San Francisco, California Planning and Zoning

Major Urban Ag Legislation

Oakland, California Planning and Zoning
Disclaimer: The Sustainable Economies Law Center provides periodic updates to this site, however, information presented may be out of date. We encourage you consult with a professional before taking action based on the information here.

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:

  1. Establishes a definition for “urban agriculture” within The Planning Code
  2. Clarifies where different types of urban agriculture can and cannot take place
  3. 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:

  1. Centrally coordinate the urban agriculture efforts of seven city agencies
  2. 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:

  1. Establishes urban agriculture as a “use category,”defined as the production of food or horticultural crops for harvest, sale, and/or donation.
  2. Defines and establishes use regulations for two distinct types of urban agriculture:
    1. “Neighborhood Agriculture” is less than 1 acre and is permitted in all zoning districts
    2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Establishes aesthetic regulations for “Neighborhood Agriculture,” such as farm equipment use and storage, compost pile setbacks, and types of fencing.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.)

About Selling
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:

For additional information about the 2011 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:

  1. Streamlining the application process for projects on public land
  2. Developing incentives for converting private lands to urban agriculture uses
  3. 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.

Key Resources
  • 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!
  • 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
  • San Francisco Beekeeper’s Association
Selected Codes

Important Note:

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.

Definition of Key Terms
  • 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 use that is permitted in each established district when authorized by the City Planning Commission under Section 303 of this Code, where listed for that class of districts in Articles 2, 7, 8 and 9 and as regulated herein and elsewhere in this Code.
  • Lot
    • 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
    • A use that is permitted as of right in each established district where listed for that class of districts in Articles 2,7, 8 and 9 as regulated herein and elsewhere in this Code


News & Updates
  • 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)