California Passes New Law to Spur Housing


Last week the California Legislature passed SB-423, new law introduced by Senator Scott Weiner to spur statewide housing production.

SB-423 extends and expands SB-35 (Weiner, 2017), which allows streamlined, ministerial processing for housing developments in cities that haven’t met their Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) goals. Qualifying SB-35 projects must also meet certain criteria, including on-site affordability and labor requirements, and comply with local objective zoning standards.

SB-35 has been celebrated by housing development advocates statewide over the past six years for unlocking the potential to develop thousands of new homes. According to an August 2023 report issued by the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation, SB-35 spurred applications for construction of more than 18,000 new units in California between 2018 and 2021, 62% of which were 100% affordable.

SB-423 extends the original term of SB-35 by decade, to January 1, 2036.

It also makes a number of significant tweaks to SB-35, including:

  • Extending into the Coastal Zone. Previously, SB-35 did not apply to property within California’s Coastal Zone, which is a band of land that extends approximately 840 miles along California’s coast. SB-423 removes this exemption, allowing SB-35 to apply within the Coastal Zone beginning January 1, 2025, except for certain environmentally sensitive or hazardous locations, or areas not zoned for multifamily housing. Qualifying developments would still require a Coastal Zone Permit, but the public agency must approve it if they determine the development is consistent with objective zoning standards, which may be modified through state density bonus law.
  • Shortening San Francisco’s Reporting Period. SB-35 applies to cities that aren’t meeting their RHNA housing production goals either for low- or above-moderate income categories, which is typically determined by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) every four years. However, SB-423 singles-out the City of San Francisco, requiring analysis of its RHNA goal progress (and SB-35 eligibility under each income category) every year. As of the most recent assessment, San Francsico was meeting RHNA goals for above-moderate income housing, but not low-income housing. As a result, SB-35 projects in the City must currently provide 50% of units affordable to low-income households. However, if moving forward San Francisco falls below above-moderate income housing targets in an annual review period, projects could instead qualify for SB-35 by providing 10% of on-site units as affordable. Local Inclusionary Program requirements would still apply, but affordable units under SB-35 would count toward the local requirements.
  • Tying Application to Housing Element Compliance. SB-423 extends application of SB-35 to Cities that have failed to adopt a compliant housing element as determined by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”), even if they’re currently meeting RHNA goals.
  • Altering Affordability Requirements. SB-423 amends the affordability requirements for rental units in 10% jurisdictions, requiring such units to be affordable to households making 50% of the area median income, instead of the current 80%. The legislation also includes an alternate definition for “affordable rent” for developments that dedicate 100% of their units, exclusive of manager’s units, to lower income households.
  • Clarifying Interaction with Local Inclusionary Programs. It specifies that if a local BMR program requires units that are restricted as affordable to AMI tiers higher than those required by SB-35, the units meeting SB-35 thresholds will satisfy the local program requirements for higher-income units.
  • Amends Labor Standards. It requires projects over 85 feet in height, regardless of unit count, to utilize a skilled and trained workforce. Further, on projects with 50 or more units, contractors and subcontractors with construction craft employees must meet specified apprenticeship program and health care expenditure requirements.
  • Allowing the State to Approve Development on State Property. It authorizes the California Department of General Services, at its discretion, to act in the place of the local government, at its discretion, in order to approve SB-35 projects on property owned by or leased to the state.
  • Creating New Noticing Requirements. Requires local governments to hold a public meeting within 45 days of receiving a notice of intent to submit an SB-35 application for projects proposed in a census tract designated as a moderate- or low-resource area, or an area of high segregation and poverty.
  • Limiting the Scope of Local Review. Expressly states that cities cannot request studies, information or other materials that are not related to determining whether the development is consistent with the objective standards, nor can they require compliance with any standards necessary to receive a post-entitlement permit before the issuance of the project’s entitlement.

SB-423 is now on Governor Newsom’s desk along with a long list of other new bills passed just before the end of the legislative session. The Governor has until October 14th to sign or veto the bill. Unless vetoed, it will take effect on January 1, 2024.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Partner Melinda Sarjapur.

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.

HCD Cracks Down on S.F. Housing Practices; S.F. Real Estate Tax Appeal Deadline


Last month, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) announced that its Housing Accountability Unit (“HAU”) will conduct a first-ever Housing Policy and Practice Review of San Francisco, aimed at identifying and removing barriers to approval and construction of new housing in the City. According to the City’s self-reported data, it has the longest timelines in the state for advancing housing projects to construction, among the highest housing and construction costs, and the HAU has received more complaints about San Francisco than any other local jurisdiction in the state. U.S. Census data shows that Seattle – a city of comparable size – approves housing construction at more than three times the rate of San Francisco.

Over the next nine months and beyond, the HAU, in partnership with the U.C. Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development and others, will conduct a comprehensive analysis of San Francisco’s housing approval policies and practices. The review will examine discretionary decision-making patterns that lead to abnormally long housing delays. The review also intends to identify barriers to the approval and development of housing at all income levels, including housing that is affordable to lower- and moderate-income households.

Separately, in an August 8 letter to Planning Director Rich Hillis, HCD was both critical and encouraging of the City’s Draft Housing Element. California cities are required to update their General Plan Housing Elements by January 2023. HCD praised the City’s “bold and meaningful actions to both reduce barriers to higher-opportunity neighborhoods while simultaneously reinvesting in historically underserved neighborhoods.” Yet HCD also identified a number of revisions that would be necessary for the Housing Element to comply with state law.

In yet another letter on August 11, HCD asked the City to explain itself concerning a specific project approval, expressing concern that the City violated housing law. HCD was concerned with the City’s decision, in granting conditional approval, to downsize a 19-unit group housing project at 3832 18th Street in the Mission District. HCD expressed concern that the downsizing violated the State Density Bonus Law.

This project-specific letter follows HCD’s letter to the City last November expressing concern that the City’s denial of two large housing projects, at 450 O’Farrell Street and 469 Stevenson Street, may have violated state law. In those cases, the Planning Commission had approved the projects, but the Board of Supervisors denied them.

The aforementioned Housing Accountability Unit at HCD is part of an unprecedented new initiative to support the production of housing statewide. According to its website, “California’s housing crisis has reached historic proportions despite the passage of numerous laws intended to increase the supply of housing affordable to Californians at all income levels.” As part of the 2021-2022 state budget, HCD received additional staff to grow its accountability efforts and formed the HAU. The HAU holds jurisdictions accountable for meeting their housing element commitments and complying with state housing laws. One of its primary tools is technical assistance to the public and enforcement letters. More information on these powers is available at the HCD website.

San Francisco Real Estate Tax Appeal Deadline

The deadline for San Francisco property owners to appeal their property’s value for the 2022/2023 tax year is September 15, 2022.  Deadlines for other California counties vary.  Please contact Kevin Rose ( if you have questions about the tax appeal process.


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.

AB 2011 & SB 6: Pro-Growth or Slow Growth for Construction Workforce

SB 6

AB 2011, along with SB 6 (Cabellero, Eggman and Rubio), were passed by the California Legislature this week with large majorities in both houses. The two bills will create 10-year housing programs with similar aims: increasing housing production and increasing the skill level, wages, and number of residential construction workers. However, the bills differ in important ways—their approach to density, allowances for ministerial approvals, and the degree of deference to local zoning rules. They also take markedly different approaches to growing, training, and better compensating the residential construction workforce. The bills were the product of a political compromise between the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the Carpenters Union. They effectively set up an experiment to test the relative efficacy of the SB 6 labor rules favored by the State Building & Construction Trades Council—basically requiring union labor on any SB 6 project and the rules preferred by the Carpenters Union – requiring payment of prevailing wages and benefits to all workers on an AB 2011 project.

A good deal of attention has been given to improving the regulatory conditions for getting new housing approved, expanding access to sites, and requiring cities to upzone. However, less attention has been paid to the fact that—even if there were shovel-ready projects for the Governor’s declared goal of 3.5 million new homes over ten years—the current residential construction workforce could only build about a third of that number without significant increases in the number and productivity of workers, who currently build housing at a rate of one home per worker per year. By comparison, average productivity per worker was 1.4 units per year from 1990-2005. Put simply, the state cannot meet its housing targets without an increase in the number of workers and productivity.

However, attracting new workers has proven difficult. Median residential construction worker pay in California ranks 46th in the country when adjusted for the high cost of living. On average, residential construction workers income is 2/3 of their commercial counterparts and they get about 1/3 the amount of fringe benefits. Less than half have insurance through employers. This is a dramatic shift since the 1970s and 1980s, when average pay in both sectors was roughly equal.

AB 2011, which we discussed in greater detail last week, provides for time-limited ministerial approvals for properties on commercial corridors that meet certain criteria for affordable housing and overrides local zoning rules that conflict with its minimum standards for density and height. It also mandates payment of prevailing wage to all construction workers, or at least the prevailing apprentice wages for apprentices enrolled in state-approved apprentice programs. Family healthcare benefits are required for projects with qualified construction craft workers on projects with more than 50 units, while those without such workers can credit qualifying expenditures toward the prevailing wage requirements. Essentially, AB 2011 bets that rapid approvals under more liberal standards will entice employers to pay higher wages and create a strong, near-term incentive for developers to invest in apprenticeship programs to elevate worker productivity.

A final version of SB 6 has yet to be published, but takes a less aggressive approach than AB 2011 with lower minimum density requirements, greater deference to local zoning, and no mandatory ministerial approval process unless a project otherwise qualifies under SB 35. Thus, many SB 6 projects would be subject to lengthy CEQA reviews and modified discretionary approvals. It would require lower amounts of affordable housing subsidies by than AB 2011, but would effectively require the use of union labor if two qualified bids are received from union contractors. While SB 6 expands potential building sites, most projects would not realize the cost savings associated with quick ministerial approvals or the elimination of most entitlement/CEQA risk. Without these incentives in place, it may be years before the state sees its first SB 6 project, or additional demand for workers.

AB 2011 passed the Assembly 67-4 with 9 abstentions and the Senate 33-0 with 7 abstentions. While the 4 Noes in the Assembly were from rural and suburban districts leaning more conservative (3 Rs & 1 D), notably 7 of the 9 abstentions were from urban and suburban districts along the coast between Ventura and San Diego with a high number of Democratic representatives (6 Ds & 3 Rs). Conversely, SB 6 passed the Assembly 67-0 with 13 abstentions and the Senate 34-0 with 6 abstentions. Of the 4 Noes for AB 2011, 3 abstained in SB 6 and 1 voted yes (a democrat representative from District 29, encompassing Santa Cruz and the surrounding area). The Assembly abstentions followed a similar pattern as AB 2011, with those abstaining coming from both parties and primarily representing rural districts or coastal urban and suburban districts in Southern California. For both AB 2011 and SB 6, the Senate abstentions followed a similar geographic pattern as in the Assembly.

While union support was split between the two bills, with both construction and other unions on either side, pro-housing and business organizations tended to support both. Most affordable housing developers supported AB 2011 and opposed SB 6, presumably because the latter would tend to increase cost and time for approval without offsetting benefits. San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations, which frequently opposes market-rate development, was a notable outlier, supporting SB 6 and opposing AB 2011 in spite of its clear benefits to affordable housing developers.

Both bills still need to be signed by the governor and will not take effect until July 2023. Annual reports of projects approved under both bills are required from cities and the Department of Housing & Community Development is to provide two reports on the use of each during the ten year period prior to their sunset date.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Daniel Frattin and Daniel J. 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.

The Basics: Construction Logistics Agreements


Real estate developers often require agreements from neighboring property owners to coordinate logistical issues during construction. This is particularly true for infill projects in dense urban neighborhoods, where structures are frequently built to the property line and adjacent to existing buildings.  Developers are well-served by considering the logistical needs of their projects during the entitlement period, so that they may begin negotiations with adjacent property owners.  Doing so provides the opportunity to adjust their projects and/or budgets if it appears that obtaining necessary agreements may prove difficult or financially burdensome.

Several topics immediately come to mind when considering what kinds of agreements may be required from neighboring property owners:


Whenever a property owner intends to undertake excavation on its property, it is required to provide notice to neighboring property owners that states (a) the depth of the planned excavation, and (b) the date when excavation will begin.  When “excavation is to be of a greater depth than are the walls or foundations of any adjoining building or other structure, and is to be so close as to endanger the building or other structure in any way,” the adjacent property owner must be provided at least 30 days’ notice to protect its property from damage, and it must be given a reasonable license to enter onto the property where excavation will occur in order to do so.  Cal. Civ. Code § 832(3).

The tables turn, however, when the “excavation is intended to be or is deeper than the standard depth of foundations, which depth is defined to be a depth of nine feet below the adjacent curb level. . . .”  Cal. Civ. Code § 832(3).  In that case, the excavating owner has the burden to protect the adjacent structure(s) without cost to the adjacent property owner, provided that the adjacent owner provides a license for the excavating owner to do so.  If damage occurs to the adjacent building during the excavation, the excavating owner may be liable for such damage, except for minor settlement cracks.

When a project requires a deep excavation, the developer’s engineering team typically prepares a shoring plan.  Tiebacks are often used to support the shoring system, as an alternative to internal bracing.  When tiebacks will be placed under the land of an adjacent property owner, the developer must obtain the adjacent property owner’s agreement to the installation.  An agreement is also required if the tiebacks will remain in place after construction.

The form of the negotiated agreement – license or recorded easement – is largely determined by what will happen to the tiebacks after the completion of construction.  If title to the tiebacks will remain with the developer, a recorded easement will be required.  If such title will pass to the adjacent owner, a license agreement may be sufficient.  In either event, the developer should consider how removal of the tiebacks will be handled in the event that below-grade construction on the adjacent property later occurs.  If the tiebacks will be removed, the developer may want to retain control over the removal process, and have an opportunity to repair any damage to waterproofing or other building systems when removal occurs.  It is advisable to consider such issues when the tieback agreement is negotiated.

Pre-Construction Inspection

Given that a developer may be liable for damage caused to an adjacent structure during excavation, it should document the pre-construction condition of the interior and exterior of the building.  Developers should request the right to conduct such an inspection during initial negotiations with the adjacent property owner.  If there is a dispute later, the pre-construction survey provides the best evidence of the condition of the adjacent building before construction activities commenced.

Settlement Monitoring

We recommend that excavating developers monitor whether settlement is occurring on adjacent properties during the course of its excavation and other construction activities.  The developer should negotiate the right to establish survey measurements on the exterior elevation of neighboring buildings, and should periodically determine if settlement has occurred.  Consultation with experts will help determine what level of settlement is acceptable, and at what threshold work should stop so that the impact of any settlement may be evaluated.

Crane Installation and Operation

A mobile crane may be sufficient to facilitate the construction of smaller projects.  In those cases, developers should consider where the mobile crane will be placed and for what period(s) of time.  It may be necessary to negotiate with an adjacent property owner to allow the crane to be temporarily placed on the adjacent property.  Developers should be mindful that some jurisdictions require a neighbor agreement for issuance of a street space permit if the mobile crane will be placed in the adjacent right of way.

Most larger projects require the use of a tower crane.  Generally speaking, an agreement from a neighboring property owner is not required if a tower crane will merely weathervane over an adjacent property, and will not carry live loads over neighboring land.  However, when other negotiations are being undertaken, it is advisable to incorporate a crane swing agreement when a tower crane will be used.


When a developer’s construction will require the installation of ground-supported scaffolding over the boundary line with an adjacent property, it is necessary to secure consent from the adjacent property owner.  If cantilevered scaffolding will be installed as vertical construction progresses, or if a swing stage may be used during construction, it is recommended that an agreement be negotiated notwithstanding legal authorities concerning the use of airspace over adjacent land.


In circumstances where a new building will abut an adjacent building, the developer often wants to install flashing or other waterproofing between the buildings.  Where the installation will require access to the adjacent building or the flashing assembly will cross the boundary line between the properties, an agreement should be negotiated.  It is advisable for developers to conduct that negotiation during the pre-construction negotiations of other agreements, rather than undertaking such negotiations near the end of the construction process.

Developers should also consider post-installation maintenance when negotiating for the installation of flashing.  A complete agreement will outline whether one or both property owners has the obligation to maintain, repair and/or replace the flashing in the future, who will bear the associated costs, and what happens in the event that the flashing and/or one of the buildings is damaged by a casualty.

Post-Construction Maintenance

A project’s need for access to an adjacent property may not end when construction is complete.  That is particularly true with lot-line buildings, where it may be necessary to use a swing stage to clean and maintain the building’s exterior.  Developers should consider post-construction operational issues, and negotiate with adjacent owners about them during pre-construction negotiations.

Indemnity and Insurance

Risk allocation is a necessary part of any construction logistics agreement between adjacent property owners.  Developers should be mindful that the owner of the neighboring property will likely expect to be named as an additional insured under the developer’s liability insurance policies.  The express indemnity language in the agreement may control the scope of the insurance coverage that the neighbor receives.  One of the developer’s goals should be to avoid assuming uninsured liabilities.

When the relationship between the developer and the adjacent property owner will continue after the completion of construction – through a post-construction maintenance agreement, access agreement, or otherwise – consideration should be given to indemnity and insurance obligations, going forward.  In particular, the developer should consider whether and to what extent it may reduce the amount of liability insurance it carries after construction.  A high-limit Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) will likely be replaced with a Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy with lower limits, in keeping with the operation of a commercial building.  The agreement should account for such reduction in coverage.

Dispute Resolution

Developers may also wish to negotiate about how construction and other disputes with an adjacent property owner will be resolved.  Mediation followed by judicial reference – a hybrid between litigation and arbitration – may provide the best opportunity for parties to reach a compromise of issues between them, while avoiding the cost and other pitfalls of litigation.

Existing Conditions on Adjacent Property

When a developer negotiates for what it requires to construct its project, it should consider how the construction activities may impact the adjacent building.  If the adjacent property has lot-line windows that must be closed, for example, the developer may benefit from offering the adjacent property owner the opportunity to perform that work.  In some cases, the adjacent owner may appreciate site access to waterproof the exterior of its building (above-grade and/or below grade).  Goodwill may be gained by offering to provide such accommodation, as long as work on the project is not materially delayed.

Every project presents its own construction challenges and logistical needs.  We recommend that developers evaluate those challenges and needs early, so that there is sufficient time to negotiate any agreements with neighbors that may be necessary for the project to proceed.  Forward-thinking developers benefit from early negotiations because they have an occasion to build goodwill with their neighbors, make adjustments to their project as may be necessary to accommodate neighbor concerns, and work around challenges when negotiations fail.  They are also able to negotiate from a position of strength and negotiate an agreement that benefits their project as well as the owner of the adjacent property.



Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Corie A. Edwards.

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 Interim Density Controls for Residential-Commercial Districts

interim zoning controls

In January the Board of Supervisors passed interim zoning controls for parcels in RC, RM, and RTO (excluding RTO-M) zoning districts. The controls require Conditional Use Authorization (“CU”) for most new construction or alterations that do not maximize residential density. Sponsored by Supervisor Peskin, the interim zoning controls became effective on January 21st and are in place for 18 months, until July 2022. They apply to all projects—even ones currently under review by the Planning Commission—where a final site or building permit has not been issued (i.e., any project currently on file with the City).

The controls aim to disincentivize low-density projects, restrict the construction of large residences, and prevent the loss or conversion of rent-stabilized housing units.  The zoning districts cited allow for a higher density (i.e., more units at a smaller size), but often are developed with larger units that are more suitable to higher-income families (i.e., less units at larger sizes).

The controls apply to any (i) new construction of a residential building or (ii) a proposed alteration that would result in the expansion of the building. A CU from the Planning Commission will be required if the residential building does not maximize the principally permitted residential density while meeting minimum unit size requirements. The following minimum unit sizes must be used in density studies under the interim controls: 450 sf for 1-bedrooms, 700 sf for 2-bedrooms, 900 sf for 3-bedrooms, and 1,100 sf for 4-bedroom units.

There are exceptions to the Conditional Use requirement where site constraints prevent a project from maximizing density or for certain minor expansions. To fall under the site constraints exception, a project must meet the following criteria:

  1. Existing lot conditions or form-based restrictions on development (e.g., height, bulk, rear yard requirements) prevent a project from maximizing density without seeking a variance or subdividing units (while adhering to the minimum unit sizes in the Planning Code);
  2. The proposed project increases density on a subject lot; and
  3. No unit is greater than 2,000 square feet in size.

Expansions of existing residential buildings are permitted without a CU if the proposed expansion is 25% or less of the existing residential building and:

  1. Does not increase the size of any units that is already larger than 2,000 square feet in size;
  2. Does not create a new unit larger than 2,000 square feet, or
  3. Cause an existing unit less than 2,000 square feet in size to exceed 2,000 square feet.

It is unclear how many projects the interim zoning controls will impact, or whether it will result in changes to proposed development. Until the Planning Department or Planning Commission adopt clear guidelines for implementing the controls, including standards for density studies, the impact of the interim zoning controls remains uncertain. Reuben, Junius & Rose LLP will continue to monitor the implementation of the interim controls.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tara Sullivan.

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.

Task Force Recommends Fee and Permit Changes

Task Force

There are few cities that have not been negatively impacted by COVID-19.  Since March, San Francisco and the surrounding cities have been largely shut down, with businesses opening in a staggered manner based on infection and death rates.  Nonessential office workers remain at home.  Seven months into this “new normal”, a number of studies and reports have been issued, analyzing the impact the virus has had on the local economy.  Without a doubt, San Francisco appears to have been hit particularly hard, as more and more companies are allowing employees to work remotely, many through July 2021.  The result is an empty business district and what appears to be an exodus of residents from the City.  The lack of office employees working and residing in the City has had a drastic effect on the economy.  A few key statistics:[1]

  • 1% office vacancy rate in Q3
  • 43% decline in sales tax receipts from April to June as compared to 2019
  • 65% decrease in sales at restaurants and bars and consumer goods stores
  • 50%+ storefronts are not operating as of August 2020
  • 1% increase in online sales tax receipts

Recognizing that the City was facing a looming financial crisis, Mayor Breed and Board President Yee convened a task force – the Economic Recovery Task Force – in the spring to advise the City and provide recommendations to support the recovery efforts from COVID-19.  Consisting of over 100 members, the Task Force received 1000 surveys and conducted an additional 900 interviews with residents and business owners in San Francisco.  The Task Force issued its final report on October 8th, listing 41 recommendations ranging from economic stimulus to safe reopening guidelines.

Several of the recommendations focus on the real estate and construction industry.  Construction is a revenue-generator for San Francisco: in addition to bringing in permit and impact fees, statistics show that each $1 million spending in construction translates into approximately 5.93 jobs.  While a recession often leads to a significant slowdown in construction, San Francisco has not seen the resulting stoppage, largely due to projects that were already underway.  However, falling rents and sales prices, high construction costs, and broad economic uncertainty have resulted in developers unable to secure financing for their projects and a slowdown in development projects breaking ground.

The Task Force makes the following recommendations relating to development in San Francisco:

  1. Focus on the major development projects and public infrastructure investments

The Task Force recognizes that there are already many projects that could boost construction – ones that have already received approvals and/or been identified by the City.  The City recently underwent a major rezoning in Central SoMa, with several large projects approved.  In addition, there are several significant long-term projects underway on SF Port property.  Further, the City’s last 10-year Capital plan allocated $39 billion in investments from 2020-2029.

The Task Force calls for the City to continue focusing on its major developments, such as the Shipyard, Mission Rock, Pier 70, Treasure Island, and Central SoMa, as these projects bring with them thousands of jobs and support for local business.  They also call for an update to the City’s Capital plan, focusing on projects that promote good state of repair for its buildings, right-of-way, public spaces, and other infrastructure assets.  If these projects can begin (or continue) construction within the next year, then it would provide needed jobs for the construction industry while developing spaces for the eventual reopening of the City.

  1. “Redesign” the building permit processes and consider an application fee “holiday” or reduction to incentivize permits

The Task Force calls for the overhaul of the City’s permit processes – not a new idea but one that has gained traction over the past months.  The Task Force calls out DBI, Fire Department, SFPUC, and Planning, as agencies that should implement programmatic and regulatory changes to redesign the permitting process, increase transparency, make the permitting process as easy and affordable as possible, and to remove permitting and process requirements not directly related to health and safety.

The Task Force also calls for an application fee “holiday” – a temporary reduction or elimination of fees – that would incentivize owners (both business and residential) and developers to pull permits and undertake construction projects.

  1. Allow for the deferral of Development Impact Fees

Development Impact Fees are imposed on certain projects that will cause an increase in demand of public services, infrastructure, and housing.  Impact fees are imposed at project approval and collected at the issuance of the first construction document, often several years before a development receives its certificate of occupancy.  The City has implemented fee deferral programs before, most notably in 2010-2013 during the Great Recession, as well as 2019’s fee waiver for 100% affordable housing projects and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

The Task Force recommends that the Planning Department develop another fee deferral program for a limited time that would allow developers to defer paying impact fees until each project receives the first certificate of occupancy, at the end of construction, rather than at issuance of first construction document.  This would help developers secure financing on projects that would likely not be able to break ground and pay impact fees otherwise.

These three recommendations are a few of the 41 that address the financial impacts of COVID-19.  Any application fee reductions, impact fee deferrals, or other fee “holidays” will require legislation by the Board of Supervisors.  Application fees are imposed for the reasonable regulatory costs to a local government for issuing licenses and permits, performing investigations, inspections and audits, and the administrative enforcement and adjudication.  Simply put, the application fees charged go back into the City’s General Fund and are used to maintain City services and agency functions and for employee salaries.  According to the 2020-2021 City Budget, Planning experienced a decrease in application and permit volume of 10% – numbers that have likely increased due to COVID-19.  Reduction in applications results in a budget shortfall, impacting the City’s ability to review projects and permits.  Impact fees are used to create new affordable housing, build infrastructure projects such as parks, bike lanes, and street improvements, and fund new childcare facilities, to name a few areas where the fees are allocated.  These fees are integral to the City’s major improvement projects outlined in the first recommendation above.  The Board of Supervisors will have to balance these concerns when considering whether and how to implement the Task Force’s recommendations.

It is unclear at the date of this writing whether the Mayor’s Office or Board of Supervisors will seek legislation to reduce, eliminate, or defer application and impact fees.  Reuben, Junius, & Rose, LLP will continue to monitor these recommendations.

[1] Recovery Task Force Report, October 2020, City and County of San Francisco/OneSF, pgs. 16 – 19.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tara Sullivan.

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.

Streamlining Construction Permits

Meeting the needs of commercial projects after entitlement can be difficult when City agencies are tasked with solving a housing crisis. The Small Business Permit Streamlining Ordinance seeks to update several areas of code that affect various agency processes and may contribute to an elegant solution for commercial property owners exploring options with tenants for shared space.

The ordinance proposes to align regulation of restaurant enclosures for outdoor food service and restroom requirements with state standards; amend the Planning Code to clarify that a Type 23 liquor license may be used in conjunction with a Bar or Restaurant use;  amend the definition of a Bar to provide for consistent treatment of Type 64 liquor licenses; to reduce the distance measured for Retail Sales and Services uses in Neighborhood Commercial zoning districts to any neighborhood commercial district; to reduce the distance measured for nonconforming uses in RH (Residential, House), RM (Residential, Mixed), and RTO (Residential, Transit-Oriented) districts to any neighborhood commercial district; and importantly, to allow Limited Restaurant use as an Accessory Use which would enable more flex use spaces in neighborhoods who want to encourage and maximize a thriving local scene. For more information on this, read the legislation here:  File No. 181211.

These are times that keep the City focused on a healthy socio-economic future requiring balance between housing and the associated commercial infrastructure needed to sustain the inhabitants, pursue cultural growth and allow neighborhood flavor to emerge in partnership with neighborhood community groups questing to influence use of their local spaces.

Commercial property owners may also be interested in following the crafting of recently proposed legislation which would amend the Building Code to require the assessment of a fee within the first 30 days of vacancy for any storefront that is not tenanted regardless of whether it is offered for rent or lease; and require annual safety inspections within sixty days of the annual registration renewal and the issuance of a Notice of Violation with a penalty of four times the registration fee for failure to register within thirty days. If passed without reform, this legislation has the potential to over-burden the property owner and require them to navigate substantively bureaucratic code enforcement issues especially if their potential tenants meet with delay working through after entitlement permitting for their tenant improvements. For more information on this, read the legislation here: File No. 181213.

The Small Business Permit Streamlining Ordinance may offer some relief, but it does not provide additional staff to assist with the increased review times for commercial projects due to ADU and housing being given priority. In a City that lacks housing, prioritizing these projects without increasing staff or allocating paid overtime for in-house review can critically impact commercial alteration projects and contribute to costly and seemingly ever moving targets for start of construction.

San Francisco entitlement and permitting processes offer unique challenges to estimating project timelines. Stakeholders need to more carefully assess what to include in the initial permit set being supplied for Planning review when construction timelines, which are dependent on the after entitlement issuance of building permits, are a factor. The Planning Department can review an architectural set – best known as a “Site” permit set for entitlement; however that same permit set does not and cannot be converted to a “Full” building permit set automatically after planning review.  Filing with a design plan as a Site permit locks the project sponsor into a two-phase review process and may contribute to a property owner realizing excessive, financial impact, if the afore-mentioned vacant storefront legislation does not include a provision giving deferral for fees, enforcement and penalties while a tenant improvement is under permit review. The Land Use Committee should be encouraged to expand the vacant storefront legislation to include alternative paths for property owners who can demonstrate that a potential tenant is in process of entitlement and subsequent permitting.

While projects requiring more than an hour of review, do not qualify for over the counter processing at the building department, in house review of a full permit can cut permitting time in half and is one way design professionals and property owners can help guide a prospective tenant toward a more rapid occupancy of their buildings.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP  Permit Consulting Manager Gillian Allen

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.