This Week In San Francisco Land Use February 18, 2010

Budget Woes Trickle Down to Planning Department

Plugging the city’s $575 million budget deficit in 2009 was painful enough. Late last year, the Mayor’s budget director announced that the 2010 budget deficit would be $522 million. And the city can’t expect another $60 million in federal stimulus dollars this year.

The city’s budget woes have now made their way to the Planning Department, which has been presenting proposed budgets to the Planning Commission over the past few weeks to figure out how to fill a current $4.7 million department budget deficit. The Department is facing an expected 30 percent reduction in General Fund revenues from the city. Today the Department presents it final recommendations to the Planning Commission.

While the Department’s proposals project confidence in dealing with the deficit, many assumptions are made to help fill the hole, including an increase in the volume of applications filed (2.5%), in the amount of costs recovered through general advertising sign enforcement ($423,608), and in fees collected due to the economic recovery (2.5%). The Department cites as a mixed-blessing the recent increase in code compliance through the Administrative Penalty Program: increased compliance also means decreased abatement fees.

After all of the above number-crunching, though, a deficit of $1.47 million remains, and the Department sees a reduction in labor costs as the only place left to squeeze out a few remaining dollars. In addition to greater fee increases, the Department suggests wage decreases, Department closure days, shortening the work week and reduced work schedules. Layoffs of planners will hopefully be avoided.

However the Department ultimately chooses to reduce labor costs, it has already proposed a reduction in staff hours for each division. The Neighborhood Planning Division, which provides services such as application review, public information and code enforcement, will be reduced by 7.72 full-time employees (“FTE”). The Citywide Planning Division, which maintains the General Plan and administers Area Plans, will be reduced by 6.39 FTE. Major Environmental Analysis, which prepares and reviews all environmental documents, will be reduced by 4.95 FTE. Overall, these three divisions will be reduced from 124.7 to 105.64 full-time employees, a 15% reduction. This will unfortunately mean less staff hours to service the many projects that the Department continues to process even during this downturn. Hopefully, the Planning Department will be able to balance its budget with the least amount of pain – to its employees and the public – as possible.

Street Frontage Controls May be Expanded to New Zoning Districts

Today, the Planning Commission will hold a hearing on a proposed ordinance that would expand the street frontage controls, which were significantly strengthened by the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning, to apply to a number of new zoning districts. The purpose of these controls was to provide a more pedestrian-friendly experience at the street level of buildings in commercial districts – in other words, to make the streets more engaging and interesting for people to walk through. Currently, these controls only apply to Neighborhood Commercial, Downtown-Residential and Eastern Neighborhoods Mixed Use districts. The ordinance would apply these controls to Commercial, Residential-Commercial and the Van Ness Special Use districts. Generally, the controls require that:

• “Active uses” (allowing transparent walls) occupy ground floors
• 60% of ground floor facades be transparent
• Parking ingress/egress be limited to 1/3 of the façade
• 25-foot setbacks for parking uses on the ground floor
• Ground floors with non-residential uses be a certain height, depending on the zoning district

The ordinance would also eliminate the requirement in Residential-Commercial districts that proposed projects taller than 40 feet obtain a conditional use authorization, expand the requirement for upper-story setbacks to RC and NC districts, and expand the requirement for mid-block alleys in large lot developments to Commercial districts.

The Planning Department is also recommending several public comments be adopted, including further expanding the street frontage controls to South of Market Mixed Use districts, Chinatown districts and C-M districts and allowing lobbies to be considered an “active use.” We’ll keep you posted as this ordinance makes its way through the legislative process.

City Preparing for Crackdown on Vacant Building Owners Who Haven’t Registered

SF Public Press is reporting that the Department of Building Inspection, in response to a low rate of compliance with the recent vacant building registration ordinance requiring owners to register and pay a $765 annual fee, is considering increasing the annual fee to $6,885. While the ordinance does not authorize a fee increase of this type, this likely means that DBI is considering assessing fines of $6,885 to owners of vacant buildings who have failed to register them. If all presumed vacant building owners paid the $765 fee, it would total $3 million for the city. DBI’s website has all the information vacant building owners need to comply with the ordinance, which the city appears serious about enforcing: “”

Shadow Initiative Aftermath

Many San Franciscans breathed a sigh of relief a little over a week ago when Supervisor David Chiu pulled from the ballot his initiative to ban all new developments that would create any new shade on public parks, which would have effectively shut down the Transbay Transit Center, along with a number of other developments. Few have likely thought about it since, or where we go from here. As part of the deal the Mayor struck with Chiu to pull the initiative, a task force will be created to study the issue further. John King had a great column in the Chronicle earlier this week pondering what might come of it.


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