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Two pieces of legislation – one in spring of 2011 and one in summer of 2012 – have gained praise for meeting the growing popularity of city food production with tangible recognition and encouragement of its multiple benefits.
Effective Effective May 20, 2011, Mayor Ed Lee signed into law an urban agriculture ordinance that encourages and increases access to locally grown food within the city and county of San Francisco. Ordinance 66-11 (PDF) broadly does three things:
- Establishes a definition for “urban agriculture” within The Planning Code
- Clarifies where different types of urban agriculture can and cannot take place
- Allows the sale of agricultural and horticultural products both on-site and off-site
On July 17, 2012, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation to create the city’s first urban agriculture program, which has $120,000 for its first year of funding and will broadly do two things:
- Centrally coordinate the urban agriculture efforts of seven city agencies
- Serve as a central place for the public to engage with the program and also obtain information and technical assistance
Details – 2011 ordinance
Home gardens (located at or adjacent to a residence, and in which food and ornamental plants are grown solely for personal use) are not subject to this ordinance and have no new rules.
Specifically, the ordinance does the following:
- Establishes urban agriculture as a “use category,”defined as the production of food or horticultural crops for harvest, sale, and/or donation.
- Defines and establishes use regulations for two distinct types of urban agriculture:
- “Neighborhood Agriculture” is less than 1 acre and is permitted in all zoning districts
- Large-scale Agriculture” is either 1 or more acres (or smaller, but unable to meet Neighborhood Agriculture standards) and is permitted only in “Commercial,” “Industrial,” and “Production, Distribution, and Repair” zoning districts.
- There is a provision to potentially allow this type of agriculture in other districts (such as “Residential”) upon obtaining a “Conditional Use Authorization” from the Planning Department.
- Requires that new gardens greater than 1,000 square feet comply with existing water-efficiency regulations and submit information to the Public Utilities Commission regarding intended water use.
- Establishes aesthetic regulations for “Neighborhood Agriculture,” such as farm equipment use and storage, compost pile setbacks, and types of fencing.
- Allows the sale, pickup and donation of raw food and horticultural products grown on site from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., provided that sales not take place inside of a residence.
- Allows the sale of “value-added products” in all districts except “Residential.”
- Value-added products must be made primarily from plants grown on site. Examples include fruit preserves made from fruit grown on site, and culinary herb wreaths, using primarily plants grown on site.
- Requires that a “change of use” permit be obtained from the Planning Department in some cases. This includes both an application and a fee of approximately $350, obtainable from the Planning Department’s Planning Information Center. The following are likely required to obtain a permit:
- New gardens that are “Principal Uses.”
- Example: an urban farm sited on a property that is not used for something else, such as housing, retail, or industrial.
- Existing gardens that want to start selling what they grow, depending on the district. (The Planning Department can make this determination.)
- New gardens that are “Principal Uses.”
Selling what you grow is subject to additional requirements established by government agencies other than the San Francisco Planning Department. Such requirements may include business licenses, health permits, and/or agricultural permits, depending on your plans. For instance, value-added products are subject to more regulation than raw agricultural products. See San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance’s guide to starting a garden or farm in San Francisco. (Also linked under Key Resources below.) It has both basic information on additional regulations that apply to you, and directs you to specific, comprehensive resources on all regulatory aspects.
The above ordinance does not address the following issues:
- enforcement of ordinance regulations
- animal husbandry including bees (but there are regulations on this, detailed in San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance’s guide)
- which types of crops can be grown
For additional information about the 2011 ordinance:
- Visit the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA) website. Make sure to read their two-page (PDF 267 KB) overview of the above ordinance.
Details – Urban Agriculture Program:
While the details have not been fleshed out publicly as of this writing (July 21, 2012), a press release issued by Supervisor David Chiu’s staff member, Catherine Rauschuber, outlines three aspects of the program:
- Streamlining the application process for projects on public land
- Developing incentives for converting private lands to urban agriculture uses
- Creating new spaces for urban agriculture and garden resource centers
A strategic plan is required to be developed, which will, among other things, determine which city agency or nonprofit should permanently house the program.
- The Planning InformationCenter (PIC) can answer direct questions about zoning and land use, the San Francisco Planning Code, and specific neighborhood and area plans.
- The San Francisco Planning Department’s online Map Library
- Provides links to many different types of city maps, including
- zoning districts
- searchable property information database (parcels and lots included)
- active permits within a neighborhood
- fees & area plans
- much more!
- Provides links to many different types of city maps, including
- Contact Mei Ling Hui, Urban Forest Associate and Urban Agriculture Coordinator at the San Francisco Department of the Environment The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s program to subsidize irrigation costs for urban agriculture sites.
- (415) 355-3731
- San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA)San Francisco Garden Resource Organization(SF GRO) provides many resources to community gardeners, both current & new
- In consultation with multiple city agencies, SFUAA has published an outstanding, comprehensive guide (PDF 4 MB) to starting a garden or urban farm in the city of San Francisco. Highly recommended.
- San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) policy paper, Public Harvest
- About expanding the use of public land for urban agriculture in San Francisco
- San Francisco BeautifulSan Francisco Small Business Assistance Center’s guide to starting a business in San Francisco
- Booklet for sale: Rooftop Gardens: From Conception to Construction
- San Francisco Beekeeper’s Association
The list below is not exhaustive — it is meant to be a compilation of codes most relevant to urban agriculture undertakings, in various forms and in various zones.
For more information or for a particular topic area not covered in these codes, search the San Francisco Municipal Codes.
Before you dive into the codes, consult the Key Resources section on this page for excellent, easy-to-understand guidance for San Francisco’s zoning regulations as they relate to your urban agriculture plans and interests.
For a searchable map of San Francisco properties, with zoning district and other key information, use the San Francisco Property Information Map and Database.
- California Building Code Chapter 10 Section 1013 — Guardrails and fences
- Relevant to railing requirements and restrictions for rooftop gardens
- California Building Code Chapter 10 Section 1021 — Means of Egress
- Relates to rooftop gardens and fire safety
- California Building Code Chapter 11b Section 1134B.2.1 — Disabled access and exemptions
- Relates to rooftop gardens and disability access requirements and exemptions
- California Fire Code Chapter 9 Section 905.1 — Standpipe Systems – General
- Relates to water access for fire-fighting purposes, especially relevant to rooftop gardens
- San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 63 – Water Efficient Irrigation Ordinance
- San Francisco Building Code Chapter 15 Section 1509.6 — Rooftop Structures: Roof Decks
- Regulations for rooftop gardens, especially related to fire safety
- San Francisco Environment Code Chapter 3 — Integrated Pest Management Program
- See also SF Dept of Environment’s webpage on the IPM Program
- Relates to pest management and use of pesticides on city-owned property
- San Francisco Planning Code Article 1 Section 102.32 – Ornamental Fencing
- Relevant to any use of fencing at urban agriculture sites
- San Francisco Planning Code Article 1 Section 102.35 – Urban Agriculture
- San Francisco Planning Code Article 1.2 Section 135 — Usable Open Space for Dwelling Units…
- Relevant to rooftop and other gardens intended to use a common space of residence buildings
- San Francisco Planning Code Article 2 Section 202 — Uses Permitted By This Code
- Contains legal definitions of various “uses” and broadly lists types of nuisances and hazards that are not permitted
- San Francisco Planning Code Article 2.5 Section 260 — Height Limit: Measurement
- Relevant to rooftop gardens
- Accessory use
- A use that is either a) necessary to the operation or enjoyment of a lawful principal use or conditional use, or b) appropriate, incidental and subordinate to any such use.
- Conditional use
- A parcel of land under one ownership which constitutes, or is to constitute, a complete and separate functional unit of development, and which does not extend beyond the property lines along streets or alleys.
- Principal use
- San Francisco Planning Codes
- New San Francisco legislation will jump-start urban farming (John Upton, Grist, Jul 18, 2012)
- An overview of the current and historical status of urban agriculture in San Francisco (Brie Mazurek, Civil Eats, May 4 2012)
- A brief synopsis of the 2011 ordinance passed in San Francisco that expressly allows and removes barriers to urban agriculture production and sales (Catherine Adams, Fog City Journal, Jan 2012).
- Coverage of Bay Area cities’ small-scale and residential agriculture permitting. (Lee Romney, L.A. Times, Jul 31 2011)