Discretionary Review (DR) Reform Effort

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What is DR?

Discretionary Review (DR) is the authority of the Planning Commission to review projects that comply with the San Francisco Planning Code and take action if it is found that the case demonstrates an exceptional and extraordinary circumstance. Currently anyone can file a DR Application on any building permit, and have that project brought before the Planning Commission for a public hearing and review.

Conceptually, DR is a second look—with the opportunity for public participation—at building permit applications that have already been determined to comply with Planning Code standards and applicable design standards. The idea is that additional scrutiny by the Planning Commission might be necessary in some cases to judge whether the design guidelines were interpreted correctly or whether there are circumstances unique to a case that warrant further modifications of the proposed project, beyond the standards of the Code and applicable design guidelines.

What's wrong with DR, and why does it need to be reformed?

Currently, anyone for any reason can file a DR Application and bring a project before the Planning Commission for a public hearing. While this ensures that neighbors are provided an opportunity to express their concerns about a project to the Planning Commission, it does not result in a predictable and consistent development process. It also makes the development process more lengthy and costly for all involved, and takes time away from the Commission to address larger planning issues.

Overview of the DR Reform Effort?

Approximately one year ago, the Land Use Committee (LUC) of the Board of Supervisors tabled the proposed Discretionary Review (DR) Reform legislation. At that time the LUC asked Planning Department staff to report back within one year on the effectiveness of several procedural improvements staff had made as part of the DR Reform policy adopted by the Planning Commission (PC) on June 18, 2009, and updated on March 04, 2010. These procedural improvements include an expanded and formalized Pre-Application Process, establishment of thresholds to require review of projects by the Department's Residential Design Team, establishment of a definition for "exceptional and extraordinary circumstances," and timelines for review of DR Applications.

If you are looking for a more detailed view of the DR Reform effort and procedings, take a closer look in the following PDFs:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the definition of Exceptional and Extraordinary?
  • What are the main aspects of the new reform package?
  • What policies are now in effect?
  • What is a pre-application meeting?
  • What are the Residential Design Guidelines?
  • What is the Residential Design Team (RDT)?
  • Can I attend a Residential Design Team (RDT) Meeting?
  • Will DR Reform change how the Planning Department reviews permits?
  • Will DR Reform change the 311/312 Neighborhood Notification process?

DR Reform 2008-2010

On March 4, 2010, the Planning Commission adopted an amended DR Reform policy which superseded their policy adopted on June 18, 2009. The amended Policy was the result of continued community outreach. On March 8, 2010, after four hearings at the Board of Supervisor's Land Use Committee, Supervisor Mar introduced "Amendments of the Whole" and then continued the legislation to the "Call of the Chair." The Committee felt that it was not the right time to reform the DR process, but that in a year it may be more appropriate to move forward with DR Reform.

On July 1, 2010, the Department presented Interim DR Procedures to the Planning Commission. For the remainder of the interim year, the Department will continue to provide every DR request with a public hearing, while reducing the amount of staff time required to process DRs. You can view a copy of the memo outlining these procedures here.


If you have any questions or comments about the DR Reform Effort specifically, you can contact our Planning Department staff. We look forward to assisting you.

Elizabeth Watty, 415-558-6620
SF Planning Department
1650 Mission Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94103