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Tuesday November 3, 2020 — California General Election
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County

City and County of San Francisco
Proposition H - Majority Approval Required

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Election Results

Passing

247,428 votes yes (60.87%)

159,026 votes no (39.13%)

Shall the City change the Planning Code for neighborhood commercial districts to increase permissible uses, eliminate public notification processes for new permitted uses, and require an expedited process for permits?

What is this proposal?

Pros & Cons — Unbiased explanation with arguments for and against

Information provided by League of Women Voters of San Francisco

The Question

Shall the City amend the Planning Code for Neighborhood Commercial Districts to allow for more permissible uses, eliminate public notification, and expedite the permitting process?

Note: This Pro/Con information is also available in Chinese and Spanish.

The Situation

Neighborhood Commercial Districts (NCDs) in San Francisco are commercial areas outside the downtown area with commercial use allowed on the ground floor and other uses on upper floors.

 

San Francisco’s City Planning Code determines acceptable uses in residential, commercial, and industrial-zoned districts. Each zoning district use may be permitted, conditionally permitted, or not permitted. Conditionally permitted uses require extensive review and approval by the Planning Commission.

 

In order to open and operate a business in San Francisco, business owners may need permits from several City agencies separately. For example, a business may need permits for construction from the Department of Building Inspection and for the sale of food from the Department of Health.

 

In order to change the use of property in certain districts, the person applying for building permits must post notification of the proposal for neighbors for 30 days. During this time, the City is not allowed to issue permits and the public is allowed to request a review.

The Proposal

Proposition H is an ordinance that would change the current Planning Code for Neighborhood Commercial Districts to (1) amend the permitting and inspection processes across San Francisco and (2) adjust zoning in all of the City’s Neighborhood Commercial Districts and Neighborhood Transit Districts.

 

1.     Permit and inspection changes

a.     Streamline the current permitting and inspection process to 30 days and allow simultaneous cross-department review of applications rather than the current sequential, multi-agency review.

b.     Require City agencies to coordinate their inspections and schedule them within 2 weeks of an inspection request. Inspections would be limited to compliance with an objective checklist adopted by the agency.

 

2.     Zoning code changes

a.     Revise zoning to increase the types of permitted and conditionally permitted uses to include arts and entertainment activities, community facilities, social and philanthropic services, retail, and restaurants, among other uses.

b.     Address reduced capacity in restaurants in compliance with COVID-19 social distancing by expanding the use of outdoor areas

c.     Allow businesses to permit certain types of co-working uses as “retail workspaces.” For example, this would allow a restaurant to act as a workspace for the public on days when the restaurant is open.

 

In addition, Proposition H would change restrictions to allow temporary uses in bars and entertainment venues, as well as temporary retail “pop-ups” in vacant storefronts.

 

A “YES” Vote Means: If you vote "yes," you want to change the City’s Planning Code for Neighborhood Commercial Districts to amend the permitting and inspection process for new businesses and expand zoning uses in the City’s Neighborhood Commercial Districts and Neighborhood Transit Districts.

 

A “NO” Vote Means: If you vote “no,” you do not want to make these changes.

Fiscal effect

Controller's statement: sfelections.sfgov.org/sites/default/files/Documents/candidates/2020Nov/Prop%20H%20-%20Neighborhood%20Commercial%20Districts%20and%20City%20Permitting.pdf

Supporters say

 The measure supports San Francisco’s small businesses, streamlining permitting and making it easier for them to compete with online shopping and mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

 Changes in cost to the City for review, inspection, and approval could be offset by increases in taxes from new businesses and savings of City staff time due to shorter permitting windows.

 Nonprofits could be allowed to open offices in Neighborhood Commercial Districts, which would help them find more affordable space and fill vacant storefronts.

 Expanding outdoor dining and restaurant use would help maintain the City’s vibrancy and culture, which is especially needed during the pandemic.

Opponents say

The creation of new permitting and inspection processes could create confusion among the general public, businesses, and neighborhoods.

The proposition is complicated and changes land use and City permits without public hearings.

Neighborhood Commercial Districts were developed more than 30 years ago and have been adjusted over time to address neighborhood and small business concerns as they arise. There was no neighborhood or small business input in developing Proposition H.

Changing the planning should be done at the Planning Commission and by the Board of Supervisors, not as a ballot measure.

Details — Official information

YES vote means

A "YES" Vote Means: If you vote "yes," you want to change the City Planning Code for Neighborhood Commercial Districts to increase permissible uses, eliminate public notification processes for new permitted uses, and require an expedited process for permits.

NO vote means

A "NO" Vote Means: If you vote "no," you do not want to make these changes.

Summary

Ballot Simplification Committee

The Way It Is Now: A Neighborhood Commercial District is typically a commercial corridor located outside of San Francisco’s downtown area, with commercial uses on the ground floor and other uses on upper floors.

The City Planning Code sets forth uses permitted in residential, commercial, or industrial-zoned districts. Each zoning district use may either be permitted, conditionally permitted or not permitted. Conditionally permitted uses require extensive review and approval by the Planning Commission.

To open a new business in San Francisco, a business owner may need permits from several City agencies, such as the Department of Building Inspection for construction or remodeling and the Department of Public Health for the sale of food.

A person who applies for building permits to change the use of property in certain districts must notify neighbors of the proposed change. The notices must be posted for 30 days, during which the City may not issue permits and members of the public may ask for a review by the Planning Commission.

The Proposal: Proposition H would change the Planning Code for Neighborhood Commercial Districts to:

• Increase the types of permitted and conditionally permitted uses to include arts activities, community facilities, social services and restaurants;

• Expand the use of outdoor areas in certain businesses;

• Eliminate the public notification process for people who want to start a permitted use;

• Require an expedited approval and inspection process for permits; and

• Allow restaurants to provide workspace to the public on days when the restaurant is open.

In addition, Proposition H would make certain Planning Code changes citywide to temporarily allow retail uses within bars and entertainment venues for up to four years.

Financial effect

City Controller Ben Rosenfield

Should the proposed initiative ordinance be approved by the voters, in my opinion, it would minimally to moderately increase the City’s costs to review, approve, and inspect the small business uses targeted by this ordinance.

This ordinance would require coordination and streamlining of the City review of permits for establishment, modification, and/or operation of storefront commercial use in the City’s designated neighborhood commercial districts and neighborhood commercial transit districts and for the review to be completed within 30 days. Fees for additional reviews required due to City errors would be waived. The ordinance also updates and expands zoning laws in order to support certain small businesses.

To the extent this legislation would require more intensive coordination and activity at the front-end of the permit review process for these specific uses, the City likely would incur minimal to moderate increased staffing needs in the permitting departments in order to develop the new coordinated process, to provide the required pre-inspections, and to implement the shorter review deadline on an ongoing basis. At the same time, the extent to which new processes successfully shorten the overall length of time for permitting, conditional use applications decrease, and public notification requirements are reduced, the City may save staffing time and costs. The potential loss of revenues from the waiver of subsequent fees due to City error would likely be minimal. If the initiative is successfully implemented, any increased business activity in the City’s neighborhood commercial areas may contribute minimally to the receipt of higher business taxes in future years.

Published Arguments — Arguments for and against

More information

News (2)

Proposition H - November 3, 2020 — October 6, 2020 San Francisco Public Press
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Who supports or opposes this measure?

Yes on Proposition H

Organizations (3)

Elected & Appointed Officials (0)
No on Proposition H

Organizations (3)

Elected & Appointed Officials (0)

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