This Week In San Francisco Land Use

Grandfathering Deadline Quickly Approaching For Eastern Neighborhood Projects

While it seems like just yesterday the Board of Supervisors approved the Eastern Neighborhoods plan, rezoning a large swath of San Francisco, the deadline for projects that were “grandfathered” by the plan to obtain Planning approval is rapidly approaching.

The EN Plan placed new zoning restrictions, a new impact fee, and heightened affordable housing requirements on projects within the plan area. Projects for which a planning application had been submitted prior to April 17, 2008 are exempted from certain requirements of the plan, depending on how early the application was submitted. The Planning Department has compiled an easy-to-read guide to determine the exemptions for a particular project, located at “”.

Unfortunately, the grandfathering doesn’t last forever. The Zoning Administrator issued an interpretation last May, requiring grandfathered projects to obtain Planning Commission or Department approval by January 19, 2011. For projects that require Planning Commission or Zoning Administrator approval, such approval must be obtained by this date. For projects only requiring a building permit, the building permit must be signed off by Planning staff by this date (Section 311/312 notice must occur before then as well). If approval is not obtained before this date, the grandfathered status is lost, and all current zoning regulations, increased affordable housing requirements and the EN impact fee will apply.

Once Planning Commission or Department approval is obtained, building permits must be obtained for the project within three years of the approval.

Due to the length of time to obtain entitlements in San Francisco, we recommend all project sponsors of grandfathered projects that wish to take advantage of that status to pursue entitlements now. For more information, contact John Kevlin at

Discretionary Review (DR) Reform Bites the Dust

After coming close to reaching a compromise, the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development Committee effectively killed discretionary review reform at its March 8 hearing. The Committee tabled the reform legislation with no expectation of calling another hearing in the near future.

The Committee’s action ended the most recent attempt to fix the discretionary review system. The DR process originally was a check on “exceptional and extraordinary” projects in residential neighborhoods, but today there is widespread abuse of the process that allows individuals to demand a Planning Commission hearing for any project, regardless of the merits of the DR claim. The Planning Department has spent the past two years reaching out to neighborhood groups, crafting the legislation, and shepherding it through the legislative process.

One of the major challenges with pushing DR reform is that there is no organized constituency to push in favor of it. While anti-reform neighborhood activists and community groups turned out in full force to oppose the changes, only a smattering of architects and other land use professionals turned out to fight for past and future small property owners who have or will be caught up in this byzantine process. Even with the full, well-researched support of the Planning Department and the Planning Commission, the Land Use Committee was unwilling to act.

For now, DR Reform is dead.

Earthquake Retrofits Incentivized by New Ordinance

Yesterday, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance intended to spur voluntary retrofits of soft-story, wood-frame buildings by their owners. The ordinance, sponsored by the Mayor and Supervisor Campos, would not require owners to retrofit their buildings.

The incentives for voluntary seismic retrofits of soft-story, wood-frame buildings include waived fees for the following services:

o Planning Department permit review
o Department of Building Inspection permit review
o Fire Department permit review
o Department of Public Works minor sidewalk encroachment permits

…and also makes it a City policy that agencies expedite permits for these retrofits.

The City Controller has estimated that, on average, the waived fees will consist of $591 for a single family home and $1,961 for a multi-family home – a reduction of only 2.7% of the total cost of an average retrofit. Unsurprisingly, the Controller has concluded that this legislation will not significantly increase the number of voluntary retrofits in the city. Stay tuned, however, as Mayor Newsom has reiterated as recently as last month his determination to make seismic retrofits mandatory in the city.

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