Bureaucratic red tape badly delays building projects in San Francisco


Active member
Sep 26, 2023
San Francisco has one of the worst building building permit processes in the nation. If you thought that the City of Poway was bad, they have nothing on the long building permit process that San Franscisco requires for development, which can take up to 3 years to approve.

Problems that developers face in San Francisco:

1. Post-entitlement appeals: While there is legislature in the works to end them, this allows the neighbors to appeal and stop building projects, or at least delay them. All building processes are political and can be stopped by competing political interests.
2. Lengthy environmental reviews - Environmental laws require that all housing projects are disclosed to the public, which means that more appeals can be filed on environmental grounds.
3. Large amounts of meetings with all of the departments - about 1,000.
4. After the discretionary period with all of the appeals, 87 permits need to be filed in sequential order and fees paid. This can take more than 600 days.
5. Non-profit housing projects need to be completed within 18 months of starting or they lose all of their bonds.
Thus, many affordable housing projects that are proposed for the city are never built.

You can read more here.
San Francisco, California, United States
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The building permit process in San Francisco indeed appears to be incredibly challenging for developers. The lengthy approval timelines, post-entitlement appeals, and extensive environmental reviews can create significant obstacles. The requirement for numerous meetings and the sequential filing of permits with associated fees further add to the complexity. The stipulation for non-profit housing projects to be completed within a tight timeframe is particularly concerning, potentially hindering the development of much-needed affordable housing. These issues highlight the need for reform in the city's permitting procedures to encourage more efficient and accessible development.
California's Governor's Office recently released a report that is highly critical of San Francsico's permitting practices and the costly building delays that have resulted from it. The report appears to have shined a spotlight on the issue, which recently made the city's local news:

The State of California also recently passed legislation to end post-entitlement appeals, which we previously discussed here. For this particular reform, I thought it was interesting that the necessary legislative fix didn't come from the City but instead had to be imposed by state legislation. Given the City of San Francisco's apparently difficult process for updating some of its own laws, I'm wondering if it will again need to rely on state-level action in order to make any additional reforms that may be under consideration.
The challenges faced by developers in San Francisco seem to be significant obstacles to the timely completion of building projects. The lengthy and complex building permit process, coupled with multiple layers of environmental reviews and numerous meetings with various departments, undoubtedly contribute to substantial delays. The potential for post-entitlement appeals by neighbors further adds to the bureaucratic hurdles that developers have to navigate. Such delays not only hamper the growth of the city but also impact the availability of affordable housing, which is a critical concern for many communities.
The City's building and planning department recently responded to the recent criticism saying that the U.S. Census building numbers (the basis of the recent reports) are misleading since they don't capture some types of housing development that are more heavily represented in San Francisco, e.g., converting office space to apartments. When accounting for all housing construction types, the City says it's numbers are more in line with other major cities, though still lower.