Anyone with even a passing connection to the real estate world in San Francisco, or anyone who knows anyone who's tried to get a permit for an addition or to build a single-family home or duplex in SF, knows that this is a yearslong process. Does it have to be? Will it ever not be?
Between the Planning Department and the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), and all the various other city agencies that have to sign off on every plan and every plan revision, small-time builders face what could be three or four years of bureaucracy before they can start a construction process which itself could take over a year. What may just take a few months in other parts of the country, the entitlement and permitting process in San Francisco has become an industry unto itself, employing consultants and expeditors which only the richest and biggest developers can afford.
You may already know all of this, but the Chronicle has now done its own investigation, the result of which are the following data points:
- It can take an average of 627 calendar days for a multifamily development to make through the permitting process — and that is likely with the help of a paid permit expeditor who shows up at DBI and bugs people constantly.
- For a smaller project, like a duplex or single-family home, it can take 861 days or over two and a half years.
- None of this even includes the Planning or "entitlement" process that comes before permits are even sought.
- The Chronicle found that approval times for permits have increased 83% since 2012.
- Architects and developers say that all this amounts to lots of extra costs, which in turn either get passed on to buyers or end up killing a project altogether before it breaks ground — which happens a lot.
- People in the field also suggest that the reason so much luxury housing gets built here, as opposed to anything else, isn't greed so much as it is that nothing else is profitable after permitting takes two years.
- DBI says it has instituted some sort of permit streamlining system, but no one has yet to see the results of this.
- In the last decade, 270 projects in San Francisco took more than four years to get their approvals.
DBI had plenty of responses to the Chronicle, saying that they prefer to see things in terms of business days not calendar days and a whole lot of other horseshit.
Anyway, read the whole piece and decide if this is necessarily all about safety, as DBI insists, or if there's probably just some slow-as-molasses paper-pushing going on here. And you can start to hear the not-so-secret thrill in the hearts of those who are praying that the dreaded "builder's remedy" kicks in this spring — if and when SF's Housing Element doesn't get approved by the state, and by law developers get free passes on permits until it does.
More on that to come, we're sure.
Photo: John Moeses Bauan