Blog Post: San Francisco City Planning Overview in the 7X7


John Rahaim, our San Francisco City Planner spoke at Vanguard Properties to provide us with the state of San Francisco City Planning.

Here’s a re-cap of what is ongoing and planned for our City scape, and what you can expect when building or remodelling your home.

The City has the capacity for 70,000 housing units with the current land availability and capital availability. We are approving about 2500 projects per year and he believes that double that amount should be approved annually. To speed up the process he would like to see smaller projects and about 1/2 of new construction units not have to go before the planning commission.

We have 45,000 units currently entitled. About 28,000 are in Park Merced and Hunters Point. 4,000 units are currently under construction with another 2,000 to be completed by the end of this year. This growth is primarily driven by the needs of the Tech Industry. In SOMA (South of Market) our office space vacancy is at 3%, we are nearly fully occupied. Already through planning, the 2nd Rincon Tower is planning to break ground in a Couple of weeks.

We’ve all noticed what’s happening to our streets around Union Square. This is due to the ‘Transit Center District Plan’ which is about 95% complete and took over 5 years worth of work to become approved by the planning commission. They plan to have it fully in place by this September with much of it devoted to new office space. The locations in the Plan include Mission, SOMA and Downtown with new zoning and density up zoning around the transit corridors.
Specifically the 4th St. Corridor between 2nd & 6th and Market & King subway plan.
They will increase heights and densities in the planned developments. The tech investors are looking for modern buildings with historical flavor that include large floor plates, side core elevators so they can see across the space, like our 19th Century Warehouses with early 20th Century Brick and Timber.

In general, units are planned where there is growth, near transportation hubs. They plan for a mixture of smaller scale original buildings, mid rises and high rises. He would like to see 20,000-30,000 buildings below 120 ft. height, keeping an eye on the cityscape so the city maintains its’ mix of old and new.

I wanted to know if one could make a “roof garden” and how easy is it. John informed me that if the structure is capable of handling it, there is no impediment to allowing a roof top garden other than a height requirement.

Some agents brought up how difficult it is to obtain a demolition permit in the City. John explained that CEQA (California environmental quality Act) requires every building over 50 years old to have an historic analysis of its’ history, which is important and slows down the process. Some buildings may have had famous inhabitants for instance.

It is important to John and that planning includes the public realm of the streetscape. There is a City Design Team devoted to the ‘Character & Quality’ of our streets. The design team has created the “Better Streets Plan” to add to the planning code of streets. 25% of the city is streets, and the rest is parkland, open spaces, and bike paths. “Better Streets” is for the pedestrians to enjoy parklets. There are 81 currently in place and 45 more in the pipeline which propose to turn some parking spaces into public spaces. The Planning department now has its’ own Grant Writer to raise $2-$3m for these projects. Most importantly is that this plan is an unprecedented joint effort of 7 different city agencies working together for one goal.

San Francisco is the 2nd most dense city in North America after New York. City planning is looking for contemporary Design that is fit for the urban environment with historic content. There is a new requirement that in a new construction buildings’ exterior design include non-reflective glass below the 60 foot mark, to avoid reflections as $100m birds a year perish from collisions with reflective buildings.

He’d also like to see some definitions in the code be streamlined. The current city code is 2200 pages long and he would like to peel away and simplify it. Weekly the board of supervisors meets and amends the code and he has proposed for every new code, other codes are to be simplified, in exchange.

John explained that City Planning has an eye on the balance between jobs and housing with plans to increase housing in the rental sector with the already in place, ‘Eastern Neighborhoods Plan’ which includes the Mission where zoning has been amended and new development parking requirements are reduced with heights remaining essentially the same, up to 85 ft. in some areas and 100ft near bart stations. The San Francisco housing authority has 1600-1700 mixed use, mixed income units planned through the HOPE6 program.

I came away from Johns’ talk knowing that San Francisco really is the greatest urban City with an eye on City Planning that include business, personal enjoyment, beautiful buildings, historic treasures and little parklets throughout to remind us that we are really a small town, only 7X7 after all.


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