This Week in San Francisco Land Use – New Ventilation Requirements

​Planning Department Continues to Streamline CEQA Process While Heightening Air Quality Performance Standards

As many of us know, the Planning Department has the (mostly) thankless job of being the lead agency running the environmental review of most new development projects in the city.  That being said, the Department still is bound by the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and must carry out its mandates – even when they are not efficient or don’t make sense.  In recent years, the Department has been aggressively working to streamline the CEQA process, which saves time and money for both project sponsors and the city alike.  

Having essentially taken hazardous materials off the table of potential triggers for heightened environmental review last summer, the Department is now moving onto air quality.  Along with the Department of Public Health, they have drafted legislation that would enhance and expand the existing ventilation requirements while simplifying the environmental review process for air quality.  Specifically, the legislation would accomplish the following:

  • Replace the current map of sensitive air quality zones with a new map with a smaller sensitivity zone (basically covering areas around freeways, South of Market, the Tenderloin, the Embarcadero, and a handful of other major intersections in the city).  If a project is located in this new sensitivity zone, it will no longer have to conduct a project-specific study as they do now – the project simply needs to incorporate heightened ventilation standards that are equivalent to a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 filtration standard.
  • Expand the air quality/ventilation requirements to cover all projects (1) located in the new sensitivity zones, (2) containing “sensitive uses,” and (3) proposing new construction, major alterations of 25,000 square feet or more, or a Planning Code change of use.  Sensitive uses include all residential, educational and institutional uses.

So long as a project complies with these standards (which they would be required to by the new legislation), it could not trigger heightened environmental review due to air quality impacts on the new uses in the project.  There would still be a limited potential to trigger heightened environmental review due to construction air quality issues.  The legislation significantly simplifies the process – either a project is subject to the ventilation requirements or it is not.  No project-specific review would be necessary.  

The Planning Department has cited several studies which conclude the increased costs of the MERV 13 ventilation systems are negligible when applied on a whole building (versus individual unit) basis.  Again, these heightened standards will only apply to “sensitive uses,” so projects involving office, retail or industrial uses will not be impacted.

The new ventilation requirements represent a delicate balance the Planning Department is trying to achieve – increasing performance standards that will improve public health while simultaneously improving the entitlement process for developers.

Board of Supervisors Continues In-Law Unit Push – New In-Law Units to be Permitted in the Castro

The Board of Supervisors was busy this week making major changes to the way in-law dwelling units are regulated in the city.  As we reported last week, the Board passed on first reading an ordinance that would allow for the legalization of in-law units that have been created without a permit.  The ordinance was approved on second reading this week and now goes to the Mayor’s desk for signature.

The Board also passed legislation on first reading this week to create a pilot program that would allow for the creation of new in-law dwelling units in the Castro district.  Within a certain defined area in the Castro, property owners may create a new in-law dwelling unit, which can be approved with a waiver from density (allowing density above what is otherwise permitted) and other Planning Code requirements, so long as they meet the following requirements:

  • The unit is constructed within the existing envelope of the building;
  • The unit has no more than 750 square feet of habitable space; and
  • The unit does not incorporate space from any existing dwelling unit.

As Supervisor Wiener stated Tuesday, these new units – required to be created in existing buildings, of modest size and not reducing existing housing – will be far more affordable than dwelling units that are coming on-line in new housing developments.  In-law units created in buildings subject to rent control will also be subject to rent control.

And Finally, Eviction Relocation Payments Look Set to Pass

As we reported last week, Supervisor Campos has proposed legislation that would increase required relocation payments that landlords pay to tenants when those tenants are subject to a “no fault” eviction.  The legislation would require the relocation payment to essentially cover the difference in rent between the current rent the tenant is paying and the fair market rent for a comparable unit for a period of two years.  The legislation passed on first reading at the Board on Tuesday with a 9-2 vote, which, if it holds, is a veto-proof majority that the Mayor would not be able to overturn.  

The housing crisis continues to motivate the Board to seek creative mitigations – not necessarily complete solutions – to the problem.  We will continue to track these changes in housing policy closely, as they will have far-ranging impacts throughout the development community.

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.