This Week In Land Use – Feb. 16, 2012

Cindy Wu Confirmed as Newest Member of Planning Commission

After having been nominated by Mayor Lee to fill the seat on the Planning Commission vacated by Christina Olague, Cindy Wu was confirmed to the position at last weeks Board of Supervisor’s meeting and joins the Commission today.

Wu’s credentials are impressive: she holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Berkeley and a master’s degree in city planning from MIT. She works for the Chinatown Community Development Center, and has recently been involved with the Central Subway project. Wu’s background suggests support for job growth and development in the city.

This could be a year of change at the Planning Commission: Commissioner’s Ron Miguel and Mike Antonini’s terms expire on July 1. We will be watching closely to see if and how the Commission will change in the near future.

Status of CEQA Air Quality Thresholds in San Francisco in Flux

Many of you may have already heard that last month, an Alameda Superior Court judge threw out the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (“BAAQMD”) recently-adopted air quality thresholds, which are used by local governments to determine whether a project needs heightened environmental review for effects on air quality. The thresholds have been decried by industry and environmental groups alike, citing the strict thresholds create more cost and time for urban infill projects that are designed to place workers closer to jobs and thereby reduce automobile trips.

As an example of the effect this is having on projects, our office is processing environmental review for a 4-story, 12-unit residential building with two parking spaces. Under the new thresholds, it is required to undergo an additional 6 months of air quality analysis, at of cost of over $10,000. Clearly, these thresholds will not be encouraging in-fill development – otherwise known as “smart growth.”

The California Building Industry Association brought the suit challenging the thresholds. In throwing out the new thresholds, the court held that BAAQMD failed to conduct necessary environmental review under CEQA.

For now, the San Francisco Planning Department has decided to continue using the air quality thresholds until the case is resolved and new thresholds are established. This is not good news for projects in the short term. Any new thresholds will likely have to undergo environmental review, thereby extending the time it will take for new ones to be established.

New Regulations Being Considered to Improve Accessibility at Public Accommodations

An ordinance is making its way through the legislative process that would place new requirements on certain commercial landlords who lease space to restaurants, bars, retail establishments, professional services or other businesses open to the public. If enacted, the ordinance would require a commercial landlord leasing 5,000 square feet of space or less to these types of tenants to remove certain architectural barriers to disability access. The landlord would also be required to include in the lease with the tenant the obligations each would have towards providing such accessibility upgrades.

The legislation has likely been introduced in response to a rash of lawsuits filed against small businesses in San Francisco claiming failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act – notably, long-time favorite spot Video Café in the Richmond was forced to close a year ago after 25 years in business. The legislation could help protect future businesses from being hit with these lawsuits, but landlords and businesses should certainly be aware that they will now be required to take care of these issues before the doors open to the public.

The ordinance received the Planning Commission’s recommendation in December. We will keep you posted on future developments of the legislation.


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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