Update on SF Planning Department’s Streamlined Review Procedures for Development Projects

In February, the San Francisco Planning Department issued the first quarterly performance report for implementation of its Process Improvements Plan, a program intended to overhaul the project review process.  The Plan first took effect in June 2018 in response to an Executive Directive from the Mayor’s Office to reduce approval timelines and remove administrative barriers to housing production.  According to the Department’s quarterly progress report, the Department met its deadline for two-thirds of Preliminary Project Applications (PPAs) and 79% of Project Applications, with approximately 48% of projects receiving a Plan Check Letter within 90 days.

The Plan includes two main components.  First, for large projects, the Plan shortens the target review time for PPAs from 90 days to 60 days, and requires the Department to provide feedback to developers on the level of review required to obtain approval.  Second, the Plan includes a new Project Application, which consolidates the environmental and project information into a single document.  The new Project Application requires that project sponsors provide information earlier in the process regarding issues such as historic preservation, hazardous materials, and air quality.  The Planning Department expects this to facilitate early scoping of environmental review and entitlements.

The Department is required to make a determination of completeness within 30 days following submittal of a Project Application.  Once the Project Application is deemed complete,  the Planning Department has  90 days to issue a Plan Check Letter to the developer documenting any open issues.  Pursuant to the Executive Directive, the Department must complete a streamlined environmental review of proposed housing projects within specified timeframes after a stable project description has been established.  If review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is not required, the Department must render an entitlement decision within 6 months.  For housing projects, streamlined review for CEQA projects must meet new target timeframes of 9, 12, 18, and 22 months for, respectively, categorical exemptions, negative declarations, Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), and complex EIRs.  The Directive also calls for the issuance of all permits and other post-entitlement approvals required for commencement of construction on large-scale housing development projects within a year after submission of a complete application. The Department expects to launch a new online portal in the spring, which will allow developers to submit the Project Applications, payment, and other materials electronically.