to be submitted electronically and added to the queue.
• Drop-in permit pick-up will be available throughout the day after DBI alerts a customer that a permit is ready. To use these OTC services, customers must arrive with forms complete and must wear face masks and stay six feet apart.

The following types of permits may be processed OTC:

Over-the-Counter without Plans

• Re-roofing
• Repair decks and stairs (less than 50%)
• Replacement windows (same size and same locations)
• Replacement garage doors
• Minor dry rot repairs
• Exterior siding repairs or replacement
• In-kind kitchen remodel (no changes to floor plan or walls)
• In-kind bathroom remodel (no changes to floor plan or walls)

Over-the-Counter with Plans

• Kitchen remodel (changing floor plans/walls)
• Bathroom remodel (changing floor plans/walls)
• Residential interior remodel (changing floor plans/walls)
• New windows and exterior doors
• Decks less than 10 feet above grade that meet Planning Code setbacks
• Sign permits
• Commercial tenant improvement projects
• Office or other B occupancy remodels
• Power door operators
• Permits to comply with the Accessible Business Entrance (“ABE”) program
• Voluntary seismic upgrades
• Disability access barrier removal
• Projects that do not require Planning Department neighborhood notification

Expect delays. DBI is currently processing permits submitted more than a month ago and will be closed to OTC permit processing for several days during the next few weeks while it moves its offices. Also, this is a pilot program that is subject to change as DBI continues to adapt to electronic filing and limited in-person services in the COVID-19 era. Check DBI’s website for the latest information about OTC processing.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Jody Knight.

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.

New California ADU Laws Aim to Remove Barriers and Boost Development

While campaigning for Governor, Gavin Newsom pledged to build 3.5 million new units by 2025 to combat California’s housing crisis. One way to meet this ambitious goal is through the construction of accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”). Since 2017, California lawmakers have passed several bills to streamline the ADU approval process. However, exorbitant fees and strict local requirements in some cities have continued to hinder the development of new ADUs. In response, Governor Newsom recently signed into law five bills that aim to further remove local barriers to ADU development, as well as to incentivize owners of both single-family and multi-family homes to add much-needed additional units to their properties.

AB 68 & AB 881 – Streamlining ADU Approvals

AB 68 and AB 881, introduced by Assemblymembers Philip Ting and Richard Bloom, were consolidated and enacted as one bill because the fundamental goal of the two bills was essentially the same—to streamline and improve the ADU process in order to facilitate the development and construction of ADUs. Effective January 1, 2020 these bills will:

  • Require permits for ADUs and junior ADUs added to existing single-family and multi-family homes to be ministerially approved or denied within 60 days, rather than the 120 days allotted by existing law;
  • Allow the approval of ADUs in proposed housing to be delayed until the new construction is approved, but the ADU permit must still be issued ministerially;
  • Allow cities and counties to establish minimum and maximum ADU size requirements, provided that the maximum floor area is not less than 850 square feet or 1,000 square feet if the ADU has more than one bedroom;
  • Prohibit any lot coverage, floor area ratio, open space, and minimum lot size requirements that would impact or deny ADU production; and
  • Prohibit municipalities from requiring that existing nonconforming zoning conditions be corrected as a condition for ADU permit approval.

Perhaps most importantly, subject to certain requirements, the consolidated bill will require ministerial approval for projects in residential and mixed-use zoning districts that propose to create the following:

  • One ADU (attached or detached) and one junior ADU on a lot with either an existing or proposed single-family home;
  • Multiple ADUs within an existing multi-family building; or
  • Up to two detached ADUs on a lot with an existing multi-family building.

Note that if a garage is converted or demolished to construct a new ADU, the off-street parking spaces do not have to be replaced. Furthermore municipalities will be prohibited from enforcing parking standards for ADUs located within ½ mile of public transit.

SB 13 – Owner Occupancy and Fees

Similar to the consolidated bill made up of AB 68 and AB 881, SB 13 prohibits the enforcement of parking standards for ADUs within ½ mile of public transit, requires ministerial approval of ADU permits within 60 days, and allows the construction of ADUs in garages and detached accessory structures. However, SB 13, introduced by Senator Bob Wieckowski, goes a step further by tackling two key issues: (1) the owner-occupancy requirement and (2) expensive fees.

First, as a condition of approval, local agencies can currently require that an applicant for an ADU permit occupy either the primary residence or the proposed ADU. Until January 1, 2025, SB 13 will exempt all ADUs from such owner-occupancy requirements.

Second, one of the biggest barriers to constructing ADUs in California are the fees associated with getting them approved and developed. To further incentivize owners to construct ADUs, SB 13 will implement a tiered fee structure based on the ADU’s size and location. Specifically, no impact fees can be imposed on ADUs smaller than 750 square feet, and any impact fees assessed for larger ADUs must be proportional to the square footage of the primary residence.

AB 670 & AB 671 – HOA and General Plans

Finally, AB 670 prevents homeowners’ associations from banning or unreasonably restricting the construction of ADUs on single-family residential lots. Meanwhile, AB 671 will require local General Plan housing elements to incentivize and promote the construction of affordable ADUs that can be rented to very low, low, and moderate-income households. The California Department of Housing and Community Development must also draft a list of “existing state grants and financial incentives” for ADU owners and developers by December 31, 2020.

Together, this package of ADU laws hope to ease local restrictions in order to incentivize the development of “affordable by design” ADUs. In the midst of California’s housing shortage, it remains to be seen what impacts these bills will have on ADU construction when they take effect next year.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tiffany Kats

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.