San Carlos Enacts Northeast Area Development Moratorium

moratorium

Pending Specific Plan Will Streamline CEQA Review of Future Life Science Projects

On April 25th, the City of San Carlos enacted a development moratorium covering approximately 120 acres of land in the north side of the City, and east of Old County Road (see map below).  San Carlos has seen significant life science and R&D development in recent years, and the northeast area is anticipated to see an expansion of those uses.  The moratorium is broad, applying to virtually all development applications other than tenant improvements and projects with complete, filed applications.  It is expected to be in effect for two years while the City prepares a Specific Plan that will guide future development, articulate the public benefits future projects will provide, and streamline CEQA review of projects consistent with the Specific Plan.

State law allows a City Council or County Board of Supervisors to enact a development moratorium of up to two years after it makes findings that approving projects would create an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare.  The moratorium is initially limited to 45 days but can be extended with another vote of the City Council or Board of Supervisors to a maximum of up to two years.  Both the vote to enact the moratorium and the vote to extend must be approved by a supermajority (i.e., 4/5ths) vote.

The San Carlos City Council found development in the northeast area would have health, safety, and welfare impacts unless the Specific Plan considered how it would affect the “supply of land and adequate sites suitable, feasible, and available for the development of housing.”  The findings anticipate that the Specific Plan will “develop policies and strategies to incorporate housing as a part of this new development.”

While not expected, it is possible the City Council will carve out additional projects when it considers whether to extend the moratorium.  Several project sponsors opposed the enactment of the moratorium at the meeting on April 25, urging the Council to exempt projects with applications pending even if those applications were not yet complete.  At least one Council member appeared sympathetic to those arguments during the May 25th meeting (as noted above, at least four of the five Council members would need to vote to extend the moratorium). Planning Department staff will hold a public meeting with stakeholders on May 11th to gather stakeholder input and that input will be shared with the Council.

Planning Department staff emphasized at the April 25th hearing that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) the City is preparing for the Specific Plan will help streamline the approval of future projects that are consistent with the Plan.  State law provides several CEQA streamlining tools for projects consistent with a specific plan analyzed with an EIR.  Development under Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) provides a good example of the advantages of this approach for both the City and the applicable project sponsors.  Projects consistent with the DTPP required little to no additional project-specific CEQA review, allowing them to move through the approval process in a fraction of the time normally required.  In an ideal world, this strategy allows over-stretched Planning Department staff to redirect their time from project-level CEQA review to other priorities, and project sponsors to significantly reduce the often inordinate time and cost associated with CEQA review of individual projects.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Matthew Visick.

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.

Cities’ Upcoming Need to Identify Housing Opportunity Sites

Housing

The next RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) cycle is quickly approaching, which means that all Bay Area cities will be taking a closer look at their Housing Elements and determining whether they have enough land zoned to accommodate more housing.

In June 2020, the California Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) provided the Bay Area its Regional Housing Needs Determination for the next RHNA cycle (2023-2031), identifying a need for 441,176 new housing units.  The overall figure is further categorized into very low (26%), low (15%), moderate (16%), and above moderate (43%) housing and income levels.  This figure represents a significant increase when compared to the prior RHNA cycle (2015-2023) when the Bay Area was allocated 187,990 units.  In the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (“ABAG”) is responsible for allocating the overall figure among cities and counties, and its Housing Methodology Committee spent much of 2020 in meetings to discuss and decide on different methodology options.  Regardless of which allocation methodology was going to be chosen, most Bay Area cities and counties are seeing a significant increase in their RHNA allocations.

ABAG’s Executive Board approved the Draft RHNA Methodology and Final RHNA Subregional Shares (“Draft Allocation”) for the Bay Area on January 21, 2021.  The Draft Allocation is subject to HCD approval on or before April 11, 2021, and thereafter an appeal opportunity by individual cities and counties during Summer/Fall 2021.  Historically, very few appeals by individual cities or counties have been successful, and thus most of the Draft Allocation figures are anticipated to be adopted as final allocations by late 2021.

Once the allocations have been finalized, individual cities and counties will need to amend their Housing Elements and identify sufficient number of vacant or underdeveloped sites that can accommodate the RHNA figure allocated to each city.  Many cities are currently starting the process by engaging consultants to work on their next Housing Element update.  The updated housing elements must be submitted to the State by each city and county no later than January 2023, and if applicable, cities and counties will thereafter need to rezone properties consistent with the updated Housing Elements and site identifications.

To understand the magnitude of the increases cities and counties are facing for the next RHNA cycle, it is helpful to look at some of the Draft Allocation figures.  The following represents a sampling of Bay Area cities, comparing their final 2015-2023 RHNA figure to those proposed in the Draft Allocation for the next, 2023-2031 cycle.  For a complete list of cities/counties, see the Draft Allocation.

City2015-2023 cycle2023-2031 cycle
San Francisco28,86982,069
Oakland14,76526,251
San Jose35,08062,200
Berkeley2,9598,934
Fremont5,45512,897
Concord3,4785,073
Lafayette4002,114
Walnut Creek2,2355,805
Novato4152,090
Tiburon78639
Daly City1,3504,838
Menlo Park6552,946
San Bruno1,1553,165
Cupertino1,0644,588
Los Gatos6191,993
Sunnyvale5,45211,966

Cities and counties are not required to build new housing, but they are required to plan for it and specifically plan for enough housing that satisfies their assigned RHNA figure.  Since most Bay Area cities and counties are subject to significant increases, local city councils and board of supervisors, along with their Planning Departments, will be taking a comprehensive look at zoning and development in their jurisdictions over the next year and a half.  This may also represent opportunities in the near-term for property owners of currently vacant or underutilized properties and/or those that lack the zoning necessary for residential development.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tuija Catalano.

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.

Central SoMa Clean Up Legislation Moves Forward

SoMa

Last week, the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of legislation that would “clean up” parts of the Administrative and Planning Code that were previously amended in connection with the Central SoMa Area Plan.

The Central SoMa Area Plan was the result of a multi-year planning effort which rezoned much of a 230-acre area adjacent to downtown and surrounding the future Central Subway extension along 4th Street, which is scheduled to begin operating in 2021.  The Plan is anticipated to generate nearly 16 million square feet of new housing and commercial space, and over $2 billion dollars in public benefits.

As described in the Planning Department’s staff report, this “clean up” legislation would correct “grammatical and syntactical errors, un-intentional cross-references and accidental additions and deletions,” associated with the original Plan legislation adopted in 2018.  However, there are also a few substantive amendments proposed, along with clean-up items that have the potential to affect pending and future development throughout the Plan area.

Among other things, the legislation would:

  • Require an operations and maintenance strategy for all required Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS) in the Plan area. This strategy would need to be approved by the Director of Planning prior to approval of a site or building permit for the associated project;
  • Provide that the Central SoMa PDR requirement applies to projects that increase a building’s square footage by 20% and result in 50,000 gsf of office space along with new construction projects that result in 50,000 gsf of office space;
  • Revise lot coverage requirements for residential uses in the Central SoMa SUD to reflect that all floor levels with residential space (including accessory residential spaces such as common rooms) would be limited to 80% lot coverage, except for floors whose only “residential” space is common lobbies and circulation. 100% lot coverage would be permitted at floors where residential units are located within 40 feet of a street-facing property line.  Further, projects with applications submitted on or prior to July 1, 2020 would be grandfathered from the proposed lot coverage amendments;
  • Clarify and correct which sides of narrow streets in Central SoMa are subject to solar plane setback and bulk reduction sky plane requirements;
  • Provide that buildings that are taller than would otherwise be allowed in a given height district are to follow the sky plane bulk reduction requirements of the height district that is most aligned with the height of the building;
  • Require that funds collected through the BMR in-lieu fee from Central SoMa projects be spent in the greater SoMa area;
  • Clarify that payment of an in-lieu fee for modifications or exceptions from open space requirements is only applicable where the exception or modification is granted to reduce the amount of open space provided, but not in cases where the exception is only related to design standards of the open space;
  • Provide that funds collected through the Central SoMa Community Facilities fee can be spent in the greater SoMa area, and not limited to the Central SoMa Special Use District;
  • Expand the types of infrastructure projects that can be funded through the Central SoMa Infrastructure Fee;
  • Allow project sponsors to meet part of their usable open space requirements off-site at a greater distance from the principal projects than initially proposed, particularly by enabling projects to build open space under and around the I-80 freeway within the Central SoMa Special Use District; and
  • Provide an exception allowing for certain retail to be provided in lieu of a portion of the PDR requirement in connection with development of a Key Site at the northeast corner of 5th and Brannan Streets.

An additional amendment was initially proposed that would have expanded application of certain development impact fees in Central SoMa.  However, that amendment was removed from the legislation at the request of the Commission.

This Central SoMa legislation will be introduced to the Board of Supervisors within the next few weeks.  It will then be held for 30 days before assignment to the Board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee for review and possible amendments, before it’s presented to the full Board for approval.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney 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.