News & Research Archive

San Francisco 4th Street Rezoning; New Applications to Relocate Billboards; New Stormwater Treatment Guidelines

Sep 29, 2011


The Central Subway Project is the second phase of the Third Street Light Rail Project, which will link the City's southern neighborhoods through SoMa (South of Market), by establishing an underground Muni stop at Moscone Center, Union Square and Chinatown. The Planning Department has been awarded a Transportation Planning Grant from Caltrans to develop an "integrated community vision" for the corridor that will support transit-oriented new development. The Central Corridor project area runs along 4th Street (and along a few perpendicular streets) from Townsend to Market Street. The Planning Department is in the process of studying the land use, urban form, and streetscape along this corridor and its goal is to have a draft plan by November of this year, although many feel that this is optimistic. Early indications suggest that given the close proximity to the financial district, the Planning Department is leaning toward primarily commercial zoning along the Central Corridor with the intent of bringing new job opportunities to this area, specifically those in the technology and digital media sectors. However, transit-oriented residential development (greater building heights with flexible residential unit types, and greater density of units) is also being emphasized. One can regularly check in our community meetings and the status of this rezoning and planning study by going to the Planning Department website. Given the Transit First orientation of the sites, expect to see some new, higher height limits allowed.


In 2002, voters placed a ban on all new billboards in San Francisco, with an exception that a new general advertising sign (billboard) could be created if another was torn down through a "relocation" procedure with authorization by the Board of Supervisors. For the last five years the Planning Department has taken the position that it would not accept applications for sign relocation until the City-wide inventory of legal and illegal signs was finished. This inventory has now been completed and the Planning Department has recently posted a Relocation Application on their website.  The Application contains a series of criteria that the Planning Commission will consider when determining whether to approve or disapprove the proposed relocation. There are six criteria containing factors that "shall weigh in favor" and there are six other criteria that "shall weigh against" the Planning Commission's approval of the proposed relocation. Some of the criteria appear to come directly from the Planning Code (Section 303(l)). It is not yet clear how much weight the Commission will give to each of the criteria, and this could have a significant impact on how relocation applications are processed. For example one of the criteria that "shall weigh against" the proposed relocation is that the "proposed relocation site is within, adjacent to, or visible from a zoning district where general advertising signs are prohibited". This is so broadly written that it encompasses sites across a huge portion of the City. It is yet to be seen whether the Commission will give more weight to some criteria and less to others, and what will be deemed an acceptable balance of "positive" and "negative" criteria. The first few sign relocation applications may set the stage for how these criteria will be applied to future relocation applications. Some property owners may wish to change the criteria (never actually adopted in hearings, to our knowledge) because the drafting of the criteria makes it extremely hard to meet most of the criteria.


As of January 2010 all projects all projects disturbing 5,000 square feet or more of the ground surface will need to meet the requirements of the SF Stormwater Management Ordinance and will have to manage stormwater on-site. A document called "San Francisco Stormwater Design Guidelines" was created jointly by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Port of San Francisco. The Guidelines can be downloaded from at this link: ( These Guidelines function both as a policy document and a design tool which describe ways of dealing with stormwater on-site using strategies such as vegetated roofs, swales, rainwater harvesting, and rain gardens. The intent of the Guidelines is to reduce pollution in stormwater runoff and to reduce the burden on San Francisco's combined sewer. Approximately 90 percent of San Francisco is served by a "combined sewer system" that sends both sewage and stormwater to the City's sewage treatment plants. Therefore, managing stormwater on-site will help keep clean stormwater out of the City's sewer system which means that the City will not be unnecessarily processing stormwater in the City's sewage treatment facilities.

Should you have any questions on this, please feel free to contact Brett Gladstone Esq. or Susanne Kelly Esq. at (415) 434-9500 or by email to:

M. Brett Gladstone

B.A. 1980 Harvard University, Magna Cum Laude
J.D. 1983, Duke University
Member, Lambda Alpha Society
Member, SPUR

Susanne B. Kelly

B.S. 1994 Santa Clara University
J.D. 1997 University of San Francisco School of Law
State Bar, Real Property Section Member

Disclaimer: This newsletter is not a substitute for legal advice and, since the facts of all matters differ, readers are cautioned not to take actions without seeking the advice of a real estate attorney. The issues discussed in this newsletter are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.


Written by: M. Brett Gladstone


Starboard TCN is posting this article on its website and blog with the approval of Brett Gladstone Esq.

This is a periodic newsletter from the law firm of Gladstone & Associates, San Francisco, a real estate transactions and land use firm providing commentary on new land use trends in San Francisco.

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