Child Care Facilities

Getting Started

If you're planning to open a Child Care Facility, your project will require a Building Permit Application.  A Child Care Facility’s location and size can affect how it will be regulated. When planning your project you will need to consider these, and a number of other important regulations. Your project may also require Neighborhood Notification and several accompanying Pre-Application steps. (See Understanding What's Allowed below.)
If your Child Care Facility project includes a physical expansion of an existing building, please see our Building Expansion/Change of Use – Commercial permitting page.
It is recommended to visit or call Planning staff at the Planning Information Center (PIC) early in the planning of your project, before making any commitment to lease or operate a new child care facility. Planners at the PIC can help you determine what zoning requirements and other regulations apply to your property. The PIC is at 1660 Mission Street, 1st floor and may also be reached by phone at (415) 558-6377 or via email at pic@sfgov.org.

To open a new Child Care Facility, the first step will be to review the State of California child care licensing requirements and get informed in regard to the steps necessary to become a State-licensed child care provider. For assistance regarding licensing, the State’s Department of Social Services, Child Care Licensing Program can be reached at (800) 543-7793, or via their website.

  • To open a new business in San Francisco, you will need to register at the Tax Collector’s Office in City Hall, Room 140
  • We recommend contacting the Office of Small Business and its online San Francisco Business Portal prior to making any commitment to lease or operate a new Child Care Facility. The Office of Small Business can be reached at (415) 554-6134, or at City Hall, Room 110, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.
  • We also recommend you contact the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) as well as the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) to confirm their requirements for a new Child Care Facility before submitting your Building Permit Application. The DBI can be reached at (415) 558-6088, or at 1660 Mission Street, 1st floor, and the SFFD can be reached at (415) 558-6177, or at 1660 Mission Street, 5th floor.

Understanding What's Allowed

New child care uses are regulated by the San Francisco Planning Code. To maintain the character and purpose of distinct areas in San Francisco, the City's geography has been divided into distinct zoning use districts (view these zoning use districts on the San Francisco Zoning Map and Section 201 of the Planning Code). For each activity or use of land in any given zoning district, the Code states if that activity or use is either: Permitted; Conditional; or Not Permitted. Therefore, knowing the zoning district of your property will help you identify what specific limits may apply to your project and which application materials you will need to submit.

You can find the zoning use district and height limits of your property directly from our San Francisco Property Information Map by entering your address or Assessor's Lot and Block number and clicking the "Zoning" tab or on the Find My Zoning page.

Child Care Facilities are Permitted in all Zoning Districts (except PDR-1-B, PDR-1-G, PDR-2, M-1, M-2)

In Section 102 of the Planning Code, a Child Care Facility is defined as, “An Institutional Community Use defined in California Health and Safety Code Section 1596.750 that provides less than 24-hour care for children by licensed personnel and meets the open-space and other requirements of the State of California and other authorities.” All zoning districts in the Planning Code reference this definition of a Child Care Facility in Section 102.

The referenced California Health and Safety Code Section 1596.750 states, “Child day care facility means a facility that provides nonmedical care to children under 18 years of age in need of personal services, supervision, or assistance essential for sustaining the activities of daily living or for the protection of the individual on less than a 24-hour basis. Child day care facility includes day care centers, employer-sponsored child care centers, and family day care homes.”

In the Planning Code, a Child Care Facility is permitted in all zoning districts, except the following:

  • PDR-1-B: Conditional Use required
  • PDR-1-G: Conditional Use required
  • PDR-2: Not Permitted
  • M-1: Conditional Use required
  • M-2: Not Permitted

Please note, certain areas of San Francisco are not entirely regulated by the Planning Code. These areas can include “redevelopment areas” as well as Port properties. If your property is located in a redevelopment area it would likely fall under the jurisdiction of Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (OCII), and if located on a property located within the Port, it would likely fall under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco. Please contact the appropriate agency to understand their regulations. Planners at the PIC can help you determine what agencies are responsible for enforcing land use regulations pertaining to your property.

Other Things To Consider
In addition to the zoning district and land use regulations in the San Francisco Planning Code, your application will also be reviewed under provisions in all of San Francisco's Municipal Codes, the San Francisco General Plan, and Department policies based on a number of criteria (e.g. the historical significance of your property, the environmental impact of your project, or other regulations).

  • Pre-Application Process & Neighborhood Notification requirements
    A Pre-Application Meeting and Neighborhood Notification are not required in any zoning district for a project that proposes only a change of use to a Child Care Facility use, if the project does not also include a physical expansion of the building envelope.  If a physical expansion of the building is proposed as part of the new child care facility, a Pre-Application Meeting and/or Neighborhood Notification may be required.
    If physical expansion of the building envelope is proposed, depending on the scope and location of your proposed project, you may need to provide a "Pre-Application Notice" to nearby neighbors, and you may need to hold a "Pre-Application Meeting" prior to submittal of the Building Permit Application. The triggers for the Pre-Application Process are explained in the Pre-Application Information Packet
    New Child Care Facilities which propose a new building, or physical expansion of an existing building may also require Neighborhood Notification, a process where the Planning Department mails a notice alerting neighbors and neighborhood groups in the vicinity of your proposed project and they are given a period of 30 days to respond with concerns or to request a Discretionary Review (DR). This includes projects in Residential, Neighborhood Commercial (NC), and Eastern Neighborhoods Mixed Use Districts where Sections 311and 312 of the Planning Code state that certain projects in these zoning districts require Neighborhood Notification.
  • Child Care Facilities in Conjunction with Dwelling Units
    If a Child Care Facility is proposed in a residential building and would have a kitchen, it would require a Notice of Special Restrictions (NSR) to be recorded against the property to clarify that the kitchen would be for the sole use of the Child Care Facility only. If an NSR is required, it must be recorded before any other permit approval actions take place. Contact the PIC if you have questions regarding the process of recording an NSR. 
  • Sharing "Usable Open Space" with Dwelling Units
    Many mixed-use buildings containing residential dwelling units have usable open space allotted for each dwelling unit. Usable open space is a requirement in the Planning Code for residential dwelling units, and is often comprised of an outdoor area or areas designed for outdoor living, recreation or landscaping including such areas on the ground and on decks, balconies, porches and roofs. Usable open space can be shared (i.e. “common”), or for the sole use of an individual dwelling unit (i.e. “private”). The State of California also requires outdoor play area space for new Child Care Facilities, at an amount depending on the type of facility, and number of children associated with the facility. The Planning Code allows a Child Care Facility to utilize a portion of existing residential “common” usable open space in order to meet its State-required play area requirements during set hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.). Per Section 135 of the Planning Code the open space would still have to meet State licensing requirements, and not more than 50% of the “common” open space required for residential uses may be used by the Child Care Facility at any time.
  • Off-Site Outdoor Areas
    In certain cases, the State of California allows Child Care Facilities to utilize off-site outdoor spaces to meet State-required outdoor play area requirements. It is important to understand whether the off-site outdoor area would be located on private property, or on public land (such as a public park). If the off-site outdoor area would be located on private property, the off-site location itself would likely need to be authorized as a Child Care Facility use, as regulated by the Zoning District in which the off-site outdoor area would be located. If physical improvements are proposed as part of the new off-site outdoor area, depending on the scope of work, likely approval of a Building Permit Application would also be required. If the off-site outdoor area would be located on public land, it is important to identify the public agency responsible for the property where the outdoor area is located, and contact the relevant agency in order to understand their process and regulations. Please contact the PIC if you have questions.
  • "Tantamount to Demolition or Merger"
    In addition to complete demolition of dwelling units, substantial alterations to dwellings may be considered "tantamount to demolition" depending on the extent of the building that is removed to accomplish the alteration. For example, removing more than 50% of the horizontal and vertical elements of the structure would be an alteration that is "tantamount to demolition." Refer to the Implementation Document for Removal of Dwelling Units for a detailed description of what constitutes tantamount to demolition. Similarly, proposals to expand one unit by making an adjacent unit in the same building smaller may be considered "tantamount to merger", if the unit is being reduced by 25% or more. Those applications will be treated the same as applications for complete demolition or merger, respectively, under San Francisco Planning Code Section 317.
  • Bicycle Parking
    The Planning Code requires two types of bicycle parking as defined in Section 155.1, “Class 1 spaces are spaces in secure, weather-protected facilities intended for use as long-term, overnight, and work-day bicycle storage by dwelling unit residents, nonresidential occupants, and employees; and Class 2 spaces are spaces located in a publicly-accessible, highly-visible location intended for transient or short-term use by visitors, guests, and patrons to the building or use.” Section 155.2 of the Planning Code goes on to require the provision of bicycle parking spaces for specific types of projects and uses. These include (among others) any proposed new building, an addition to a building or lot that increases a building’s Gross Floor Area by more than 20 percent, or a change of occupancy or increase in intensity of use which would increase the number of total required bicycle parking spaces (inclusive of Class 1 and 2 spaces in aggregate) by at least 15 percent. In most cases, a new Child Care Facility would have to provide a minimum of two Class 1 spaces, or one Class 1 space for every 20 children. Additionally, Child Care Facilities would need to provide one Class 2 space for every 20 children. For more information please contact PIC, and reference Zoning Administrator Bulletin No. 9 Bicycle Parking Requirements: Design and Layout.  
  • Environmental Impact of Your Project
    Projects may require a separate Environmental Evaluation Application depending on the scope of the project. Generally, most new child care uses—without an increase in the building envelope—are exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Larger scale child care developments, or changes to the exterior of historic resources (see below), may require more detailed environmental evaluations. Below are a few common scenarios when a new Child Care Facility may trigger submittal of an Environmental Evaluation Application:
    • If a new Child Care Facility would include 30 or more children, or if 30 or more children would be added to an existing facility, submittal of an Environmental Evaluation Application, along with an Application Packet for School Drop-Off and Pick-Up Management Plan is required.
    • If a Child Care Facility is proposed within an Air Pollutant Exposure Zone, submittal of an Article 38 application to the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) is required. Please see the San Francisco DPH website for more information.
    You can read a summary of the environmental review process on our Environmental Planning  web page which includes a list of projects exempt from environmental review (known as "Categorical Exemption). If your proposed project is not exempt from CEQA, you will need to submit an Environmental Evaluation Application. The application also includes contact phone numbers if you have questions about the need for environmental review. If environmental review is required, it must be completed before any other permit approval actions are taken. Contact the PIC if you have questions as to whether your project will require environmental evaluation.
  • Historic Resources
    If your project involves alteration to a structure that has been identified (through a Historic Resources Survey or other means) as a historic resource or if the structure is 50 years old or greater then there will most likely be additional materials and process involved in order to determine if the proposed work is appropriate. See our Historic Preservation section to read more about evaluating historic character and the additional procedures that might be required if a historic structure is impacted. Preservation Technical Specialists (planners with specialized training in evaluating impacts on historic resources) at the Planning Information Center (PIC) can help you understand what's allowed on your building. There are regularly scheduled hours where Preservation Technical Specialists are available to help you at the PIC, click here for more info.
  • Removal of Dwelling Units (i.e. Housing Units)
    If your project involves removing, or reducing the size of, existing dwelling units, the project may be subject to additional procedures discussed separately on our Removal of Dwelling Units permitting page.
  • Hours of Operation
    Commercial uses in certain districts such as Neighborhood Commercial Districts (NCD), RTO and RM, and certain Mixed Use Districts may have restrictions on the hours of operation. Depending on the scope of your Child Care Facility and the zoning district of your property, later hours will require a Conditional Use Authorization or in some cases, may not be permitted.
  • Use Size
    Non-Residential uses in certain districts such as Neighborhood Commercial districts (NCD), RTO and RM, and certain Mixed Use Districts may have restrictions on non-residential use size. Depending on the size of your Child Care Facility and the zoning district of your property, a Child Care Facility of a certain size may require a Conditional Use Authorization or in some cases, may not be permitted at the size proposed.
  • Signage
    Any new signage would require a separate sign permit. See our Signs permitting page.
  • Impact fees
    In some instances impact fees may apply to an expansion or change of use. Contact the PIC to determine if that is the case for your property.

Applying for Your Permit & Paying Fees

The following information must be submitted when applying for a Building Permit to expand a building and/or change the use of a building:

  1. Construction plans and/or drawings (existing and proposed floor plans are required for change of use projects).  See our Plan Submittal Guidelines.

  2. Neighborhood Notification materials (if required)

  3. Forms provided in the Pre-Application Packet (if a Pre-Application Meeting is required)

  4. Forms provided in the Conditional Use Authorization (CU) Application (required only if seeking a Conditional Use Authorization)

Since every project is unique, we have a useful matrix handout, the Permit Application Checklist which explains submittal requirements based on the proposed work as described under "How to Use This Matrix." A checklist of required materials to be submitted with the Building Permit is also included in the Building Permit Application Packet which also describes the Neighborhood Notification process.

To submit a permit, prepare the Building Permit Application and bring it along with all necessary plans and materials as described in the Permit Application Checklist and/or Building Application Packet to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street. If you are a new user, we recommend you come to the Planning Information Center (PIC) also at 1660 Mission Street before proceeding to DBI.

Fees
Permit fees are based on the construction cost of your project. To estimate permit fees, the Planning Department's fee schedule is available online. We also have a fee calculator for Building Permits reviewed by the Planning Department. If you have any questions, please stop by or call the Planning Information Center (PIC) staff at (415) 558-6377. Depending on your location and project type, impact fees may be required for new construction. Contact the PIC to see if these requirements apply to your property. Please note this is for the Planning Department's review fees only. Fees for review by the Building Department are available here. You may also call DBI at 558-6088.

Don't forget: Should the cost of staff time exceed the initial fee you paid, it is possible an additional fee for time and materials may be billed upon completion of the permit review process. Additional fees may also be collected for preparation and recordation of any documents with the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s office and for monitoring compliance with any conditions of approval.

Permit Review Process

1. Submittal

If you have already visited the Planning Information Center (PIC) at 1660 Mission Street and you are confident you have all the correct materials for your Building Permit Application, your next step is to submit your application materials & fees listed in Applying for My Permit & Paying Fees to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street.

2. Screening

After initial screening of your application by DBI, the Planning Department will review the application to confirm it is complete for Planning Department requirements. If information is missing, or if corrections are needed, you will be asked to return with that information. Planners at the Planning Information Center (PIC) will review the application to determine if it complies with the San Francisco Planning Code (view the code online) and is consistent with the additional regulations detailed above in Understanding What's Allowed under "Other Things to Consider." If so, the application could either be approved over-the-counter or taken in and routed to an assigned planner at the Planning Department.

3. Plan Review

Depending on the scope of the project (especially projects that do not propose new or enlarged buildings), many Building Permit Applications for new Child Care Facilities may be approved over-the-counter. If a Conditional Use Authorization (CU) was required for the child care facility, and if a CU has already been granted and Neighborhood Notification has already occurred in combination with the CU notice, the Building Permit Application could be approved over-the-counter by the Planning Department so long as the proposed work under this Building Permit Application is consistent with the proposed work that received CU approval. You would then proceed to the other agencies listed in Step 4 that will need to act on your permit. (Note, in most cases the Planning Department practice calls for the planner who had worked on the CU and/or Neighborhood Notification to approve the related building permit application). If Neighborhood Notification is required, and has not yet occurred, the application will be taken in and routed to an assigned planner at the Planning Department.

4. Notification

Neighborhood Notification entails mailing an announcement of your project to neighbors and neighborhood groups so that they, or any person, may voice concerns they have over the proposal or so that they may request a Discretionary Review (a hearing seeking review of the project or changes to the proposal before the San Francisco Planning Commission). The permit is held by Planning for a 30-day period from the date of mailed notification to allow adequate time for public review of the proposal. During the notification period, any person may ask the San Francisco Planning Commission to exercise its power of Discretionary Review over the Building Permit Application.

Once the Planning Department has approved your Building Permit Application for a new child care facility, you will meet with review staff from different departments as directed by DBI, who will check your construction documents to verify the proposed construction will meet the various City Municipal Codes (view all codes online). Staff from the following departments will check a typical Building Permit for a Child Care Facility use:

  • Department of Building Inspection (DBI)
  • San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD)

Other agencies may be involved depending on the scope of your project.

When all the reviews are complete, the permit will be issued, and you can begin work. Note, there is a 15-day period after Building Permit issuance in which any party may appeal the permit to the Board of Appeals.

Inspections

Inspections of permitted work is the responsibility of the Department of Building Inspection. DBI's Inspection Services page explains their inspection function.

Applications & Handouts

Applications Mentioned On This Page

Handouts Mentioned On This Page