Berkeley Adopts New Zoning Ordinance

Code

On December 1, 2021, the City of Berkeley adopted a new Zoning Ordinance (Title 23 of the Berkeley Municipal Code), the first major revision of the City’s Zoning Ordinance since 1999. The revision process originated from a 2016 City Council referral which asked the Planning Department to undertake structural revisions to the Zoning Ordinance. As with many zoning codes, Berkeley’s Zoning Ordinance was needlessly long and repetitive, had inconsistent formatting and definitions, and outdated policies and practices. Each of the 25 zoning districts in the city had its own land use table that listed permitted uses and permit requirements, resulting in different lists of uses and disparate treatment of similar uses across zoning districts. There were no area/geographic maps and there were few figures to illustrate concepts and regulations. This led to inaccurate interpretations, inconsistent applications, and anger towards city planners. It was not a “user-friendly” zoning code.

Berkeley undertook a two-phase approach to its Zoning Ordinance: this first update – Phase 1 – improves the formatting, language, and organization of the current code. It is easier to read, understand and administer.  Phase 2 will undertake substantive changes to zoning regulations and processes.

The new Zoning Ordinance provides the following improvements:

  • New format and Writing Style. The entire ordinance was re-formatted, with new numbering and titles. A new style guide was created, laying out specific word choices (ex: “addition” should be called “expansion”; a “lot” is now called a “parcel”), grammatical and spelling rules, and establishes Plain English Guidelines as the new writing style.
  • Consolidated Land Use Tables. Former chapters and sections were combined. There are now three Land Use Tables – Residential, Commercial, and Industrial, consolidating all 25 districts. For example, all 10 commercial districts are under a single chapter. This will help remove inconsistencies in application and allow easy comparison among districts.
  • New Maps and Figures. The old ordinance relied on narrative descriptions of geographic areas and subzones. There were few illustrations. The new Zoning Ordinance has maps of each area, eliminating long narrative descriptions, and includes updated figures and diagrams to illustrate items such as Floor Area Ratio and measurement methods.
  • Eliminates Repetitive Language. In addition to eliminating repetitive land use controls, administrative procedures have been consolidated. This removed discrepancies and technical errors due to punctuation or word choice.
  • Introduces a List of “Consent Changes”. Minor but non-substantive changes were included in this update. Clarification of ambiguous terms, updated legal requirements, and codification of existing interpretations and practice were made, resulting in a clearer more comprehensive document.

The new Zoning Ordinance took effect on December 1, 2021. Pending projects that have been deemed complete or received Zoning approval on or before November 30th will be reviewed using the “legacy” Zoning Ordinance. Pending projects or those that were deemed incomplete as of December 1st will be reviewed under the new Zoning Ordinance.

Berkeley is currently working on updates to their Housing Element and developing Objective Design Standards, both of which were identified as needing updating during the Phase 1 analysis. These efforts are ongoing.  RJR will continue to track these efforts and provide updates.

 

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.

Building Department and ADU Update

ADU

The Code Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (“Building Department”) held a discussion with the public and with Building Department officials on December 8, 2021 to discuss concerns about the impact of suspending Information Sheet EG-02, which allowed a local equivalency for Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings (EEROs), opening into a yard with a minimum 25-foot depth. While the conversation did not result in an immediate solution, and the Building Department is unable to reinstate the equivalency because it is in direct violation of the building and fire codes, the Building Department stated their priority is to keep working with projects to try and find an alternate design. A recommendation was made that the Building Department work to create a task force to address this issue.

Ordinance 208-21: Additional Required Noticing for ADUs Now In Effect

On December 12, 2021, Ordinance No. 208-21, amending the Planning Code to clarify the requirements for applications to construct Accessory Dwelling Units (“ADU”) under the City’s local Accessory Dwelling Unit approval process, went into effect.

This Ordinance is intended, in part, to clarify the existing rules in the Rent Ordinance as to housing services. The term housing services refers to services provided by the landlord connected with the use or occupancy of a rental unit, including, but not limited to, access to areas such as garages, driveways, storage spaces, laundry rooms, decks, patios, gardens on the same lot, and kitchen facilities or lobbies in single room occupancy (SRO) hotels. This Ordinance clarifies that landlords may not sever, remove, or reduce housing services without just Notification.

Prior to submitting an ADU application, an owner must file a declaration with the Rent Board demonstrating the project will comply with the requirements of the Rent Control & Eviction Ordinance.

The declaration is to include: (1) a description of housing services supplied in connection with the use or occupancy of any units on the property that are located in the area of the property or building where the ADU would be constructed; (2) whether construction of the ADU would result in the severance, substantial reduction, or removal of any such housing services; and (3) whether any just causes for eviction would apply.

An owner must also mail or deliver notice to each unit (including unauthorized units) at the subject property at least 15 calendar days prior to submitting the application. The property owner shall submit proof of these notices to the Planning Department as part of the application to construct an ADU. These notices shall have a format and content determined by the Zoning Administrator, and shall generally describe the project, including the number and location of the proposed ADU(s), and shall include a copy of the written declaration required.

Tenants may contest the information in the declaration by petition to the Rent Board within 30 days after notice. The Rent Board will make determination and send to Planning within 90 days of receipt of petition.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Manager, Post Entitlement Division 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.

Mayor Proposes Increased Density on Auto-Focused Lots

Auto

Mayor London Breed’s “Cars to Casas” ordinance, introduced on October 19, 2021, would eliminate the Conditional Use requirement for the conversion of an Automotive Service Station and would create a new residential density exception for housing projects on sites previously used for auto-oriented uses.

The ordinance cites a wide-reaching set of policy goals: “missing middle” housing production, cutting auto emissions, and traffic safety consistent with the City’s Vision Zero policy. By encouraging the elimination of auto-oriented uses and reducing the amount of property in the city dedicated to cars, the ordinance seeks to decrease auto travel. And in increasing density and streamlining the approval process for eligible residential projects, the legislation hopes to chip away at the housing crisis and incentivize the construction of new apartment buildings—with a focus on small and medium sized projects with at least four units.

For starters, the legislation eliminates the Conditional Use Authorization requirement to convert an existing Automotive Service Station to some other use. This change applies regardless of whether the Auto Service Station would be converted to residential use or to some other non-residential use.

The ordinance zeros in on properties currently used for “Auto-Oriented Uses,” defined as those parcels with an accessory parking lot or garage, or any use defined as an Automotive Use. Planning Code Section 102 defines Automotive Use as follows:

“A Commercial Use category that includes Automotive Repair, Ambulance Services, Automobile Sale or Rental, Automotive Service Station, Automotive Wash, Gas Station, Parcel Delivery Service, Private Parking Garage, Private Parking Lot, Public Parking Garage, Public Parking Lot, Vehicle Storage Garage, Vehicle Storage Lot, and Motor Vehicle Tow Service.”

The legislation would not change this definition.

The Mayor’s proposed density exceptions would apply to all sites with an Auto-Oriented Use where residential use is permitted, except that sites with an existing residential use and those that have had a Legacy Business at any point during the 10 years prior to application submittal would not be eligible. As of today, the Legacy Business Registry lists seven automotive/motorcycle businesses as Legacy Businesses.

On eligible sites, the legislation would principally permit up to four dwelling units per lot within RH zoning districts. In other zoning districts, the legislation would eliminate dwelling unit maximums and would instead regulate the size of residential projects based on the applicable form-based controls (i.e., height, bulk, setbacks, exposure, and open space).

The legislation also proposes to limit the parking maximums that would apply to residential projects approved under the new density exception. Up to 0.25 spaces per unit would be principally permitted and up to 0.5 spaces per unit would be allowed with Conditional Use Authorization. Parking in excess of 0.5 spaces per unit and parking for non-residential components of projects utilizing the new density exception would be prohibited. Permitted parking varies by zoning district, but in most cases, the parking maximums proposed by the legislation represent a decrease from what is currently allowed.

So as to balance the current demand for new housing against the need to retain some of the city’s existing Auto-Oriented Uses—and likely in an effort to temper potential opposition—the legislation includes a sunset provision: once the Planning Department has approved a total of 5,000 units pursuant to the proposed density exception, the exception will expire.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Chloe Angelis.

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.

A Handful of San Francisco Planning Updates

Planning

Final Passage of UMU Office Legislation

Back in February, we covered Supervisor Ronen’s proposal to substantially limit office uses within Urban Mixed Use (“UMU”) districts. You can revisit our prior update here. As originally introduced, the legislation would have prohibited office use on the upper floors throughout the UMU district (where currently permitted), and would have maintained exceptions for qualifying landmark buildings. The first version of the legislation also proposed allowing limited professional service, financial service, and medical service uses that serve the general public at the ground floor, but only with approval of a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Commission.

The Board of Supervisors finally passed that legislation on August 11, 2020 with a major substantive change—limiting the prohibition of general office use to the Mission Area Plan portion of the UMU district.

As approved, the legislation provides that in the Mission Area Plan portion of the UMU district, general office uses not in a landmark building are prohibited outright. Professional service, financial service, and medical service uses are prohibited above the ground floor, but are permitted on the ground floor with a conditional use authorization if primarily open to the general public on a client-oriented basis.

Office uses within the UMU district that are not within the Mission Area Plan remain subject to the vertical controls that apply currently. And outside the Mission Area Plan, professional service, financial service, and medical service uses are permitted on the ground floor if primarily open to the general public on a client-oriented basis, and are permitted on upper floors subject to vertical controls.

The final legislation can be reviewed here.

Conditional Use Streamlining Ordinance

In other San Francisco legislative news, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance on Tuesday in an effort to streamline the Conditional Use process for certain types of commercial uses. At that hearing, Supervisor Peskin also requested that the file be duplicated and sent back to committee to allow an opportunity for community groups to weigh in on the changes.

Under the new ordinance, applications that are eligible for streamlining are entitled to a Planning Commission hearing within 90 days from the date the Planning Department deems the application complete and such projects would be calendared for approval via the Planning Commission’s consent calendar. Projects eligible for the program would also be eligible for a reduced application fee—at a rate of 50% of the otherwise applicable fee.

The Planning Commission is entitled to a one-time extension of the 90-day hearing deadline. An extension cannot be for more than 60 days and can only be issued for one of the following three reasons:

  1. The Planning Director or the Director’s designee requests in writing that the item be removed from the Commission’s consent calendar;
  2. Any member of the Planning Commission requests that the item be removed from the Commission’s consent calendar; or
  3. Any neighborhood organization (included on a Planning Department neighborhood organizations list) submits a letter of opposition or written request that the item be removed from the Commission’s consent calendar.

In order to qualify for the streamlining program, a project must comply with the following criteria: 1) propose non-residential use only; 2) be limited to interior or store-front work; 3) not involve a formula retail use; 4) not involve the removal of any dwelling units; 5) not propose the consolidation of multiple storefronts; 6) not seek additional off-street parking, or the expansion or intensification of hours of use, beyond those principally permitted; 7) not involve the sale of alcoholic beverages except for beer or wine sold in conjunction with a Bona Fide Eating Place; and 8) not seek to establish or expand an adult entertainment use, bar, drive-up facility, fringe financial service, medical cannabis dispensary, nighttime entertainment, non-retail sales and service closed to the public, a tobacco paraphernalia establishment, or a wireless communication facility. Projects within the Calle 24 Special Use District would also not be eligible for the streamlining program.

New Application Fee Schedule

On August 31, the Planning Department’s application fee schedule for 2020-2021 will go into effect. Application fees are adjusted annually based on the consumer price index. The 2020-2021 fee schedule preview is available here.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Chloe Angelis.

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.