December 5, 2023 Jake Price

New Legislation to Cause Major Shift in San Francisco’s Notoriously Slow Housing Approvals Process

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office sent memorandums on Assembly Bill 1114 (Haney) and Senate Bill 423 (Wiener) to San Francisco officials on November 8. HAC sponsored AB 1114, and was a leading champion of SB 423. Together, these two bills will significantly improve the housing construction process from start to finish, helping alleviate California’s housing shortage and affordability crisis.

The AB 1114 memo clarifies to city staff that San Francisco must follow the law and streamline building permits for housing development projects. This is significant because San Francisco was not subjected to an earlier HAC sponsored bill Assembly Bill 2234 (Rivas), which changed California Government Code Section 65913.3 to streamline non-discretionary permits. All San Francisco permits are discretionary so this code didn’t apply, but this is changed by AB 1114. This bill will limit the amount of time a city has to comment on permit applications to 30 days or 60 days, depending on project size.

The memo states “In sum, the City must implement these four main changes for qualified housing development projects beginning January 1, 2024:

(1) update its website resources; 

(2) determine whether applications are complete within 15 business days after receiving them; 

(3) complete permit review within 30-60 business days after determining an application is complete, depending on the size of the project; and 

(4) allow a permit applicant to appeal any City finding that the application is not complete or does not comply with the applicable permit standards, and not hold any appeal for post-entitlement phase permits for any project that does comply.”

Additionally, if SF doesn’t adhere to time frames and requirements in the code, it will violate the Housing Accountability Act and have consequences, such as lawsuits and administrative enforcement by the State Department of Housing and Community Development. Essentially, the bill will speed up permitting and ensure that housing is built.

The SB 423 memo acknowledges that “the City continues to face increased scrutiny over its review and approval of housing development projects.”  It goes on to explain that SB 423 expands SB 35 ministerial approval to qualifying projects and provides for a special annual HCD review of SF’s RHNA progress, rather than the standard four year review for other cities. Due to the increased RHNA targets, it is all but certain that San Francisco will not meet their RHNA targets at any point in the next 8 years, resulting in most projects going through a ministerial approval process.

To date, SB 35 has only been utilized for 100% affordable housing projects in SF—SB 423 greatly expands the project eligibility, so that most code-compliant housing projects can now be approved ministerially. Furthermore, the bill extends SB 35, which will now expire in 2036 instead of 2025, and will allow construction in more parts of the Coastal Zone. This bill also limits appeals and projects that meet qualifications to be under SB 423 cannot have California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appeals brought up against them, which will speed up the building process, and increase certainty for many infill projects. 

The memo concludes by stating “the amendments to SB 35 in SB 423 – to require ministerial approval of most code-complying projects of two units or more – will significantly expand the use of SB 35 for housing projects in San Francisco, and may help San Francisco meet its housing goals.”

These two memorandums make clear that the tides have changed when it comes to San Francisco’s infamous housing entitlement and permitting process. The Housing Action Coalition is proud to have been a leading voice in these significant efforts. While there are still plenty of challenges left to be addressed, we are excited about the momentum and conviction of the pro-housing movement in Sacramento.

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