From Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s latest newsletter by way of a plugged-in reader:

The Land Use Committee will hold a hearing on [an Improving Residential Street Frontages] ordinance that will ensure that new and renovated buildings in the city’s residential and industrial districts create safe, walkable, and attractive street frontages.

We began this effort when we worked to improve street frontage requirements in the Market-Octavia Plan. Earlier this year, the Board enacted Supervisor Mirkarimi’s ordinance to extend similar street frontage controls to the City’s mixed-use districts. This new ordinance creates a comprehensive set of street frontage controls for residential districts.

Highlights include: 1. Limits parking and loading to a third or less of a building’s street frontage, and individual garage entrances to twenty feet or less; 2. Requires that one third of street frontage be dedicated to building entries, landscaping, and other features which foster the residential character of the neighborhood; 3. Minimizes the loss of on-street parking as off-street parking is added; 4.Requires that Garage entrances be set back from street corners to preserve pedestrian safety and encourage pedestrian-friendly features like storefronts and residential entrances.

The ordinance does not change permitted uses, density, height, bulk, or parking requirements. The controls in the ordinance are designed so that required parking can be built on even the narrowest San Francisco lot permitted by code.

The hearing will be held December 13 at 1 p.m. in City Hall room 263.

22 thoughts on “An Improving Residential Street Frontages Ordinance As Proposed”
  1. It seems like this can’t work, and as such it just makes the situation worse by adding more rules to check and get tripped up on. Worse, this might encourage things to go the wrong way. Since this could limit garage entrances and curb cuts, then maybe developers should go for the largest amount of garage entrances and curb cuts allowed. That would allow development in the near term to differentiate itself from future developments that end up being allowed less space for these features. If every remodel results in curb cuts being added where allowed then ease of walking and aesthetics will continue to suffer. There are real issues here, but this isn’t going to help and could even add pressure to make things worse.

  2. Glad to see that someone is taking this issue seriously. It’s true that SF is an awful sight to behold at the pedestrian level. The supe’s laudable suggestions may not work since it’s a piecmeal effort. Luckily, there are plenty of very good form- based codes out there that, if adopted, could solve this problem. All we need is a little public education/ participation and political will to change SF for the better…

  3. “If every remodel results in curb cuts being added where allowed then ease of walking and aesthetics will continue to suffer.”
    I believe that’s already happening, and this legislation is being proposed to reduce the impact in the future from the level we’re seeing now.

  4. It’s true that SF is an awful sight to behold at the pedestrian level.
    Oh, please. People from around the world come here and say how beautiful this City is. And they’re right.
    And it’s not all beautiful in the same way. There are streets with deep setbacks that are pretty and there are streets lined with Edwardians and Craftsman-style homes that not only abut the public sidewalk but extend over it at the 2nd and 3rd and sometimes 4th floor and they’re pretty, too. There are streets with no garages and no driveways and there are streets with nothing but garage entrances and driveways. And both can be pretty.
    What isn’t pretty is design by committee.

  5. OK, BobN, I’ll agree that beautiful can be defined in many ways, but we have a lot to learn about making SF more beautiful.
    I am just back from a great vacation to Sydney, Au, and have to tell you: It is a beautiful city; neighborhoods with large tree lined streets, lots of curbside landscaping, cleaner streets, and lush green backyards.
    By comparison our trees are lollipops, our sidewalks are way too wide in many ‘hoods. Ever seen how wide they are in Noe Valley on Noe St or Sanchez? Ridiculous. Blocks in Noe have zero trees.
    We have lots to learn in making our city much more beautiful.

  6. Sydney has the residential density of a bustling suburb (5330/mile). San Francisco is more than three times as dense (17462) — let’s compare apples to apples here.

  7. Density has nothing to do with making streets more green and livable.
    It has more to with the “desire” to make our city more beautiful. Walk down Sanchez St. in Noe Valley and see the incredible LACK of street trees and sidewalk landscaping. Notice the super-wide sidewalks from front property line to the curb. Do we really need 18′ wide sidewalks?
    Many residents on Sanchez simply do not want the maintenance of one street tree in front of their house. “Too much mess with the leaves, some say.”
    I congratulate the neighbors on Sanchez who have put in trees, largely working with Friends of the Urban Forest, but many neighbors chose not to plant a tree.
    So let’s bring up density again.

  8. Trees can turn out to be more than a hassle for cleanup. An even bigger concern to an owner contemplating planting a street tree is sidewalk damage. Roots can crack and lift pavement resulting in expensive repairs. One way to allay that concern would be for the city to take responsibility for sidewalk damage caused by “sidewalk friendly” tree species. Oddly the FUF’s list of recommended trees includes some notorious concrete muncher species.
    And I disagree that density has nothing to do with livability. That term has a lot of definitions, but if you include shorter, more pleasant trips between destinations then higher density definitely shortens trips. Density doesn’t help with the “pleasant” part of the trip though that’s where street trees can help.

  9. I think we only have one tree canopied residential street in SF- Lake St. (east) and its not really even a full canopy. Compare to even Sacramento where there are tons of true canopies everywhere, it is quite beautiful.

  10. Excuses, excuses. The same tired statements I hear from my neighbors in Noe V who have NO street trees in front of their house and 19′ of sidewalk.
    Plenty of appropriate street trees that will not crack the sidewalk. So if it cracks you repair it. Minor hassle.
    Bottom line, we are a barren and tree deficient city compared to other great cities around the world, including Sydney, Paris, Rome and even New York.
    Yes, achieving beauty is a hassle, and worth it.

  11. Mole Man, noearch – I agree with you. I’m just pointing out the main objection that homeowners have to plant street trees. If there are trees that can be planted without breaking sidewalks then it will cost the city nothing to take responsibility (because nothing will go wrong). If the city insures homeowners from root crack sidewalk repairs then I think more homeowners would be willing to plant.

  12. When you have a functioning political body in this city that legislates on the philosophy that “trees are for white people and lead to gentrification” how do you go about brining more trees into the city?
    Thanksfully these hateful politicians are going to be gone by next month and a new class of what appear to be more polite and thoughtful leaders to replace them will bring actual progress to our progressive city. When you declare a tree an enemy you know you are pure evil.

  13. Speaking of this hateful city. I own a building with a lovely Chinese Elm that is responsibly maintained. The liberal gay couple who owns the building next door has threatened to sue me because they maintain that my tree has destroyed their 102 yr old Clay sewer line……….which was obviously original to the house.
    It never ends in this place.

  14. runnz, flipside to bg’s question: if it wasn’t your tree that caused the damage to their pipe, then don’t worry about it. Let them threaten to sue you or even sue you. If it wasn’t your tree, you won’t have to pay (except some legal bills, but so will your neighbors, and presumably they won’t want to waste money).

  15. If you are certain it’s not your tree and the neighbor insists on litigation anyway, there is a provision in California law that allows you to make a settlement offer early on, and if the plaintiff is unable to obtain a more favorable judgment than your settlement, then the plaintiff has to pay your fees and costs. You could, for example, make a $1 settlement offer under Section 998, and if the neighbor fails to win at least $1, they would have to reimburse your cost. This is certainly not legal advice, and it’s unclear whether it’s your tree that’s causing the problem and whether this strategy would be appropriate in your case. Hope you have a good lawyer, because these neighbor disputes can blow up sometimes.

  16. Pine street is partially canopied west of Van Ness. (ironically, not with pines)
    Big canopies work well in midwestern cities with large setbacks, low roof heights and big lots, where the trees have space to expand. Minneapolis has huge Elms that canopy almost every residential street, and they are beautiful.
    In SF they would end up growing right into houses, blocking out windows, taking out trolley lines, invading sidewalks, etc. In Minneapolis, tree encroachment is mitigated by partial assumption of responsibility by the city and the local utilities.
    @runnz – even if it is your tree, I am surprised they would have standing to sue. A large Elm we had in a backyard in Minneapolis was rotting from the inside out (invisible to all but an arborist from the outside) and one morning it split straight down the trunk, with a 70ft section falling on the roof of our neighbor. They were responsible for the damage, even though the full trunk of the tree was on our side of the fence.
    You cannot control where your tree grows roots, and roots in sewers are expected. If your neighbors were so concerned, they should have excavated to mitigate impact on their property. But I’m not very familiar with California law.

  17. Roots follow water sources and won’t enter sewer pipes unless there is a leak first. Roots don’t cause leaks instead leaks attract roots. It is likely that the terracotta sewer pipe had developed a crack over its century of service and the resulting leak attracted roots.

  18. “In Minneapolis, tree encroachment is mitigated by partial assumption of responsibility by the city and the local utilities. ”
    In some cities I’ve lived, the city actually planted the tree itself, including in residential yards, I assume through an easement or something similar. In some cases, a typical residential lot had two trees fronting the street, and some streets had had those trees long enough for canopies. If the tree fell down in a storm, the city was responsible for fixing it, trimming it, chain-sawing it, whatever. If the tree was beyond repair, they would cut down and eventually replace the tree, with a little lag time of a few months. In one case, a tree had fallen down in severe weather and blocked a driveway, and a quick call to the city had crews out promptly chopping up the tree even in ice and snow.

  19. Come on guys. Wide sidewalks with no trees are PERFECT to park cars on. THAT is what most San Francisco neighborhoods are about. To hell with aesthetics or pedestrians.
    My point is, that while I applaud any effort to end the awful state our streetscape is in, what are the chances that any new law will be enforced any more effectively than already-existing ones? (Sidewalk parking / blocking, paving over front yards.)

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