The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a State statue established in 1970 which requires local public agencies to provide analysis and disclosure of possible environmental impacts prior to the approval of building permits.

Exemptions from analysis can be granted for minor projects, saving much time and money, but those exemptions can be appealed as can any findings of no environmental impact (a “negative declaration”), an appeal process which is ill-defined and costly, a favorite tool of both concerned citizens and NIMBYs alike.

Having spent months writing and re-writing proposed legislation to establish a set 20 day windows for filing appeals and clarifying the process, Supervisor Wiener’s proposed legislation was approved by San Francisco’s Planning Commission and seemed ready for a Board of Supervisors vote. And then Supervisor Kim introduced a competing bill.

Directly from Supervisor Wiener’s office:

On March 12, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced separate, alternative CEQA legislation. The legislation was not drafted by the City Attorney nor approved as to form by the City Attorney. The Planning Department did not participate in the legislation, did not provide feedback on it, and was not aware of the legislation before it was introduced.

While Supervisor Wiener welcomes any of his colleagues to participate in this important process, unfortunately, Supervisor Kim’s legislation is exactly the opposite of Supervisor Wiener’s legislation. Instead of creating a clearer and more predictable process, it will make the CEQA process even worse than it is today: longer, more expensive, more cumbersome, more bureaucratic, and less predictable.

A few examples from Wiener’s Office with respect to the “negative changes” that would result if Supervisor Kim’s legislation is adopted:

Every project on every building 50 years or older – nearly 3/4 of San Francisco’s building stock – would no longer be eligible for a CEQA Categorical Exemption stamp (often issued over the counter in a matter of hours) for a minor change, such as changing a window, replacing a rotted out handrail, or replacing a failing roof. Instead, any and all such projects will be required to get a “Categorical Exemption Certificate,” which is a detailed report that can take 3-6 months to issue and currently costs $5,000, as opposed to several hundred dollars for a Categorical Exemption stamp.

This change would effectively mean that over the counter permits would no longer be an option for buildings 50 years or older, more than 3/4 of buildings in San Francisco.

Similarly, all projects in parks and “open space,” which is a very broad term, would require the same 3-6 month and $5,000 certificate instead of the current Categorical Exemption stamp. This would dramatically increase the time and cost associated with even small park and open space projects, like rehabilitating playground structures, adding benches, and planting trees on road medians.

In addition, under Kim’s bill every negative declaration for a park, open space, or building greater than 50 years old would be required to be considered by both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission. Currently, negative declarations are only considered by the Planning Commission and only if an appeal is filed.

34 thoughts on “Supervisor Showdown: Wiener Versus Kim, CEQA, And Waste”
  1. Sigh.
    Is this Jane Kim, or is it really Aaron Peskin or someone else behind the scene?
    I can only imagine how awful the backlog will get now.

  2. It’s really a shame that Supervisor Jane Kim has to meddle around and make the CEQA process even MORE complex and costly.
    Supervisor Scott Weiner is attempting to simplify some of the process without sacrificing citizen involvement.

  3. I moved out last summer after 11 years- once out of the SF bubble (I.e. civilization) you experience freedom like you never knew.

  4. futurist, I don’t think that Supervisor Kim is serious about her bill and I feel comfortable predicting that it won’t pass in anything like it’s current form.
    I take this as an opening gambit, a negotiating position, because she wants to open up parts of Supervisor Wiener’s bill that are a little to much in the greasing-the-skids category for developers to debate. That’s not to say that Supervisor Wiener didn’t allow for ample time for debate on the various aspects of it before now.
    This is just regular big city politics plays out and the same kind of thing happens in other large cities in California. We’ll see.

  5. I sent Jane Kims office a note detailing how pissed I was that she’s doing Aaron Peskins bidding.
    This is nothing but another power grab from Aaron – its no surprise that Kim’s bill further empowers the Hysterical preservation commission.
    When will the angry midget fade into the background?

  6. A simple application process with checks and balances would be ideal, and very hard to achieve as in proponents of property rights vs NIMBY vs Historic preservation etc. But if an application process is too onerous for minor modifications, this only serves as an incentive to either cheat or to allow things to decay past the point of no return. I hope Ms Kim’s proposal is only for, as others surmised, an attempt to bring a dialogue back to Weiner’s proposed legislation.

  7. Whether she is “serious” or not is irrelevant. She is proposing real changes that would make the process even more bureaucratic.
    Shame on Jane Kim.

  8. Shame! Shame! Shame! Peskin wants the power to shut down virtually every project in the city. Imagine buying a house and wanting to update your house by doing the sensible thing like replacing single-pane windows for double-pane. Under Wiener’s legislation, it could be handled over the counter. Under Kim’s, it would mean that you would need a historical resource evaluation report($3-5000), then you would submit for an environmental evaluation ($2,550), then you would need to submit a building permit (+/-$3-4,000) and then it would take many months – I think 6 is about right. Oh, and I forgot that you would need to submit architectural drawings costing many thousand’s more!
    This kind of power politics is disgusting. Wiener is working in earnest to try to save EVERYONE time and money. Kim, doing Peskin’s bidding, is doing just the opposite.

  9. So glad to be rid of Jane Kim as my supervisor in this corner of the Mission… unfortunately my supervisor is now Campos and he votes from the same warped mindset…

  10. Why is it always District 6? I am so glad the maps were changed and I got moved out of there. But, to be blunt, its the loss of moderate capitalists like myself that will keep District 6 in the hands of the Daly-Kim crowd.

  11. Negotiation via opposing legislation, certainly. Astoundingly short sighted.
    In the remote chance that this passes, there will be a boom in shady, no permit work throughout the city.

  12. Just checked out her website ( Stale, with a lot of the content from 2010. Now would be the perfect time for her to update the site and to have her personally address this issue. Or, she can address it in 140 characters or less (@SupeJaneKim)…

  13. has been declared a web historic resource, so updates and improvements will need to be vetted by the planning department.
    On a related note,, using the same consistent design for over 12 months has been declared ‘category B a potential web historic resource’ and thus any changes or improvements to the function of the web site must take place at least 15 code layers behind the front facade, to preserve the neighborhood quality.
    Unless of course, socketsite is willing to submit a report listing every person who has ever visited the site since inception, every account from which it has ever paid and received funds, and a narrative describing the marketplace for real estate web site. Then they can wait. And hope, and find out in 6 months and $2500 if indeed socketsite is a web historic resource.
    Because for now, it just might be, so don’t get any ideas.
    (I know, I know, awfully early in the morning for such sarcasm.)

  14. “When will the angry midget fade into the background?”
    …I believe the correct term for Mr. Peskin coined by Joe O’Donoghue in the mid-2000’s was “angry dwarf”.

  15. Ted, please explain why a homeowner should need to pay for an analysis of environmental impact just to repair the roof– and how this is “standing up for neighborhoods.”

  16. It’s in the public interest to ensure that all repairs and alterations to a property are carried out in a safe manner, with no negative impact on the environment, silly. Sorry, but property owners don’t have the right to do whatever they want in pursuit of profit.

  17. Ted,
    Doing work safely is handled by having inspections of permitted work. Requiring permitting that costs more than the work and totally unreasonable extra time will end with lots more work done without permit.
    Also, repairing your home is not doing “whatever they want in pursuit of profit”. The Kim change won’t effect big developers who will still need CEQA, it will make almost every single project in the city need CEQA.

  18. property owners don’t have the right to do whatever they want in pursuit of profit
    You are confusing owners with landlords. Most owners who do work on their place do not see any “profit” per se, apart from the benefit of a better home.
    Even in terms of resale value, it’s very hard in general to get back the money you put into a new roof or a paint job.

  19. Good. The more regulation, the better. And if work is done without permits, then fine the perpetrators and put the money thus raised into the City’s coffers, where it can be used for the public good.

  20. I find it very suspect that suddenly Jane Kim is Ms know it all about planning.
    Where did all of her suggestions come from?
    That some of the legislation substantially empowers the historical preservation commission is pretty telling.
    Her pending legislation would do profound harm to SF. Do we want the entire city run by the Telegraph hill dwellers?

  21. This is not about requiring building permits. This is about the extra layer of CEQA review. Of course there CEQA review should be necessary for large developments. But it is an abuse of the law to apply it to routine home repair, or anything else that clearly has no significant environmental impact.

  22. Brahma had it right when he said this wasn’t about Kim trying to actually pass her ridiculous bill, it’s about politics. Only it isn’t about the politics of the bill itself- it’s about the internal politics of the BOS. By taking the opposing side on Development Reform Kim and the rest of the Progressive Faction can use this as a wedge issue to continue to paint Weiner as “pro-developer”.
    The fact that his legislation is more anti-idiot than pro-developer doesn’t matter- it’s the message that True Believers like Ted up there came to deliver that’s the purpose of her bill. It’s sad, and it will be a better day for all of SF when/if we can vote these [people] out of office.

  23. Supervisor Kim’s proposed legislation is the only one with any significant citizen involvement.
    Wiener was forced by San Francisco speakers and the Land Use Commission to meet with the public. He deliberately cancelled meetings so neighborhood groups and stakeholders wouldn’t come, then met anyway without them. Many groups that should have been invited were not, until others told them. He stonewalled every decent suggestion for changes that would allow citizens to have a voice in forces that would affect their well-being. Consequently, over 35 neighborhood organization, environmental groups and labor unions met to shape alternative legislation that would meet their needs, not disenfranchise them completely.
    Almost NO notice would be given for important developments, and the very first approval, even for just a site plan, would trigger a 20 day time limit for appeals if people were notified and a 30 day limit if they were not even notified at all. The project could then unfold for years with many outrageous changes to the original approved plan with NO possibility of appeal. In addition, citizen comment would be heard by only a three member committee not by the full board.
    Wiener eliminated completely section 31.16 regarding the EIR, then claimed that large projects such as Treasure Island, CPMC and Parkmerced’s demolition would not be affected! This is patently FALSE! Developers like Daniel Mudd, CEO of Fortress Investment Group hedge fund when he started the PM Expansion idiocy (now under prosecution by the Feds and SEC for keeping two sets of book in the demise of Fannie Mae to the tune of a $250billion taxpayer rescue…you paid for that losers!), could then file a sugar-coated first approval then rape and pillage all the way to the bank. Wiener is crying for these crooks and whines about his need to go to bat for them. They plan to eliminate rent control and move working class families out of the city. It is clear that small projects and homeowners can be screwed in this process sometimes–I have been myself and cannot afford a bit of it–but Kim’s new proposal avoids al the problems you are worried about here; she separates all the single permit projects from the others, and almost all the projects you talk about are single permit. This is why at the hearing on Monday, yesterday, there were only 23 people who spoke for Wiener and 49 who spoke for Kim. Wiener was pathetic in the hearing and was thwarted by the group and the other committee members when he tried to subvert the process and get his leg voted in. He did the same thing months ago before he was forced to reach out to groups like ours. He paid only lip service to us and denied every substantive request.
    Wiener compared the urban infill he did on Octavia Street (where he got a freebie when the freeway came down…he could build new housing where nobody had lived before) to the demolition of Parkmerced’s 1,538 beautiful garden apartments with courtyards where kids can be safely raised that were designed by Charles Dolliver Church, the godfather of modern landscape architecture. He said I did it in my district so you have to do it on the west side in Parkmerced. As if comparing no homes lost to 6,000-7,000 working class men women and children’s homes lost is an honest claim to make. This is why nobody trusts him to do the right thing and has to hold his hand and show him how. He will not get away with ruining CEQA and that is why Kim, with all her brilliance, identified the only leg that had public input and defended it brilliantly and with tough perseverance yesterday. She deserves a lot of credit…she is working for you AND me on this.

  24. Isn’t strange that the so-called “Progressive” group in San Francisco is always opposed to progress? Or change of any sort? They should rename themselves the “Regressives” so at least people would know where they stand on issues.
    I always wonder at the amount of economic illiteracy is requires to believe that restricting the supply of something can make its price go down. Even common sense should tell you that if you want more of something, you should try to make more of it. But no, they continue to team up with the wealthy THD and other anti-development groups, to continue the Disneyfication of San Francisco. It is probably too late for them now: they have successfully driven up rents to the point where all the new dwellers have different class interests. And that is too bad. We could have built some high rise middle class housing and kept San Francisco a diverse and vibrant city.
    Because of the actions of the “Progressives” we have a city that is bifurcated between the upper-middle class and above, with some desperately poor and a few middle-class renters in rent controlled apartments that are slowly dying off.
    Kim is on the losing side here. The high water mark for the “Progressives” was the Chris Daly era, it is all downhere from here for them. And this is coming from a dude that would qualify as a Social Democrat if he lived in The Netherlands!

  25. Jane Kim – I worked on her 1st campaign for Supervisor – WHAT A MISTAKE
    SHe’s a self promoting IDIOT who has no agenda and NO IDEA what she’s doing and she’s blatantly rude to people she perceives are not on her side
    The real dragon lady came popping out of her shell after she was elected….

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