State Seeks to Curb Appeals of Residential Building Permits in San Francisco

The land use entitlement process in California is notoriously complicated, lengthy, and fraught with uncertainty. Less attention is paid to the process of receiving building permits, post-entitlement. Generally, this process is more straightforward because the local agency’s review is limited to ensuring state and local building code compliance. Accordingly, the issuance of building permits is typically a ministerial act, not subject to the discretion of city or county officials and not appealable. In San Francisco, however, post-entitlement building permits are shielded from appeal to the Board of Appeals only if the project has received a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Commission, per Charter section 4.106(b). AB 1114, introduced by Assemblymember and former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney, would extend this protection to other residential projects that have received, for example, only a Downtown Project Authorization or a Large Project Authorization.

AB 1114 provides that building permits for projects that are “at least two-thirds residential” are not subject to appeal. It builds on prior legislation, AB 2234, which set strict timelines for local agencies to respond to and issue post-entitlement building permits for housing development projects that comply with existing application requirements. If adopted, the bill would apply these timelines to qualifying San Francisco housing projects and protect them from building permit appeals, regardless of the underlying entitlement obtained.

In the Assembly Committee reports, Assemblymember Haney stated that the legislation is necessary because it can take almost two years to obtain a post-entitlement building permit in San Francisco, in part because of the potential for building permit appeals, and that as a result, the city “is struggling to build housing and is falling behind the rest of the State on its affordable housing goals.” The Committee reports cite California Department of Housing and Community Development data indicating that it can take an average of 450 days to obtain entitlements in San Francisco and an average of 524 days to get permits to commence construction for an entitled project—the longest of any jurisdiction that permitted more than 10 projects.

The bill recently passed the Assembly and is moving through the Senate. We will continue to track its progress and provide status updates.