This Week – Freshman Supervisors Leading the Way on Land Use Reform

New Supervisor Wiener To Set Public Hearing On Historic Preservation Process

Citing recent efforts by local preservationists to landmark the North Beach Library and to place an Article 10 designation on the entirety of Golden Gate Park, new Supervisor Scott Wiener called for a public hearing on the historic preservation process in San Francisco. As reported by the Chronicle, Wiener expressed to the Board “We…need to embrace historic preservation while also recognizing that historic preservation is not the only policy goal for our city.”

While historic preservation clearly has a place in a city with the size and rich history of San Francisco, historic preservation is increasingly being used by community activists and disgruntled neighbors as another tool to stop projects they simply don’t like. The attempted landmarking of the North Beach Library has been the starkest example of this trend to date. That building (considered by most to be a undistinguished, underutilized building) is proposed to be demolished to pave way for a new, state of the art library. Unfortunately for library supporters, the old building was subject to a months-long landmarking process that, if successful, would have effectively halted any new project at the site. The landmarking ordinance made it all the way to the Board of Supervisors, before being defeated by a 10-1 vote. Currently, the Historic Preservation Commission is considering a measure that would designate all of Golden Gate Park as a historic resource under Article 10 of the Planning Code. Such a designation would erect a substantial roadblock to new uses or improvements in the park.

Supervisor Wiener’s hearing will be held at the Land Use Committee at some future date. We will report back when the hearing is scheduled.

Independent Restaurants On Decline? Maybe Not In The Bay Area.

The International Council of Shopping Centers (citing data from the NPD Group) reports in their January 28, 2011 newsletter that nationwide the recession has hit independently owned restaurants hard. The overall number of restaurants in the U.S. dropped 1 percent in 2010, with a loss of 5,551 establishments. But independent restaurants drove the decline, dropping by 2 percent during the same period. The number of chain restaurants remained unchanged. Restaurant traffic has been off as well during this period, slipping 1 percent versus the comparable period the year before. But that was better than the year-over-year decline of 3 percent for the year ending in November 2009.

This may not be the case in San Francisco. Last May, Ayako Mie of the Mission Local wrote that the recession was actually spurring some restaurant innovation, especially in San Francisco’s Mission District where a number of new and interesting restaurant concepts were springing up. Check out his excellent article at Oakland has also been a hotbed of new restaurant openings despite the recession.

That said, restaurants, especially formula retail uses (i.e. chains), face a long and expensive permitting process in San Francisco. Virtually all formula retailers (restaurants, clothing shops, coffee shops, etc.) choosing to locate outside the city’s downtown core must seek a conditional use (CU) authorization. The CU requires a time consuming public meeting, application, and public hearing process that can take many months to complete. These requirements are triggered even if one restaurant is replacing another restaurant.

Independents and mom and pop shops may also trigger a difficult CU process because of other neighborhood-specific controls, or because of neighborhood opposition (Discretionary Review, or DR). At these hearings, neighbors or other retailers on the street may object simply because they don’t like the restaurant being proposed (recall the Ike’s sandwich shop battle last year). City regulations make the tough slog for new restaurants even tougher.

Is the City getting the message? Maybe. Also-freshman-Supervisor Mark Farrell introduced legislation this week that would lift the ban on restaurants in the Upper Fillmore district. If passed, the ordinance would allow new restaurants with a CU.

So far it looks like the new faces at the Board have indeed brought some new ideas.

Richard Johns Confirmed As New Historic Preservation Commissioner

Over the objections of some in the preservation community, and with a close vote, Richard Johns was confirmed as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. Members of the preservation community had objected to Mr. Johns due to their conclusion that he did not have the requisite experience required by the City Charter. By a 6 to 5 vote, with Supervisors Chu, Cohen, Elsbernd, Farrell, Kim and Wiener in favor, the Board confirmed Mr. Johns, who will be a sitting member of the Commission at its hearing next Wednesday.

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, 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.

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