Permit FAQ & Glossary

These are the questions we hear the most.

Each FAQ and answer is general and your question may require more detailed analysis, based on your specific project. If you don't see what you are looking for here, please visit or call us at the Planning Information Center (PIC) —we're here to help!


  • Do I need a permit?

    Whether a Building Permit is required is determined by the requirements of the San Francisco Building Code. Basically, a Building Permit is required for any work unless it is specifically exempted by the Building Code. The list of exempted work is contained in Section 106 of the San Francisco Building Code. Getting City Permits is a useful informational bulleting published by the San Francisco Building Department that discusses Building Permit requirements and lists many of the types of work that do not require a Building Permit.

    Depending on the scope of your project, both the Planning and Building Departments may need to be involved.

    In addition to Building Permits, the Planning Department also issues Conditional Use Authorizations and Variances. Those are discussed below under Entitlements.

  • How long does it take?

    Most Building Permits reviewed by the Planning Department are approved over-the-counter (OTC) at our Planning Information Center (PIC). Those are projects that do not require public hearings or neighborhood notification (typically Section 311/312 Notification What's This?).

    Building permits for projects that require neighborhood notification would typically require a few months processing time from filing to approval, barring appeal.

    Projects that require hearings such as Discretionary Review (DR) What's This?, Conditional Use (CU) or other Planning Commission hearings will typically take several months from filing to hearing date as would a Variance application and hearing.

    Appeals of any decision regarding your application would add additional processing time.

    Projects that impact historic resources may require additional time to investigate the extent of the impact on the historic resource and/or additional applications and hearings, and potentially further review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). For more information see Environmental Planning.

    If your project is not exempt from CEQA, a "Negative Declaration" or "Environmental Impact Report (EIR)" may be required What's This?. Either of these would add additional time to your permit review as environmental review must be complete prior to any approval actions by the Department or any other agency.

    Negative Declarations could add several months or more to the processing time for you application. An EIR may add a year or more to processing time.

  • How much does it cost?

    The Planning Department has different types of fees based on the scope of your project. Some Building Permit fees (e.g. New Constuction fees, Change of Use fees, or Alteration fees) are based on the construction cost of your project. The Department's Fee Schedule includes calculators to help get an idea of costs for your project:

    Depending on the location and scope of your project, the Planning Department may require environmental evaluation or environmental impact fees (usually for large and expensive projects), or Planning Commission fees (in the case that your project requires a public hearing).

    It is recommended to visit or call Planning staff at the Planning Information Center (PIC) early in the planning of your project to understand any fees that may be associated with your project. The PIC is at 1660 Mission Street, first floor and may also be reached by phone at (415) 558-6377.

    Finally, depending on the scope of your project, there might be additional fees required by San Francisco Building Department (DBI) fees as well. You can check DBI's Fee Schedule or call DBI directly at 415-558-6088.

Zoning & Land Use

  • How do I find the zoning district (also known as "use district") of my property and what does it mean?

    Knowing the zoning district of your property will help you identify what specific limits may apply to your project, for example:

    • Maximum number of units permitted on site (i.e. Dwelling unit densities)
    • Maximum building height and maximum building bulk
    • For what purposes you may use your property/parcel (also known as "uses," such as Commercial, Residential-Commercial, Community Business, Light Industrial, etc.)
    • Rear yard/side yard/front yard setbacks and open space requirements
    • Parking and loading requirements
    • Whether changes to your property/parcel requires additional processes, such as neighborhood notification or Conditional Use Authorization

    You may find the zoning and height limits for your property/parcel on our San Francisco Property Information Map (which is also available from the home page of our website). To use the map to find your zoning, enter your address or Assessor's Lot and Block number and click the "Zoning" tab to find your Zoning District and Height districts.

    Once you know your property's zoning use district, you can start to find information specific to your project type. The best place to find information about the various types of projects and permit forms you'll need to fill out is online at our Permit Types web page.

    There are online versions of the complete San Francisco Planning Code and current San Francisco Zoning Maps. These are also available from the "Codes" section under "Resource Center."

  • When would I need a Public Hearing?

    In most cases, Planning Code regulations determine whether a public hearing would be required for your project. The most common public hearings are for Conditional Use (CU) authorization, or Discretionary Review (DR), with a hearing before the Planning Commission, or a Variance with a hearing before the Zoning Administrator.

    Under the Planning Code, in any given zoning district a use is either: Permitted; Conditional; or Not Permitted. For a use to be conditionally permitted a Conditional Use Authorization application must be filed and a public hearing held by the Planning Commission. Action by the Planning Commission on Conditional Use applications is appealable to the Board of Supervisors.

    Discretionary Review is either requested or mandatory. DR may be requested by a member of the public to express concern over your proposal (usually in response to neighborhood notification). It may be initiated by Planning staff in response to a project that staff believes does not meet Department guidelines or policies. Or the project may be the subject of DR by Planning Code requirement or Department policy, such as a proposed loss of dwelling units.

    Certain quantitative controls may apply to your project in any given zoning district such as rear yard or open space requirements, or parking requirements. If your proposed project does not meet these standards, for example you are proposing less parking than the Code requires, you may have to file a Variance request and have a hearing before the Zoning Administrator appealable to the Board of Appeals.

    If your project is not Categorically Exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and is the subject of more extensive environmental analysis, the resulting environmental document may require a hearing. Your permit cannot be approved until the environmental review is complete. If your property is a protected historic resource under the Planning Code, additional applications and hearings before the Historic Preservation Commission may be required.

    There are a variety of less common hearing types such as hearings regarding Planning Code exceptions for downtown (C-3) districts or small scale rezoning applications. Please feel free to contact the Planning Information Center (PIC) to determine what rules apply to your project.

  • What to expect at a Public Hearing

    Hearings before the Planning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission and the Zoning Administrator have similar formats. Generally there are time limits for all speakers. The principal parties (i.e. the applicant and principal opponent(s) if any) are given slightly longer to make their presentations. Then a specified time is allotted for follow up or rebuttal.

    The Planning Commission has adopted rules for the conduct of their hearings on their web page. The Historic Preservation Commission web page has a brief description titled What to expect at a Historic Preservation Hearing and adopted rules and regulations. The Zoning Administrator's hearings are principally to hear requests for Variances. The Zoning Administrator's web page explains what to expect at a Variance Hearing in detail. The rules for Variance hearings are described on the Zoning Administrator page.

    The Planning and Historic Preservation Commissions each have links to their hearing agendas and minutes. The agendas are very useful to identify upcoming cases as well as to review what matters have been heard by the Commission previously. The minutes provide a record of how these Commissions have ruled on specific items. This can be very useful to applicants as they can search for cases similar to their own and review prior Commission actions on those matters.

    The City & County of San Francisco has a Video on Demand web site which includes videos of various boards and commissions. The Planning Commission's hearings are available there. The site is searchable. For example, if you are proposing a dwelling unit merger you can search on that phrase and the site will return specific locations in Commission hearing videos where that phrase was used. You can then go directly to that portion of the video and observe how the Planning Commission acted on that case.

  • How do I request an inspection?

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

  • How do I report a potential code violation pertaining to minimum housing standard, land use violations, noise, vacant and unfit buildings, and more?

    The Planning Department Code Enforcement Division operates programs to ensure compliance with the City's Planning Code. They respond to customer complaints of potential Planning Code violations and initiate enforcement action to correct those violations.

    If you think you have a violation of the Planning Code to report, there are number of things to consider. follow the steps detailed on Code Compliance web page at 415-575-6863.

    There are a variety of city agencies that enforce against violations of different codes, e.g. Building, Housing, Health Code, etc. The Planning Department Code Enforcement Division page provides a list of code violations investigated by other City departments and agencies. If you are uncertain as to which agency would enforce against the potential violation you have discovered you should call San Francisco's Customer Service line by dialing 311, or visiting

Permitting Glossary

Accessory Use

A "use" is a common planning concept. A use is established when land has been declared to be usable for a particular building type or development activity. (See Use definition below.) An accessory use is a building or a usage of land that is additional to primary use. A musical rehearsal studio or massage therapy office located inside your house is an example of an accessory use. Find more information on the Accessory Dwelling Unit project page.

Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) Application

A Certificate of Appropriateness (CofA) is the authorization by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to perform specific scopes of work on designated City landmarks and buildings within historic districts. ... [Display Full Definition]

A CofA requires an HPC hearing in order to determine if the proposed work conforms to the Secretary of the Interior Standard's, Article 10 of the San Francisco Planning Code and additional recommendations provided by the Planning Department that can be found in the supporting document titled: Preservation Bulletin #4; Obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for Your Historic Property. The Planning Department and the HPC must determine that your work will not have a significant impact on the historic resource and will be of benefit to the community as a whole. During the public hearing, the HPC can approve, disapprove or approve with conditions a CofA.

Download the Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) Application (PDF)

Change of Use

A "use" is a common planning concept. A use is established when land has been declared to be usable for a particular building type or development activity. (See Use definition below.) Change of Use is a change from one permitted use to another. The only guide for for determining whether one use is different from another is its treatment in the San Francisco Planning Code (view the code online). If the Code treats them differently, they must be considered distinct uses. Thus if "Use A" is first permitted in a different zoning use district than "Use B," it is clear that they are different uses. A good way of thinking about it is whenever the use of a building or lot changes in a way that would be regulated differently than the current use, a change of use occurs.

Conditional Use (CU) Application

A Conditional Use (CU) is a type of land use that is not principally permitted in a particular Zoning District. Conditional Uses require a Planning Commission hearing in order to determine if the proposed use is necessary or desirable to the neighborhood, whether it may potentially have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, and whether the use complies with the San Francisco General Plan. ... [Display Full Definition]

During this public hearing the Planning Commission will "condition" the use by applying operational conditions that may mitigate neighborhood concerns as well as apply conditions that may be required by the Department and the Planning Code. Conditional Use Authorizations are entitlements that run with the property, not the operator.

For each Zoning District, the Planning Code contains use charts that list types of uses and whether each is permitted (P), conditionally permitted (C), or not permitted (NPor blank). In addition to those particular uses, the Conditional Use Authorization process is utilized for various other applications included but not limited to residential demolition, Planned Unit Developments (PUD's), and exemptions from off-street parking in certain Zoning Districts. Please consult a planner at the Planning Information Counter (PIC) for additional information regarding these applications.

Download the Conditional Use Application Packet (PDF)

Discretionary Review (DR)

The Planning Commission has discretion over all Building Permit applications. Normally, this discretion is delegated to the Planning Department, which approves applications that meet the minimum standards of the Planning Code, including the priority policies of the San Francisco Planning Code Section 101.1. From time to time the Commission will review a Building Permit application. The Commission may determine that modifications to the proposed project are necessary in order to protect the public interest. If so, they can require the permit applicant to make the necessary changes and the Department will disapprove the application unless the required changes are made. This process of Commission consideration is commonly known as "Discretionary Review" or simply "DR." ... [Display Full Definition]

By filing a DR application, a member of the public is asking the Commission to exercise its discretionary power. Conceptually, think of DR as 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.

Discretionary Review is a special power of the Planning Commission however, outside the normal building permit application approval process. It is supposed to be used only when there are exceptional and extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed project. The Commission has been advised by the City Attorney that the Commission's discretion is sensitive and must be exercised with utmost constraint.

If no resolution is achieved between neighbors or with the help of Department staff, or Community Board mediation services, the Commission will hold a public hearing after the close of the neighborhood notification period in which it will consider whether to approve, disapprove or require modifications to the project. The Commission will make its decision on the case based on the materials submitted by the permit applicant, DR requester and interested parties, as well as the testimony presented to the Commission at the scheduled public hearing.

Download the

  • Discretionary Review (DR) Application (PDF)
  • Discretionary Review (DR) Fee and Waiver Request Form (PDF)
  • Discretionary Review (DR) Response (PDF)


Entitlement Application

In land development, approvals for the right to develop property for a desired purpose or use are commonly referred to as "entitlements." For example, Building Permits, which are discretionary and based on approval, are entitlements. Other discretionary actions by the Planning Department that would also be considered entitlements might be the Conditional Use Authorization allowing a restaurant in a Neighborhood Commercial district. Other entitlements may authorize an exception to a rule, such as a Variance, or a 'Section 309' approval that authorizes exceptions to certain Planning Code requirements in the downtown area. ... [Display Full Definition]

Certificates of Appropriateness or Permits to Alter are examples of entitlements that allow alterations to buildings subject to Planning Code protections as historic or architectural resources.

Other requirements of the Planning Department may result in the production of data, information or documents but would not constitute an entitlement. Most significant among these are environmental evaluation documents such as Negative Declarations or Environmental Impact Reports (EIR). These are informational documents to be used by decision makers in approving permits or entitlements. Similarly, shadow studies, historic resource evaluations and similar studies are utilized in the entitlement process but do not provide an applicant any rights to develop.

Environmental Evaluation (EE) Application

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires public agencies to review the environmental impacts of proposed projects. In San Francisco, environmental review under CEQA is administered by the Environmental Planning (formerly MEA) division of the Planning Department. The environmental review process begins with the submittal of a completed Environmental Evaluation (EE) Application to the Planning Department. Only the current EE Application form will be accepted. No appointment is required but staff are available to meet with applicants upon request. ... [Display Full Definition]

The EE Application will not be processed unless it is completely filled out and the appropriate fees are paid in full. Checks should be made payable to the San Francisco Planning Department. See the current Fee Schedule for Applications and contact the staff person listed below for verification of the appropriate fees. Fees are generally non-refundable.

Environmental Review

The Environmental Planning (formerly MEA) division of the Planning Department reviews projects for potential environmental impacts on the City of San Francisco and its residents, a process known as environmental review. Reviews are conducted pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Chapter 31 of the San Francisco Administrative Code, which provides guidelines for implementing the CEQA process. The reviews identify any potential adverse environmental effects of proposed actions, assesses their significance, and proposes measures to eliminate or mitigate significant impacts. ... [Display Full Definition]

Only certain smaller-scale actions identified by the state, known as Categorical Exemptions, are exempt from environmental review. The San Francisco Planning Commission has adopted a list of categorical exemptions.  Common project falling within the exempt classes include construction of up to three single-family homes or six units in multi-family buildings, or up to four small commercial structures not exceeding 10,000 gross square feet. If it is not clear that your project is Categorically Exempt you may be asked to submit an Environmental Evaluation Application. This application is used for both environmental exemption and environmental evaluation.

If it is determined that the project is not exempt from CEQA review, an Initial Study will be required, possibly requiring additional studies. Some projects may also require a Transportation Study or a Shadow Study. Based on the analysis of the Initial Study, Environmental Planning will determine that either (1) the project will be issued a negative declaration stating that the project would not have a significant effect on the environment, or (2) an environmental impact report is required to determine the project's significance on the environment.

Historic Preservation Commission Hearing

The Historic Preservation Commission is responsible for identifying and designating the San Francisco's landmarks and the buildings in the City's historic districts. It consists of seven Commissioners and a Commission Secretary. The Commission holds a public hearing (also known as a "Commission Meeting") twice monthly to carry out its duties. ... [Display Full Definition]

During these public hearings, the Commission reviews and approves applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness for exterior alterations, site improvements and new construction affecting San Francisco's designated landmarks, buildings and sites within historic districts. The board also makes recommendations to the Mayor, Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and other City agencies concerning amendments to the historic preservation code.

View the Agenda for the next Historic Planning Commission hearing

Formula Retail

Formula Retail establishment is sometimes loosely referred to as a "chain store." Under Planning Code Section 303(i), certain retail uses must have additional review to determine if they qualify as a "Formula Retail " use. If a use does qualify as a Formula Retail Establishment, then additional controls will apply depending on the zoning district where the proposed business will be located. ... [Display Full Definition]

Businesses subject to the formula retail establishment controls include the following 'Retail Sales Activity' or 'Retail Sales Establishment' as defined in Article 7 and Article 8 of the Planning Code: Bar, Drive-Up Facility, Eating and Drinking Use, Liquor Store, Other Retail Sales and Service, Restaurant, Limited-Restaurant, Take-Out Food, Retail Sales and Service, Financial Service, Movie Theater, Amusement and Game Arcade, Limited Financial Service, Fringe Financial Service, Tobacco Paraphernalia Establishment, Massage Establishment and Personal Service.

Download the Formula Retail Affidavit (PDF)

Mill's Act Historical Property Contract Application

The Mills Act is an important economic incentive program available in California for use by private property owners of qualified historic buildings. Enacted by the State of California in 1976 and amended in the San Francisco Administrative Code in 1996, the Mills Act provides for a potential 50 percent reduction in property taxes on qualified historical properties in exchange for the owner's agreement to maintain and preserve the resource in accordance with standards established by the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. ... [Display Full Definition]

For more information on the Mills Act and the recently expanded definition of "qualified historical properties," see Preservation Bulletin No.8.

Download the Mill's Act Historical Property Contract Application

Neighborhood Notification (also known as "Section 311," "Notification," or simply "Notice")

San Francisco Planning Code Section 311 describes a neighborhood notification requirement applicable in certain residential and commercial districts. Notification is a process generally triggered by new construction of a building, expansion of existing buildings, or certain changes of use.

Notification is usually comprised of three components: a mailing that goes out to surrounding property owners and occupants, a poster that is placed at the subject property, and an online copy of notice materials and related plans and documents on Planning's website. Planning staff will process the notifications for you using an internal database of addresses. The process provides for a 30-day notification period for owners, tenants and neighborhood groups in the vicinity of a proposed project to allow them an opportunity to voice concerns over the nature of a proposal and/or to request a public hearing before the Planning Commission (known as a Discretionary Review) to seek to have the project modified or denied. ... [Display Full Definition]

This process is described in detail in our Neighborhood Notification handout. In some residential districts, the Section 311 process also mandates that certain types of projects offer nearby neighbors and neighborhood groups an opportunity to meet with sponsors for a presentation and explanation of the proposed project prior to the filing of the Building Permit. These requirements are described in our Pre-Application Notification Packet (PDF).

Planning Commission Hearing

The Planning Commission consists of seven members appointed by the Mayor and the President of the Board of Supervisors to help plan for growth and development in San Francisco. The Commission holds a public hearing each week (also known as a "Commission Meeting") to carry out its duties and advise the Mayor, City Council and City departments on San Francisco's long-range goals, policies and programs on a broad array of issues related to land use, transportation, and neighborhood planning. ... [Display Full Definition]

The Commission additionally has specific responsibility for the stewardship and maintenance of the San Francisco's General Plan.

View the Agenda for the next Historic Planning Commission hearing

Planning Department Review of All Applications

The Planning Department reviews applications for Building Permit applications and other Planning Department applications. In regards to Building Permit applications, depending on the scope of your project, you may need to obtain permits from the Building Department, the Fire Department, the Health Department, the State Alcoholic Beverage Commission, or other City agencies. The Planning Department reviews these applications. Additionally, the Planning Department reviews other applications required required in the land use process but not specifically related to Building Permits. ... [Display Full Definition]

The majority of Building Permit applications reviewed by the Planning Department are approved over-the-counter (OTC). (These permits are not tied to mandatory public hearings or other Planning Department entitlements).  For example, most window, siding or door replacements, residential ground floor improvements as well as many decks and minor building expansions, such as bay windows, are approvable OTC.  Also changes of use involving only interior changes to a building are often approvable OTC, depending on the zoning district. 

Planners review all Building Permit applications for compliance with Planning Code requirements, requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and any further applicable Department guidelines and policies. If the proposed project is in compliance and no further notice or hearings are required, it will likely be approved.

For all other Planning Department applications, such as Conditional Use Authorization, Variance Applications, Certificates of Appropriateness, etc. an applicant needs to schedule an appointment with the Planning Department and submit the application at a scheduled appointment.  The submittal requirements for each of these applications are contained in the application packets on our Applications/Forms page.  Feel free to contact the Planning Information Center (PIC) with any questions.

Many departmental applications are tied to a public hearing (see Entitlements). "Findings" are often required. For example, a Conditional Use (CU) approval must find that a project is necessary or desirable for, and compatible with, the neighborhood or the community, and that it will not be detrimental to the health, safety, convenience or general welfare persons residing or working in the vicinity.  The Planning Code also has certain findings that are required for specific uses. Variance decisions have a series of "hardship" findings that must be made that are described in the Variance application and the Planning Code.  Most Planning Department application forms describe the requirements for approval of each type of application.

Applications that require public hearings typically have an accompanying approval document when they are approved (e.g. a Motions for hearings before the Planning or Historic Preservation Committees, or a Variance decision letter).  These documents show how each project met the applicable code requirements. Copies of these documents are available from the Planning Department.

Project Review Meeting

A Project Review Meeting is a 1-hour scheduled meeting available to any permit applicant. It provides members of the public and Planning Department staff an opportunity to discuss Code requirements, planning processes and Departmental policies related to a specific proposed project. It allows applicants to get early feedback on potential issues of concern and thus avoid unnecessary or costly work on proposals that are not likely to be approved. ... [Display Full Definition]

A Project Review Meeting can include only the Planning Department, or for new construction and modifications to 5 or fewer dwelling units, and for affordable housing projects, it may include several other departments includingBuilding Inspection, Public Works, Fire Department.

Depending on the scope of your project, the Planning Department may issue your Building Permit, or you both the Planning and Building Departments may need to be involved.

In addition to Building Permits, the Planning Department also issues Conditional Use Authorizations and Variances. Those are discussed below under entitlements.

Pre-Application Process

The Pre-Application Process is required for any Formula Retail use subject to a Conditional Use Authorization; and for new construction projects and certain alterations located in zoning districts that are subject to Section 311 or 312 Notification. The Pre-Application Process needs to occur prior to the filing of any entitlement. ... [Display Full Definition]

Here's a list of the types of projects that are subject to Pre-Application Process:

  • New Construction
  • Vertical additions that add 7' or more feet to the existing building height
  • Horizontal additions that add 10' feet or more to the existing building depth at any level
  • Decks that require Section 311 or 312 Notification
  • All Formula Retail uses subject to a Conditional Use Authorization
  • PDR-I-B, Section 313
  • Small Business Priority Processing Program (SB4P)
  • Department Staff may request a Pre-Application meeting

The intent of the Pre-Application process is to:

  • Initiate neighbor communication to identify issues and concerns early on
  • Provide the project sponsor/applicants the opportunity to address neighbor concerns about the
  • potential impacts of the project prior to submitting an application
  • Reduce the number of Discretionary Reviews (DRs) that are filed

This process is not intended to be a forum in which to discuss:

  • Personal choices of Property Owner(s)
  • Programmatic issues related to the proposed project
  • Aesthetic preferences
  • Rational for development

The benefits of Pre-Application to project sponsors/applicants include:

  • Early identification of neighbor concerns
  • Ability to mitigate neighbor concerns before project submittal
  • A more streamlined, predictable review from the Planning Department
  • Elimination of delays associated with Discretionary Reviews

The benefits of Pre-Application to the neighbors include:

  • The opportunity to express concerns about a project before it is submitted
  • Eliminating the need to file a DR
  • Eliminating the time and stress associated with DRs

Download the Pre-Application Neighborhood Meeting Information Packet (PDF)

Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA)

This is a process that evaluates moderate to large projects before development applications are filed. A PPA is required for any project that is

  1. creating 7 or more dwelling units, and/or
  2. constructing a new non-residential building or addition of 10,001 square feet or more,
  3. A PPA is now required for changes of use of 25,000 square feet or more.

... [Display Full Definition]


The Department may sometimes request that particularly complex projects that might not meet these thresholds also undergo a PPA.

Our goal is to provide you with assistance in advance of your application submittal, so that the application materials are complete and accurate, reducing the need for correction cycles that will delay approval.

Download the Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) Application (PDF)

View active/current Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) Letters

Shadow Analysis (also known as "Proposition K" and "Sunlight Ordinance")

In general, all applications for new construction or additions to existing buildings with a roof height above 40 feet in height must be reviewed to determine whether a shadow might occur. A Shadow Analysis is the process to implement Section 295 of the Planning Code, also known as "Proposition K" and "The Sunlight Ordinance." ... [Display Full Definition]

Planning Code Section 295 mandates that new structures above 40 feet in height that would cast additional shadows on properties under the jurisdiction of, or designated to be acquired by the Recreation and Parks Department can only be approved by the Planning Commission if the shadow is determined to be insignificant or not adverse to the use of the park. Also, a recommendation from the Recreation and Parks Commission is required prior to the Planning Commission hearing.

Download the Shadow Analysis Application (PDF)

Sunshine Ordinance

The Sunshine Ordinance is an ordinance to insure easier access to public records and to strengthen the open meeting laws. The Sunshine Ordinance also outlines a procedure for citizens to follow if they do not receive public records they have requested. (The Sunshine Ordinance was adopted by the voters of the City/County of San Francisco in November 1999 and went into effect in January 2000. The City & County of San Francisco already had a Sunshine Ordinance; however, the new one strengthens the previous one.) ... [Display Full Definition]

You can get a copy of the Sunshine Ordinance from the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force on the City's website at

Download the Sunshine Ordinance Request for Public Record Form (PDF)

Temporary Use Authorization

A Temporary Use Authorization permits a specific land use for a limited period of time on a particular parcel. Temporary Use Authorizations are typically not associated with significant construction activity; they authorize such short-term uses as mobile food facilities, seasonal Christmas tree and pumpkin sales, construction trailers, and festivals or exhibitions. A Temporary Use Authorization from the Planning Department is frequently one of a number of City permits required to operate a temporary use. The Fire, Police, and Health Departments, among others, may also require separate permits before such can commence operations. ... [Display Full Definition]

While a Temporary Use Authorization permits a specific use or activity on a given parcel, it does not authorize any construction-related activities. Construction, demolition, or alteration of a structure - regardless of association with a temporary use - are subject to the permitting requirements of the Department of Building Inspection (DBI).

Download the Temporary Use Authorization Application Packet (PDF) and Street Food Sales FAQ Handout (PDF)

Use (also known as Land Use)

A "use" is a common planning concept. A use is established when land has been declared to be usable for a particular building type or development activity. A simple example of these concepts would be, when a home or residence is built, the "use" of the building would be "Residential" and its construction would only be allowed in a "Residential zoning use district." ... [Display Full Definition]

Uses are grouped together into use districts (also known as "zoning use districts") to form the impression of neighborhoods, districts, or geographic areas that distinguish themselves as focused on certain activities or land uses (e.g. "RTO" is a zoning use district for "Residential, Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Districts").

You can read about all the various classes of use districts in Section 201 of the San Francisco Planning Code.

Variance Hearing

A variance is a request for an exception from the quantitative standards of the Planning Code, such as rear yard, front setback and parking. Certain provisions of the Planning Code, such as height, sign and use requirements, are not variable. The Zoning Administrator hears and makes determinations on variance applications. ... [Display Full Definition]

In order to grant a variance, the following findings must be made:

  1. That there are exceptional or extraordinary circumstances applying to the property involved or to the intended use of the property that do not apply generally to other property or uses in the same class of district;
  2. That owing to such exceptional or extraordinary circumstances the literal enforcement of specified provisions of this Code would result in practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship not created by or attributable to the applicant or the owner of the property;
  3. That such variance is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of a substantial property right of the subject property, possessed by other property in the same class of district;
  4. That the granting of such variance will not be materially detrimental to the public welfare or materially injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity; and
  5. That the granting of such variance will be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of this Code and will not adversely affect the San Francisco General Plan.

Letters of Determination are written responses to requests regarding the classification of uses and the interpretation and applicability of the provisions of the Planning Code. Learn more about Zoning Administrator decision documents.

Download the Variance Application Packet (PDF)