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NO. AB-004 :
April 27, 2015 (Updated 1/1/2020 for code references)
[Supersedes Administrative Bulletin AB-004 originally issued 10/6/06 and revision dated October 15, 2008, April 16, 2014, and September 23, 2014]
Permit Processing and Issuance
Priority Permit Processing Guidelines
This bulletin establishes guidelines to assure that permit applicants receive equal treatment and that permits are reviewed in the order received by the Department of Building Inspection except for certain designated priority applications.
It is the intent of the Department of Building Inspection that the permit review process proceeds in an orderly, fair and efficient manner with sufficient flexibility to allow the reasonable resolution of problems that may occur on a day-to-day basis. This bulletin is issued in conjunction with similar bulletins from the Department of Public Works and the Planning Department.
2019 San Francisco Building Code, Section 106A, Permits
Ethics Commission “Permit Processing Code of Conduct”
San Francisco Planning Department, Director’s Bulletin No. 2
Department of Public Works, Director’s Order #175,487
This Administrative Bulletin provides guidelines for the implementation of legislation adopted by the Board of Supervisors to assist City permitting departments in assuring that no appearance of, or actual, preferential treatment is given to any permit applicant. Policy is adopted in accordance with the requirements of San Francisco Campaign and Government Conduct Code Section 3.400, effective December 15, 2004, and supplements the Permit Processing Code of Conduct adopted by the Ethics Commission on January 10, 2005.
These procedures relate to assignment, initial processing, review and issuance of permit applications; as well as to permit revisions, addenda, and corrections submitted to the Department of Building Inspection subsequent to initial permit application.
General Policy: In accordance with the City’s adopted “Permit Application Processing” regulations, the Department of Building Inspection has determined that there is a compelling public policy basis to provide priority review and issuance for each of the following designated types of permit applications.
Department of Building Inspection employees are encouraged to exercise reasonable judgment in all permit review and issuance activities in order to fulfill our customer service responsibilities. This exercise of reasonable judgment by employees is considered an important component in meeting the intent of the legislation to avoid preferential treatment. In all cases when questions arise regarding potential issues of preferential treatment, employees are required to consult with their supervisors.
Subject to the reasonable judgment of employees, permit applications shall be logged-in, separated into various permit types, assigned to staff for review, and reviewed in the order in which they are received, except for certain designated priority permits as detailed below. The Department of Building Inspection may assign as many different permit types as necessary to assure the efficient operation of that department. For example, the Department of Building Inspection may separate permits for one type of work, such as office tenant improvement construction, from other types of work, such as re-roofing or new building construction.
Case A addresses initial permit submittal, assignment, review and issuance. Following such initial priority action, permit applications may be placed on hold, routed to other divisions or other City agencies, issued, cancelled, or expired pursuant to other code requirements and other adopted policies and procedures.
Case B addresses issues related to priority processing of permit revisions and of other materials submitted after initial permit acceptance and review, as well as to issues related to final processing and issuance of permits.
Case A - Applications for Permits
Permit applications for the following types of work may, upon request of the permit applicant, be given priority assignment for plan review and issuance:
1. Permit applications for necessary emergency work to secure the health or safety of building users or the public, either on private property or on the public right-of-way;
2. Permit applications for work on City owned or City leased properties when such priority permit review is specified in a written agreement between the Department of Building Inspection and such other City agencies;
3. Permit applications for work consisting solely of disabled access improvements;
4. Permit applications for work consisting solely of solar photovoltaic systems;
5. Permit applications for work consisting solely of wind power generation systems;
6. Permit applications for the voluntary or mandatory upgrade of soft story, wood frame buildings to improve building performance in earthquakes;
7. Permit applications principally for maintenance or preservation of designated historic buildings and/or sites;
8. Permit applications for projects that meet an exceptionally high standard for efficiency and “green building” that (1) create at least 7 dwelling units, (2) construct more than 10,000 square feet of non-residential space, or (3) change the use of at least 25,000 square feet. Such projects must involve standardized documentation by qualified professionals and third party certification, and must obtain certification meeting or exceeding at least one of the following:
- LEED Platinum certification using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System from the U.S. Green Building Council and Green Building Certification Institute; or
- GreenPoint Rated with 150 Green Points under the GreenPoint Rated system from Build It Green; or
- Living Building Challenge Certification or Petal Recognition or Net Zero Energy Certification from the International Living Future Institute; or
- Certified Passive House Certification or EnerPHIT Certification by the International Passive House Institute or PHIUS+ Certification by the Passive House Institute US; or
- Other equivalent “green building” standards that include published verification and quality assurance procedures, as approved on a case-by-case basis using the procedures described in DBI Administrative Bulletin 005.
Compliance with green building standards is to be assured through conformance with “Performance Assurance for Green Buildings” requirements noted below;
9. Permit applications for projects that provide new affordable housing (meeting the affordability levels defined in Planning Code Section 415 and in the Procedures Manual adopted by the Mayor’s Office of Housing) in 100% of the on-site dwelling units. Conformance with these standards shall be confirmed by Planning Department staff;
10. Permit applications to respond to a delay caused by an earlier procedural error by a City agency in processing the permit or processing another permit for the same project;
11. Permit applications submitted to comply with Notices of Violation, abatement notices, or any other official Department of Public Works, Planning Department or Department of Building Inspection enforcement or abatement notices which require immediate action; or
12. Permit applications for other work for which, in the reasonable judgment of the Director of the Department of Building Inspection, urgent or extraordinary circumstances exist that would lead to a significant public benefit or necessity, when such circumstances are documented in written findings;
13. Permit applications for the voluntary seismic upgrades of buildings subject to SFEBC Section 329.
Case B - Revisions and Addenda to Permits
Subject to the reasonable judgment of staff, revisions and other materials submitted to the Department of Building Inspection during the permit review process must be reviewed in the order in which they are received, except as detailed below. Such submittals may include revisions, corrections, addenda, and other permit materials. Exceptions to the strict chronological review and processing sequence are allowed and permit submittal documents may be given priority review, upon request of the permit applicant, when any of the following conditions is met:
1. Permits meet the priority permit qualifications of Case A, above;
2. Permit revisions are submitted pursuant to a decision of the Building Inspection Commission, Board of Appeals, Board of Supervisors, or other review or appeals body where such body has directed that the permit revisions be given priority review, or where required revisions are minor in nature and would not require substantial time to review and process;
3. Revisions, corrections or other submittals are minor in nature and would not require substantial time to review and process;
4. Revisions, addenda and other permit submittals for work in which, in the reasonable judgment of the Director of the Department of Building Inspection, urgent or extraordinary circumstances exist that would lead to a significant public benefit or necessity, when such circumstances are documented in written findings.
Documentation of Priority Processing
Priority processing for permits meeting the above criteria is to be undertaken at the request of the permit applicant. All cases of priority permit application processing shall be documented using a standard form, Documentation of Findings for Priority Permit Processing (Attachment A), that includes written findings of conformity with one of the priority types described in this bulletin. This document shall be prepared and submitted by the applicant. Department of Building Inspection, Division managers may approve the form where the permit is in clear conformity with the standards for priority processing. All other requests for priority permit processing should be reviewed and approved by a Deputy Director or other senior manager.
One copy of the form approving priority permit processing shall remain with the application, one copy shall be microfilmed or otherwise retained as part of the approved permit documents, and the original shall be retained in a chronological file in the office of the Deputy Director for Permit Services or in another designated location and shall be available for review by any person at any time during normal Department working hours. Permit applications that are approved for priority processing should be so noted in the Department of Building Inspection’s permit tracking system.
Performance Assurance for Green Buildings
Where priority processing for a permit application is requested for projects that meet or exceed the qualifying green building criteria in #8 above (e.g. LEED Platinum, Green Point Rated with 150 points, Living Building Challenge, Net Zero Energy, Passive House, PHIUS+, or equivalent), such permit applications should be filed prior to the submittal of the associated permit. Application for priority on the basis of “Green Building” shall be made using the “Documentation of Findings for Priority Permit Application Processing” form in Attachment A, and must be accompanied by:
- Documentation that specifies performance criteria and elements of the project required to obtain the required green building certification (e.g. a LEED checklist); and
- Proof that the project has been registered in the applicable certification program (e.g. LEED project registration); and
- Written commitment in a form prepared by the Department of Environment to apply for formal, written review of the project at the earliest milestone where the certifying body offers “pre-certification” or similar (e.g. LEED Design Review).
Plan review fees per San Francisco Building Code Section 110A, Table 1A-B will be charged on an hourly basis for all SF Green Team staff time related to an individual project.
Following submittal of the application for Priority Processing, the applicant shall meet with the City’s “Green Team,” comprised of technical staff from the agencies reviewing the application (Department of Building Inspection, Department of Environment, and generally Planning Department), to discuss the project. No application for priority on the basis of “green building” shall be accepted without the project sponsor and the City first entering into a formal agreement regarding the specific rating system to be used, major green building features, and a schedule for potential benchmarks and routine consultations between the sponsor and City during the permitting and construction processes.
The applicant’s obligations under this agreement shall be memorialized as Conditions of Permit Approval, which shall become part of the approved permit documents and shall be recorded with the County Recorder’s Office in a form approved by the Director. Failure of the project to meet all obligations for construction and installation of any features or uses associated with Priority status may result in (1) prohibition of approval and/or issuance of the building permit for the project if such permit has not yet been approved or issued, (2) suspension or revocation of the building permit for the project if such permit has been approved or issued but the project is not yet complete, or (3) suspension or revocation of the Certificate of Occupancy for the project if the project has been completed. Prior to any approval, issuance or reinstatement of such permit or Certificate of Occupancy, the feature or use in question or an alternate feature or use that - in the sole judgment of the City - satisfies the intent of the Project’s priority status may be required. Additionally, the City reserves the right to withhold any such approval, issuance or reinstatement for a length of time equal to that which was saved through enrollment in the Priority Application Processing program. In any such situation, the project sponsor shall be responsible for all administrative costs incurred by the City along with all fees and penalties identified in Section 110A of the San Francisco Building Code.
Quality Assurance Procedures
The assignment of permit applications for priority review and these procedures shall be reviewed by the Department of Building Inspection on an annual basis to confirm that the intent of this policy is being fulfilled and to make changes as necessary to optimize the efficient and fair operation of the permit process.
Originally signed by:
Tom C. Hui, S.E., C.B.O.
Department of Building Inspection
April 27, 2015
Approved by Building Inspection Commission October 15, 2008, Revision approved: April 16, 2014; November 19, 2014; April 15, 2015
Attachment I: Documentation of Priority Permit Processing
Attachment II: Planning Director Bulletin No. 2 (Rev. August 2017)
Attachment III: DPW Director’s Order #175,487