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View table of contents: COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY



The Commerce and Industry Element sets forth objectives and polices that address the broad range of economic activities, facilities and support systems that constitute San Francisco's employment and service base. The plan serves as a comprehensive guide for both the public and private sectors when making decisions related to economic growth and change.

The plan is framed within three overriding goals which call for continued economic vitality, social equity and environmental quality. These broad goals are interrelated, and economic development decisions must be examined within their context. The challenge posed is to guide and encourage economic development in a manner that is responsive to near term needs, while also being consistent with long range goals and values.

The plan focuses on eight objectives, three of which address the general issue of economic planning. The remaining five objectives deal with specific sectors of San Francisco's economy. Objectives and policies for downtown office and retail are contained in the Downtown Plan.

In summary, the three general objectives call for managing economic growth and change to ensure enhancement of the total city environment, maintaining a sound and diverse economic base and fiscal structure, and providing expanded employment opportunities for city residents, particularly those that are unemployed.

The specific objectives are responsive to the several major economic sectors within San Francisco which include manufacturing and industry, maritime activities, office/administrative services, neighborhood commercial retailing, specialized regional retail trade, government services, and visitor trade.

The objectives and supportive policies are general in nature and provide the framework for decision making, priority setting and evaluation of costs and benefits as they relate to alternative proposals for economic development and change.

Likewise, the Commerce and Industry Element sets the framework for the more detailed planning that is required to meet the needs of specific economic activities, and to reconcile conflicts and competition among the various economic sectors, and other land uses and activities.

The Commerce and Industry Element, along with the other General Plan Elements, is used in forming shorter range plans, special area plans and to guide public actions by various government agencies. The objectives and policies are referred to when reviewing zoning and land use changes, legislative referrals, development proposals, and the City's programs for economic development, change and adjustment, serving as a basis for guiding public and private decisions.


The objectives and policies are based on the premise that economic development activities in San Francisco must be designed to achieve three overall goals:

  1. Economic Vitality
    The first goal is to maintain and expand a healthy, vital and diverse economy which will provide jobs essential to personal well-being and revenues to pay for the services essential to the quality of life in the city.

  2. Social Equity
    The second goal is to assure that all segments of the San Francisco labor force benefit from economic growth. This will require that particular attention be given to reducing the level of unemployment, particularly among the chronically unemployed and those excluded from full participation by race, language or lack of formal occupational training.

  3. Environmental Quality
    The third goal is to maintain and enhance the environment. San Francisco's unique and attractive environment is one of the principal reasons San Francisco is a desirable place for residents to live, businesses to locate, and tourists to visit. The pursuit of employment opportunities and economic expansion must not be at the expense of the environment appreciated by all.

These goals are interrelated and provide a perspective for evaluating future development issues in the city. All projects should be evaluated against all three goals in determining costs and benefits to the city's present and future population. The objectives and policies that follow seek to set a course for the city by which all three goals can be attained.





Nationwide, and particularly in San Francisco, there has been much attention focused on the issue of growth. An increasing public skepticism concerning the benefits of "growth" and greater awareness of the environmental and ecological consequences of continued growth and the loss of urban amenity, have served to put issues of economic development and related "growth" into the public spotlight. Examples of a local perception of the "growth-no growth" controversy have occurred over whether or not further high-rise office development should be encouraged. Some are opposed to high-rise office development because of the consequences of large office buildings such as loss of views, congestion, imposition of closed, forbidding buildings during non-work hours, further changes from the city's traditional scale and character. Others favor such development because of the employment opportunities it provides. Opponents argue that the costs of high-rise office development exceed benefits.

Both points of view in the growth-no growth controversy contain valid elements, and the city would not benefit from total adherence to either position. The growth issue should not be seen as a matter of either/or, but rather a matter of managing future development so as to minimize or avoid its unacceptable consequences and maximize its beneficial aspects. While the attempt to manage and channel socially desirable growth for the betterment of the city is a more reasoned approach, it is also a considerably more challenging approach due to the need to weigh intangible costs and benefits, and the difficulty of developing, evaluating, comparing and enforcing measures to mitigate potentially harmful consequences. However, it is important to the well-being of the city that this process be undertaken.

Encourage development which provides substantial net benefits and minimizes undesirable consequences. Discourage development which has substantial undesirable consequences that cannot be mitigated.

In situations where proposed developments have no significant adverse environmental effects and will result in positive fiscal and employment benefits for residents, and where the developments otherwise meet planning objectives, they should be encouraged. Conversely, a potential development which has significant adverse environmental effects and has negligible or negative economic and/or social benefits should be discouraged. In instances where proposed developments would cause adverse environmental effects but would also contain substantial economic and/or social benefits to residents it will be necessary to define carefully and analyze carefully all anticipated economic and social costs and benefits in order to provide decision makers with all available information and facts at hand concerning anticipated effects of the proposed development. Appropriate mitigation measures should be considered as part of the costs of development.

In recent years, Federal and State legislation has established administrative procedures whereby environmental impacts of proposed developments, often previously ignored, are to be carefully evaluated before approval of a development. The economic and social benefits of such developments are often presumed, and they sometimes are still unstated and unanalyzed.

Some of the implications that should be considered are changes in employment patterns and resultant impacts on the city's labor market; impacts upon existing businesses and on future development opportunities in the immediate neighborhood and district of the city; impacts upon existing City services that may require improvements; capital investments or new public employment as a result of the development; and any anticipated impacts upon the location and viability of economic development decisions being made in other areas of the city. The process for compiling and assessing these and other economic and social impacts should be initiated and in appropriate cases become a parallel effort to existing environmental impact assessment procedures.

Assure that all commercial and industrial uses meet minimum, reasonable performance standards.

A critical aspect of development management is to mitigate negative impacts created by new development: economic, aesthetic, physical, environmental, and social.

To ensure that commercial and industrial activities do not detract from the environment in which they locate, and may in fact benefit their surroundings, performance standards should be applied in evaluating new developments. The policies of the General Plan provide many of the standards to be used in evaluating development proposals. Other standards are found in various city ordinances and State and Federal laws. As necessary these standards should be reformed and additional standards developed.

Locate commercial and industrial activities according to a generalized commercial and industrial land use plan.

The following principles are integral and basic elements of citywide land use planning policy for commerce and industry.

  1. The natural division of the city into two distinct functional areas-one primarily for production, distribution and services, and the other for residential purposes and the community facilities which are closely related to residential activities-should be recognized and encouraged.

  2. A working population holding capacity should be established for the city based on desirable and feasible density standards.

  3. The working areas of the city should be defined and designated in extent so as to increase the efficiency of each of the areas as a specialized center of management, production, service or distribution.

  4. The working areas of the city should be related to the trafficways and transit systems so as to minimize time and distance in the journey to work from each of the community areas of the city and from within the San Francisco Bay Region.

Except in a few isolated instances the entire range of commercial and industrial activities of citywide importance is and should continue to be confined to the eastern flank of the city between the Bay and the first tier of hills rising west of the Bay. The types of use for which land should be allocated in the working areas are classified into four categories: 1) Downtown, 2) Business and Services, 3) Light Industry, and 4) General Industry.

The Downtown District contains the downtown shopping, entertainment and financial sections of the city as well as some of the downtown hotel quarters. Adjacent to this district is the primary area devoted to and designated for Business Services. These are businesses and uses which supplement and are necessary to the total economy of the downtown area. The other designated uses are those light and general industries which occupy part of the harbor and occupy the flat land along the Bay shore of the city, primarily south of China Basin. The Plan indicates a transitional belt of light industry, between the general industrial section and residential sections in adjacent community areas.

Establish commercial and industrial density limits as indicated in the Generalized Commercial and Industrial Density Plan map.

Map 1MAP 1 - Generalized Commercial and Industrial Land Use Plan

Map 2MAP 2 - Generalized Commercial and Industrial Density Plan

Map 3map 3 - Areas Under Study
NOTE: This map was for informational purposes only and is no longer relevant to current conditions. It has been removed as it was not an official part of the General Plan.


The continued health of the commercial and industrial sectors of the city is important to residents beyond the aspect of employment. A strong and viable business sector generates development of a broader property tax base. San Francisco must annually budget and expend money for the maintenance and upgrading of its public improvements — roads, sewers, transit system, parks, and other facilities. As these costs escalate along with other social service delivery costs — schools, hospitals, social welfare, police, fire — it is critically important to diversity and strengthen the tax base that pays for many of these improvements and services. When it becomes necessary to raise property taxes to pay these costs, the impact falls heavily on residents and business, contributing to the outmigration of population and industry. Strengthening and broadening the tax base is therefore vital to the continued economic health of the city.

There also is a need to diversify the economic base of the city. Because of regional and national economic forces over which there is little local control, the city's economy is becoming more specialized in the areas of finance, insurance and real estate, tourism, and government and personal services. Some of these sectors are subject to cyclical variations that may contribute to instability of the economy. Furthermore, excessive dependence on these sectors also has implications for personal lifestyles, as more and more residents are dependent on office "paper jobs" for their livelihoods. Therefore, to the extent it is possible to alter the trend of greater single industry specialization and provide more diversity in the types of activities and job opportunities, the City should seek to do so.

Seek to retain existing commercial and industrial activity and to attract new such activity to the city.

Many of the decisions made by a business concerning its future location are determined principally by factors related to market conditions affecting the cost of doing business. Factors, such as the purchase, transportation and storage of raw materials, labor costs changes in the nature or location of the consumers of the service or product, and obsolescence of capital equipment, are critical in determining whether a firm will move or not. There is little a city can do to alter these economic conditions in order to attract or retain a business. However, there are some factors that a city can affect in order to improve the possibility that a firm will decide to locate or remain in the city. The first step is to assess the needs of the business for such things as better transportation access, parking, room for expansion, security and a pleasant neighborhood environment for employees to work in.

In promoting the city as an area for potential firm location, it is important to be aware of those special aspects of location, environment, population and economic and social history that differentiate the city from other locations and make it a favored place for particular types of firms. In most instances these factors will be well known to a firm, and the City's receptiveness and "business climate" may be decisive in a determination to locate in San Francisco or a neighboring jurisdiction. The City should improve its chances for attracting firms by directing efforts toward business activities needing central city locations for office support, those benefiting from close proximity to a large, concentrated consumer population, and sectors for which San Francisco is already well known such as the design and apparel industries.

Seek revenue measures which will spread the cost burden equitably to all users of city services.

A central city such as San Francisco performs functions for and provides services to the region for which it should be fully compensated. Older central cities have historically been the providers of services to both foreign and domestic immigrants to the country's urbanizing areas. Generally these people have come to the cities seeking new sources of employment and opportunity. Often they have not found the advantages they have sought and they have had to rely on the cities for inexpensive housing and for health and welfare benefits. The needs are those of society in general, yet the costs fall disproportionately upon the central cities.

In addition, the facilities and services of the central cities such as San Francisco provide employment, transportation, recreation, and cultural pursuits for populations that do not reside in the city and may not fully contribute to the costs of the public buildings, streets, transit, water and sewer systems and other facilities that they use. Additional revenue sources, such as taxes, user fees, and grants-in-aid should be sought which will more equitably compensate in the City for the functions it performs and the services it provides. Measures such as "employee" or "occupational" taxes may be appropriate. Legislation at the State level pursuing region-wide property tax and sales tax sharing systems should be developed. These systems could, if the formulas are developed correctly, allocate revenues to jurisdictions based on need rather than ability to attract commercial or industrial uses.

Maintain a favorable social and cultural climate in the city in order to enhance its attractiveness as a firm location.

An important factor in choosing to locate in San Francisco or to remain once here is the attractiveness of the city as a place to live, work and pursue recreational interests. Recognition must be given to the importance of public efforts to improve the environmental quality in residential neighborhoods, provide recreational and cultural opportunities, and to improve the quality of the schools, and create and protect other amenities. Those aspects of the city have direct economic value. Desirability as a place to live and as an area in which to enjoy cultural and recreational activities are particularly important factors in determining location for the types of activities for which San Francisco enjoys a comparative advantage. If the city is to maintain its economically vital areas, it must assure that these social, cultural and environmental factors remain strong assets.


In order to maintain a relatively stable and balanced City economy, new employment opportunities must be made available, offsetting a gradual loss of jobs in certain economic sectors such as manufacturing, wholesaling and food processing.

A major thrust of public efforts to expand employment opportunity should be directed toward the economically disadvantaged, and those under-employed or marginally employed and seeking productive and rewarding employment. San Francisco, like many central cities throughout the nation, has a relatively high percentage of its population unemployed. This problem is attributable to many factors including lack of formal education, inadequate or inappropriate skills for participation in areas of employment expansion, language difficulties, employment and housing discrimination and a sluggish national economy. There are limits to the ability of a local government to alleviate the general unemployment problem, in view of the profound effects of regional and national private investment factors in the local situation. However, there are some measures the City can take that will improve the employment climate and assist the unemployed and economically disadvantaged in gaining access to San Francisco jobs. The City should also take into account opportunities for employment outside of the city. A more active involvement at the regional level in assisting unemployed residents to locate jobs outside the city might aid in alleviating the disproportionately high rate of unemployment found in the city.

Promote the attraction, retention and expansion of commercial and industrial firms which provide employment improvement opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

The greatest incidence of unemployment in the city is generally found among those without particular types of employment skills or educational training. The largest number of jobs, and the most desirable employment opportunities, tend to occur in the professional, technical, managerial and clerical fields in which either educational or practical on-the-job training is required to meet employment qualifications. Therefore, many unemployed and marginally employed residents of the city are unable to take advantage of employment expansion in a number of the areas of employment growth in the city due to the lack of needed skills.

Sectors of the local economy which typically hire numbers of unskilled or non-technically trained persons are the tourist and service related industries such as hotels and restaurants. However, these employment sectors tend to be seasonal and low-paying in nature. Many of the economic activities which in the past have provided the largest sources of semi-skilled employment or entry-level jobs have included small-scale manufacturing, wholesaling, food processing, printing and publishing are experiencing employment declines due to relocation, consolidation, and business failure. The City should promote the retention of these activities and the expansion of sectors such as warehousing, apparel manufacturing, services, communications, and commercial printing in order to improve job prospects in these fields.

One employment sector that often serves to be a source of employment opportunity to minorities and low-skilled workers is the small business sector. However, small newly formed businesses suffer from a high percentage of business failures. Expansion of the small business sector would create more employment opportunities immediately accessible to these important groups.

The City should also assist in promoting employment opportunities that provide employment stability, decent wages, and opportunities for advancement. Many of the city's underemployed work under conditions of high turnover, lack job security, low pay, and remote possibilities for advancement. Such jobs are found principally in visitor-trade-related occupations, personal services, institutions, and temporary government employment programs. Although these employment areas offer initial job opportunities for many low-skilled individuals, measures need to be taken to build in greater stability and opportunities for career advancement. Care should be taken to assure that such jobs do not become "dead ends," i.e. jobs which provide no opportunities for advancement.

Promote measures designed to increase the number of San Francisco jobs held by San Francisco residents.

Approximately two of every five jobs generated by San Francisco's economy are held by non-residents. The percentage of San Francisco residents in the total employment base varies according to type of industry, occupational group and income level. Persons in the higher-paying occupations — managers, administrators, craftsmen — are less likely to live in the city than persons employed in sales, in clerical jobs, or as operatives. The only exception is in the professions, where there is a relatively high percentage of residents.

Better labor mobility must be coupled with strong efforts to promote the hiring of residents by firms located in San Francisco. In some cases, such as in the letting of City contracts, it may be appropriate to require that hiring preference be given to San Francisco residents.

Efforts made to expand employment opportunities for unemployed and disadvantaged city residents must also address the question of racial, sexual, and other barriers between sectors of the labor market. A vigorous affirmative action program is necessary to permit minorities and women (who typically experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment) access to jobs with adequate compensation and advancement possibilities, particularly in the white-collar sectors where employment is growing most rapidly and possibilities for management and mid-level advancement occur. The City should utilize its good offices to encourage business to participate actively in employing resident minorities and women in jobs that provide training and skill development. The City should also ensure that its departments and contractors practice affirmative action in hiring programs.

Emphasize job training and retraining programs that will impart skills necessary for participation in the San Francisco labor market.

The long-term unemployment impact from the loss of a particular type of business activity depends upon the ability of those unemployed to find jobs in related and closely allied fields. The degree to which unemployed individuals can change occupations -- their labor mobility — depends on a number of factors such as skill level, income range, availability of jobs in other related areas, knowledge of those opportunities. Retraining and initial job training programs are two important public efforts toward increasing mobility within the unemployed resident labor force. Training directed toward the expanding office and office support occupations -- general services, technical sales, clerical — should continue to be emphasized in both basic educational and occupational programs. The City should assist in providing these programs to those groups most in need of such services: the unemployed with limited work skills, the poor, the underemployed, women, and persons with limited English-speaking ability.

During the past several decades, the finance, administration and service sectors have been growing, and manufacturing, wholesaling and related industrial areas have declined. In response to these changes, the resident labor force is gradually drifting to reflect more closely the skills required in expanding areas of employment opportunity. The degree to which labor force mobility and change will allow sills and opportunities to mesh will greatly influence the ability of the city to solve its unemployment problems. To accomplish this a greater emphasis needs to be placed upon improving the ability of San Francisco's labor force to change and up-grade occupational skills.

Assist newly emerging economic activities.

San Francisco attracts skilled people of all types, especially the artistically oriented, including artists, crafts people, dancers, film makers, musicians and theater groups. A growing number of live-work-show artist studios in the city attest to the city's attractiveness to artists. Because a growing number of city residents are deriving all or a portion of their livelihood from craft and other artistic endeavors, the city should recognize this as a form of economic activity and provide assistance to them.

The conceptualization, production and marketing of new products and services, due to changing technology or consumer tastes, is often referred to as an "incubator" industry. These ventures characteristically have a potential but lack sufficient capital, technical expertise, and managerial experience. The city should assist in providing technical assistance to these ventures. Some of these ventures eventually grow to medium and big size businesses yielding substantial economic benefits in terms of jobs and tax revenues to the city. One of the most promising incubator industries is the solar heating industry, due to rising costs of natural gas and heating oil.



The dispersion of manufacturing activities from their initial concentration in San Francisco during the mid l9th Century has been a gradual process. Since the beginning of the century, aside from the stimulation provided by two major world wars, manufacturing has steadily declined in importance as an employer and land user in San Francisco just as it has gained in other parts of the Bay Region. San Francisco is not alone in experiencing a decline in the manufacturing and wholesaling sectors of industrial activity. Central cities, almost without exception, have experienced this trend largely for the same objective reasons that it has occurred in San Francisco - population shifts toward suburban areas, technological developments which demanded land-intensive structures, rising wages, escalating local taxes and costs of doing business in central cities. San Francisco has never been heavily dependent on manufacturing as an employer and tax base provider. This fact has lessened the impacts of fiscal and employment declines.

The employment decline experienced by the manufacturing sector was inevitable to the extent that the factors causing the outmigration were beyond the control of the city. However, the amount of continued decline can be, to some extent, influenced by the city. It is not likely that, given limits on available financial resources for massive redevelopment, the city can significantly overcome the objective factors which have lead to the loss of employment. However, cost-effective policies designed to reduce the loss of employment opportunities can and should be pursued which would be directed towards improving the climate for business in the city and providing adequate areas and services to encourage firms to remain in the city.

Furthermore, despite the decline of manufacturing generally, there are activities mentioned below, for which the central city remains an attractive location. Growth in these areas should be encouraged.

Maintain and enhance a favorable business climate in the city.

The creation and maintenance of a positive relationship between city government and private industry is an important factor for many industries in choosing to stay or relocate. A good business climate includes the feeling on the part of business that they have a "receptive ear" when they approach City government with a problem or request for assistance. One effective way of maintaining a positive business climate would be to improve the capability of City departments to intervene in situations of potential relocation and to coordinate City activities to respond to business needs. Intervention to assist businesses in staying in the City should only be done where the costs of doing so do not exceed the benefits to the city.

Promote and attract those economic activities with potential benefit to the City.

Along with efforts to retain businesses, the City must attempt to attract new businesses to the city. It is likely that the City would have to undertake very costly measures such as major redevelopment combined with tax exemptions and subsidies in order to attract businesses for which a San Francisco location does not offer a comparative advantage. However, there are a number of economic activities for which the City does have a comparative advantage. Examples include the manufacturing of apparel and other textile products, small scale furniture manufacturers, commercial printing, communications companies, and business, medical and educational services. By concentrating attraction efforts on such enterprises the expenditure of the City's limited resources can be much more cost effective.

Carefully consider public actions that displace existing viable industrial firms.

In some instances, public activities such as redevelopment efforts or public facility expansion or improvement can result in a physical displacement of a business. All too often when this occurs relocation is to a site outside the city. The City should recognize that many firms remain in the city primarily because of inertia, fixed investments in plant and equipment or excessive moving costs. These factors are overcome when public displacement occurs since moving costs and fair market value for land and facilities are paid by the City. Care should be taken to avoid unwarranted displacement. In determining the costs and benefits of the action causing displacement, the loss of taxes and jobs if the firm relocates outside the City should be looked at as costs.

When displacement does occur, attempt to relocate desired firms within the city.

When the benefits of public actions justify dislocation, the City should seek to assist the displaced firm in obtaining a suitable alternative site in the city. This is particularly true if the situation is one in which the employment and tax revenues to the City outweigh costs to the City; it may well be appropriate to use public funds and redevelopment power to create a relocation site within the city for displaced firms.

Control encroachment of incompatible land uses on viable industrial activity.

There are a small number of locations in the city which are a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial uses which were developed prior to modern zoning controls with separate uses. The South of Market area is a prime example. Such areas are resources of needed low cost housing and should be preserved and improved where feasible. Care should be taken, however, to permit residential expansion in a way that will not cause eventual large scale displacement of the existing viable businesses whenever feasible.

Another potential problem results from the proximity of the growing office core to smaller scale business and industries in the South of Market area. Growth of the downtown office core should be carefully guided to avoid unnecessary dislocation.

Assist in the provision of available land for site expansion.

Although San Francisco has considerable amount of underused land available for industrial development, land is not always available in locations where new development is desired or feasible. A major problem facing many San Francisco industries is the lack of room for expansion. The cost of acquiring adjacent property, if it is developed, may be prohibitive to the firm. The initiation of small scale redevelopment activities to eliminate obsolescent and vacant buildings would allow land to become available for new development. Such actions might well prove financially beneficial to the city if vacant parcels and buildings could be utilized to generate increased tax revenues. Formation of a land bank by selected parcels of land received by the City could aid industries beneficial to the city by providing a relocation resource.

Improve public and private transportation to and from industrial areas.

The accessibility to a suitable labor force is a critical factor in determining industrial site location. The lack of adequate public transportation services to the industrial areas of the City dictate that blue-collar workers provide their own transportation. Consequently, the availability of parking spaces is a problem within many of the city's industrial areas, particularly in the South of Market area.

Many industrial areas are inadequately served by public transportation routes which also serve residential areas of the city. Therefore, the transit time from residential areas to the industrial activities is prohibitive. Improved transit service would make these residential areas more accessible to commuting workers and would also reduce the parking problems currently encountered in commercial and industrial areas.

In addition, some underdeveloped industrial areas are relatively isolated in terms of being able to move goods and services to and from them efficiently. Their development potential would be enhanced if transportation access from these areas to regional transportation linkages were improved. One of the advantages of the Southern Crossing would have been the improved regional access to the Southeastern section of the city. Other means — without the disadvantages of the Southern Crossing — should be sought.

Provide for the adequate security of employees and property.

Vandalism, in certain of the city's industrial areas, causes large losses for firms and threatens employee security. In some instances, firms in areas where fear of crime is a particular problem have difficulties attracting a qualified work force. Concern about security of employers and employees can affect plans for expansion and may cause relocation. It also affects employee turnover. Measures such as increased police presence and surveillance of industrial areas and improved lighting are important in providing a sense of security for employers and employees.

Maintain a competitive tax structure for industrial uses.

The local tax structure can influence locational decisions for firms. There may be situations where, when all other things are equal, a more favorable tax situation in a neighboring jurisdiction may induce a firm to relocate.

A delicate balance must be maintained. Commerce and industry should bear its fair share of the costs of city services. However, the tax rate should not be so great compared to other jurisdictions that the activity is induced to leave the city.

Enhance the working environment within industrial areas.

Public efforts to enhance the environment of industrial areas with little or no cost to the city should also be pursued. The promotion of a limited number of small retail areas, restaurants, small parks, and pleasant sidewalks would serve to improve the environment of many dreary industrial areas. City actions of this sort can significantly influence the attractiveness and appeal of industrial neighborhoods.

Maintain an adequate supply of space appropriate to the needs of incubator industries.

Small, emerging industries in the City, many utilizing new technologies, are dependent on relatively inexpensive space accessible to prospective markets. Examples of these "incubator" type industries include electronic data processing firms, business services, apparel manufacturing and design, crafts manufacturing, etc. During the early stages of developments, while markets are being established, fixed costs such as rent and transportation must be kept at minimal levels. Larger, older buildings with storage and loft space are particularly valuable. The South of Market area is currently serving as a functional area containing a supply of such spaces needed by new businesses. The maintenance of a reservoir of such spaces, which can fulfill these needs, is needed.



San Francisco began and has developed as a maritime City. Historically, the city offered great natural advantages as a port. Maritime activity stimulated the development of San Francisco as a commercial center of the West Coast and contributed as much to the special flavor of San Francisco.

The city has been a gateway to the West and the world beyond. The advents of rail, highway travel, air transportation and telecommunications have, however, increasingly lessened San Francisco's dependence on water-related activity.

Other Bay ports have matured and San Francisco has lost its preeminence as a port city, and much of its waterfront is under-utilized. However, the role of maritime activity in San Francisco's economy remains significant in terms of the jobs it offers to skilled and semi-skilled workers. In addition, most maritime activity offers the additional benefit of being a relatively "clean" industrial activity; many of its potential adverse consequences, such as congestion and noise, can be overcome.

The prospects for strength and considerable growth in world and Bay Area maritime activity are optimistic. However, San Francisco is at a competitive disadvantage compared to the Port of Oakland and other west coast container ports. Dramatic changes in the cargo industry have led to the formation of alliances among carriers to cut transport time and costs, and increase operational efficiencies through shared use of facilities and cargo space. These industry trends favor those ports with vast terminal and backland space, access to large metropolitan markets and multiple rail lines, and which are in close proximity to shippers. In addition, intermodal container ports require massive capital improvement programs to provide facilities to accommodate larger ships and expanding cargo volumes, which far surpass the resources available to the Port of San Francisco. As a result of these industry developments, several shipping lines have eliminated calls to San Francisco, opting to use the more expansive facilities at the Port of Oakland, or terminating service to the Bay Area altogether.

The Port's existing terminals and cargo warehouses, while greatly underutilized in 1996, are attractive to breakbulk and other non-intermodal cargo carriers. The Port therefore is aggressively pursing niche cargo businesses which do not rely heavily on freight rail transport or require major new capital improvements.

Develop and implement a comprehensive long-range maritime development program for the port.

Cargo traffic through the Bay Area is expected to continue to grow at least through the year 2020. Ports which can offer the fastest movement of goods at the least cost will capture increasingly greater shares of this growth. In the past port development and expansion has been achieved by the aggressive and foresighted utilization of new technologies and techniques such as containerization, lighter aboard ship, roll on -roll off, mini- and maxi-bridge and automated dry-bulk feeders.

The Port should develop and carry out, and periodically update a comprehensive long-range maritime development program which assesses future cargo market demand, developing technologies which might be employed in San Francisco to meet the demand, taking into account geographic constraints and other factors affecting future intermodal cargo business opportunities, and land and capital investment which will be necessary to permit San Francisco to capture a reasonable share of the market.

Focus investment on those port features in which San Francisco has a natural advantage. Create competitive advantages by providing more cost efficient freight handling facilities.

It is particularly important to focus limited resources on those areas in which San Francisco has a competitive advantage rather than to provide facilities to compete with other Bay ports for the same market. For example, San Francisco has had one of the greatest potentials for deep-water port development on the West Coast. However, due to its geographic constraint of being located at the end of a peninsula with limited freight rail access, the Port of San Francisco is unable to compete with the Port of Oakland and other west coast ports as an intermodal (ship-to-rail) container terminal operator. Furthermore, as ships become larger (and their hulls deeper) San Francisco's relatively deep water has become less of an advantage because dredging will be required more often, even in the deepest parts of the Port.

It may be possible in the future to create competitive advantages by anticipating future shipping needs and technologies which do not rely heavily on freight rail service, and by identifying niche cargo business opportunities which can capitalize on the Port's existing terminal, cargo warehouse and open storage yard facilities. Investments will necessarily be selective because funds will be limited. Investment strategy therefore should include an assessment of natural advantages and of the potential for increasing competitive advantages by use of advanced technologies.

Aggressively market existing maritime facilities

Facilities such as the Port's breakbulk and other bulk cargo facilities, cargo warehouses and the North and South Container Terminals at Pier 80 and 94-96 are presently underutilized.

In light of the fact that the Port does not have the financial resources necessary to compete with larger intermodal container ports, it is important to maximize the return on existing maritime facilities. This will require continuation of aggressive promotional and marketing efforts especially in non-rail dependent cargoes such as breakbulk, and construction project cargoes. In addition, interim term leases for non-shipping operations should be sought until demand increases for shipping-related activities, enabling these existing facilities to be returned to maritime use.

Avoid actions which may serve to displace desired existing maritime uses.

Historically, industrial maritime activity in San Francisco was principally located along the Northern Waterfront. Expansion of office and residential uses, and the pedestrian, public transit and roadway improvements newly constructed along The Embarcadero have resulted in increased pressure on cargo-related maritime uses in the Northern Waterfront area. This expansion should not be permitted to encroach on maritime areas designated in the Northeastern Waterfront Plan of the General Plan as long as maritime use remains feasible.

Available waterfront land is a limited resource and maritime activity remains vital to the City's economy. It should therefore have priority use of waterfront lands that it may realistically need to survive. Specifically, piers in active maritime use should remain so unless it can be clearly established that the maritime use can be relocated elsewhere or will no longer continue operation on the waterfront and the area put to a more desirable use.

Assure adequate funding for capital investments as well as operational expenses of the port.

Many major ports are subsidized in some form. Some receive tax overrides or have independent taxing authority. Others receive oil royalties or airport revenues. The Port of San Francisco does not benefit from outside revenue sources nor does it receive funding from the City. It has financed its operation and development since it came under local control by means of revenues received from leases on its property, and through Port revenue bonds. As the expense of repairing aging facilities and funding improvements for most maritime operations increases, the Port's costs will exceed its revenues unless the Port develops new revenue-generating uses on property which is surplus to maritime industry needs.

Both the capital investment necessary to improve the waterfront and the funds necessary for proper operation of existing facilities must be assured. Revenues from new development will enable the Port to underwrite the costs of maintaining, improving or expanding maritime facilities and public improvements (e.g. open space and public access), and meet its other Public Trust responsibilities. If sufficient revenues to meet Port needs are not forthcoming, some form of public subsidy should be provided. Although the City took over the Port from the State with the pledge that the Port would not go on the tax rolls, changed circumstances may necessitate and justify a modification of that commitment. Public funds spent to aid and enhance a port's operation can be an excellent investment by providing jobs and direct and indirect revenues.

Foster the relation of maritime activity to other segments of San Francisco economy.

Many of San Francisco's commercial activities such as financing, warehousing, and import-export activities grew historically as a result of their close relationship to maritime trade. That link between national and international trade and San Francisco's economic health has not diminished to this day, though other modes of transport and communications have supplemented shipping.

Those who ship or receive cargo benefit from a port in closer proximity to their home office or ultimate point of delivery where inspections, drayage or deliveries are easier. Many service industries and offices serving maritime trades throughout the Bay area are located in San Francisco by historical precedent and benefit by a proximity of their customers or clients. This is a source of competitive advantage vis-a-vis other Bay Area and western ports and should be exploited.

Restore the fishing industry in San Francisco.

Generations of visitors have been charmed and many tables graced by the San Francisco fishing fleet. The many restaurants and close residential areas created a significant market for their catch. Fishing has benefited San Francisco's economy as employer, retailer and as a part of the large and growing tourist industry.

In past years, the facilities for docking and fish processing deteriorated and the fleet diminished. Local unavailability of fish and the high cost of land and facilities in San Francisco had serious effects on the industry. However, the completion in 1995 of seismic repairs to Pier 45 and construction of state-of-the-art fish handling facilities are a major improvement for the industry. In addition, the Port plans to replace most existing berths with a new Hyde Street Fishing Harbor adjacent to Pier 45. These improvements will support and expand commercial fishing, fish processing and businesses which provide services to the fishing fleet in Fisherman's Wharf.

Encourage maritime activity which complements visitor activity and resident recreation.

San Francisco has long been a desirable terminus for passenger ships. Cruise activities have contributed to the positive image of the Port of San Francisco as well as brought visitors to the city. While the airplane has replaced the ship as the primary means of personal transoceanic travel, the declining passenger ship activity has been stabilized by the emergence of cruise ships. For these ships, San Francisco may be an embarkation point or a stop en route. Facilities for passenger ships have, however, deteriorated in recent years. Pier 35, the pier now used, is old and in need of modernization. Yet it affords a dramatic entrance or exit from San Francisco, is close to other visitor attractions, and is convenient to hotels and lend transportation. These passenger facilities should be maintained and improved. Alternatively, Piers 27-29 and 30-32 provide opportunities to develop a new modern cruise terminal.

Boating has become an increasingly popular recreational sport. Additional small boat marinas, small boat docks and berthing areas along the San Francisco, waterfront can provide attractive waterside improvements which bring revenue to the city and should be provided at appropriate locations.

Other commercial and recreational maritime activities such as excursion boats, ferries, water taxies and berthing of historic ships also provide attractions unique to the waterfront. New, water-oriented commercial recreation developments along the waterfront should incorporate these types of water-dependent activities whenever possible.

Redevelop Hunters Point Shipyard to provide employment in the light-industrial, research & development, and cultural sectors, consistent with the Hunters Point Shipyard Redevelopment Plan.

The Hunters Point Shipyard Redevelopment Plan designates the location of planned land uses throughout the Shipyard. Land uses include a variety of light-industrial, research and development, cultural and educational uses, and mixed land uses. The Plan also includes residential and open space uses, discussed elsewhere in the Plan.

For specific policies governing Hunters Point Shipyard, see the Hunters Point Shipyard Redevelopment Plan and its accompanying Design for Development document.

Increase cooperation among bay ports.

San Francisco has suffered in the recent competition with Oakland and to lesser extent other Bay Area ports. They have been better able to marshal requisite capital, land and rail services to take advantage of new technology. The Port of Oakland also has benefitted from quicker connections to eastern cargo destinations.

National and international shippers view the Bay Area as a single destination since times and rail links are the same. The economics of Bay Area communities are linked by workers and trade and could benefit by mutual cooperation. Bay Area ports should work to avoid unnecessary duplication of facilities and encourage each port to develop its own particular strengths. It may be that in the long run a single regional port agency will best serve everyone's interest.

Pursue permitted non-maritime development on port properties.

The Port of San Francisco is the owner of more land along the waterfront than is needed for maritime use. Some of these properties, primarily, but not exclusively, the area from South Beach to Fisherman's Wharf, are suitable and attractive for residential, commercial or recreational uses.

In the past, non-maritime development on port properties, particularly development on piers over the water, has been plagued by community disagreement and by conflicting plans for the various public entities that must approve non-maritime development. The Northeastern Waterfront Plan which is part of the City's General Plan, was originally developed in the 1970's with the participation of diverse interests in the waterfront and endorsed by the Port Commission. This Plan, and the Central Waterfront Plan were revised in 1997 in conjunction with the Port's adoption of the Waterfront Land Use Plan, also created through an extensive community planning process. The land use policies contained in these documents are consistent with each other and will be the basis for conforming amendments to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission's Bay Plan and San Francisco Special Area Plan. Once the BCDC amendments are adopted, these plans will contain consistent policies regarding non-maritime development which will not usurp or conflict with maritime development and which will provide substantial revenues to the Port and the City while at the same time contributing to the environmental quality of the area. These opportunities should be vigorously pursued by the Port or some other agency on behalf of the Port to provide needed revenues for Port operations, development of the Port's maritime facilities, and public access and other amenities along the shore.

See "SPACE FOR COMMERCE" Section of the Downtown Area Plan.



San Francisco is well known as a city with many distinct neighborhoods whose diverse characteristics are expressed on their commercial streets. Many of these neighborhood shopping areas reflect the surrounding neighborhood's ethnic and lifestyle characteristics, building scale and architectural style, topography, and historical development.

Neighborhood commercial districts also constitute an important part of the city's economic base, contributing to the city's fiscal stability through property and business taxes, and providing employment opportunities for local residents. They create a public domain where individuals can choose from a wide array of activities as well as have opportunities for leisure, cultural activities and entertainment. Many districts maintain an active street life and pedestrian character which enhances the city's stature as a walking city.

The continuing viability of a neighborhood commercial district is dependent primarily on its ability to provide required services and maintain customer patronage. The successful district provides a variety of goods and services in an atmosphere of safety, convenience, and attractiveness.

Ensure and encourage the retention and provision of neighborhood-serving goods and services in the city's neighborhood commercial districts, while recognizing and encouraging diversity among the districts.

One of the unique charms and features of San Francisco is the diversity of its neighborhoods and their shopping areas. Neighborhood commercial areas vary widely in function, trade area, form, design and character; but they all serve a common purpose in providing goods and services to meet the needs of City residents. In particular, convenience goods and services, such as groceries, personal toiletries, shoe repair, hair cutting, film processing, laundry and dry cleaning, should be readily available to residents in nearby shopping areas. Residents require easy access to such goods and services in order to satisfy their basic personal and household needs.

While all neighborhood commercial districts provide, in greater or less degree, for the convenience needs of residents in adjacent neighborhoods, most districts also provide specialty and comparison goods and services to a larger, often citywide trade area. Few districts could survive economically by confining their market exclusively to immediately surrounding residential areas.

A district may specialize in uses which cater to its surrounding neighborhood's lifestyle. However, as a district becomes more specialized, it may need to draw from a broader geographical market area in order to sustain itself with sufficient customer patronage. The function of a district is also influenced by its proximity to other commercial areas. Some relatively isolated districts may serve nearly all the retail and service needs for a residential neighborhood. Other districts may serve a community in conjunction with other nearby commercial districts, each with varying degrees of specialization.

Neighborhood shopping areas also differ in the size, scale, and configuration of their lots and buildings. They range from a small cluster of lots to linear shopping districts, extending two or more blocks along arterials or thoroughfares. Neighborhood shopping centers and supermarkets with extensive on-site parking are also scattered throughout the city. The differing sizes of lots and blocks, which are determined in part by the neighborhood's topography, influence the configuration of the commercial district and its surrounding lots. The variation in topography, lot size and juxtaposition with surrounding uses, in addition to the district's historic development, all contribute to the variety in size, shape, and architectural style of a district's buildings.

The scale and extent of commercial activity, relative to other uses, also varies among districts. Commercial uses may occupy from one to four stories, in a continuous series or interspersed among residential buildings. In many linear shopping districts, the commercial activity side streets or alleys containing a mix of commercial and residential uses.

The variation in function and character of commercial districts should be maintained through controls on building form, scale, ground story and upper story commercial and residential uses, and operation which reflect the differences between districts and reinforce the variations in individual land use patterns.

The essential character of neighborhood commercial districts should be maintained by encouraging and protecting uses which provide necessary goods and services to the surrounding neighborhoods and which are compatible in scale or type with the district in which they are to be located. Often, a district's character is defined by certain established businesses which have been serving the neighborhood residents and businesses for an extensive period. Loss of such businesses could undermine that district's distinctive character. However, districts also should be allowed to evolve over time in response to changes in the neighborhoods they serve and changes in consumer tastes and preferences.

The determination of the appropriateness of various land uses in neighborhood commercial districts should consider the following basic aspects:

  • Individual district character;
  • Customer orientation of the district;
  • Residential community living within and adjacent to the district;
  • Necessity and desirability of the use to the community; and
  • Environmental impacts of the use.

The following guidelines, in addition to others in this objective for neighborhood commercial districts, should be employed in the development of overall district zoning controls as well as in the review of individual permit applications which require case by case review and City Planning Commission approval. Pertinent guidelines may be applied as conditions of approval of individual permit applications. In general, uses should be encouraged which meet the guidelines; conversely, uses should be discouraged which do not.

  • Existing businesses, especially neighborhood-serving retail stores and services, should be retained wherever feasible and in conformity with the Planning Code.

  • New uses should be consistent with the purpose of the district in which they are located as stated in the Planning Code.

  • In small-scale districts with limited
    amounts of commercial space, priority should be given to retail stores and services which primarily serve the needs of nearby residents. Larger-scale districts may include some larger or more specialized uses which serve a broader citywide or regional clientele in addition to convenience oriented businesses. However, no district should include so many specialty stores that space is not available for businesses which serve the needs of nearby residents. The appropriate size of an individual use may vary depending on the type of merchandise or service offered and the volume or intensity of customer activity it generates.

  • The use should contribute to the variety of uses in the district and avoid an undesirable concentration of one type of use in a certain location. In low-intensity districts, a balanced mix of various neighborhood-serving uses, with no concentration of a particular use, is desirable. In higher-intensity districts with a special orientation to one type of use (such as antique stores), clustering of such specialty uses may be appropriate. However, one type of use should not occupy an entire block frontage.

  • The use should not detract from the livability of the district or adjacent residential areas by causing offensive noise, odors, or light, particularly in the late night or very early morning hours.
  • Establishments operating in the late night or early morning hours should provide goods and services which are necessary or desirable to the community at those hours. For example, longer hours of operation may be appropriate for neighborhood-serving convenience stores such as groceries or pharmacies.

  • If locating at the ground story, the use should contribute to an active retail frontage. In districts with continuous active retail frontage, individual uses which do not serve the general public during regular business hours, such as churches, are encouraged to share ground story space with more active uses. This guideline may not apply in those districts or parts of a district where retail uses are interspersed with fully residential buildings and institutional facilities. However, in some areas, it may be appropriate to allow conversion of non-commercial ground story space in order to accommodate commercial growth in the district, if such growth would not create unmanageable parking, noise or other unwanted impacts.

  • The use should fully utilize available floor area. Uses which require a limited amount of ground story frontage, such as limited financial services and hotel lobbies, should provide access to remaining space for use by other establishments.

  • The use should not significantly increase traffic congestion or parking problems. The use should be evaluated for its traffic and parking impacts, especially on surrounding residential areas. Significant adverse impacts should be sufficiently mitigated or the use should not be permitted (See Auto-Oriented Facilities guidelines and Policy 8 of this Objective for more specific guidelines on parking).



In some districts, the balanced mix of commercial activities has been upset by the proliferation of certain uses such as financial services, restaurants and bars, take-out food and quick-stop establishments and entertainment uses. Overconcentration of one or more types of uses reduces the opportunity for other needed uses. The concerns are not limited to the number and concentration of these uses but also include the related nuisances they create and their impacts on the neighborhood. Other uses, such as automotive repair and parking, also can create noise and traffic problems. Special controls should be adopted for these uses in districts where they are a particular problem. These uses should adhere to the following guidelines, in addition to the general guidelines noted above.

Financial Services

  • Financial offices should not be located near other financial service uses or add to an overconcentration of financial services in a single district. In most districts, it is preferable that financial services be at least 500 feet apart. In certain locations, clustering may be appropriate, depending on potential traffic circulation and parking impacts, but in no case should the number exceed the maximum number that would be allowed if all financial services in the district were at least 500 feet from each other. For example, a configuration of clustered financial services where off-street parking is shared might be a more efficient use of land than an even distribution of such financial services. Another example where clustering may be appropriate is in a non-linear area district where a cluster of financial services may provide greater choice and more convenient service to nearby merchants who need such services than an even distribution of financial services throughout the district. In addition to overconcentration within a single district, proximity to financial services in other nearby districts should be considered in evaluating the need and impacts of a new financial service use or a new location for an existing financial service establishment.
  • New, expanding or relocating financial service establishments should provide a detailed analysis of the potential impacts on existing transportation systems which serve the location. If significant adverse impacts on traffic and transit volumes and circulation and parking congestion are anticipated, especially on transit-preferential streets, the proposed use should be redesigned to mitigate such impacts (e.g. reducing the project size) or providing off-street parking, or the use should be prohibited. The location of limited financial services should be carefully evaluated, as to the potential for double-parking or illegal parking by users of the facilities and the interference with traffic circulation by such vehicles (See Policy 9 for additional guidelines). If the proposed use includes automated teller machines, this evaluation is especially critical in determining the appropriateness of the use and its location.

  • Financial services should provide retail banking services to serve the business community as well as the residential community.

  • The location of new, expanding, or relocating financial services should avoid, if feasible, the demolition of sound buildings which are compatible in scale and character with other buildings in the district.

  • If new construction is necessary, inclusion of other commercial uses and/or residential units may be desirable. New structures should have continuous retail frontage along the shopping street or mall except where access to upper-level uses, accessory parking, loading or public open space is necessary. New development should be compatible in scale, design and use with the rest of the district.

  • In neighborhood commercial districts where drive-up facilities are not permitted, financial offices should be pedestrian oriented. In cases where drive-up facilities are permitted or parking is required, interruptions of the continuous retail frontage should be kept to a minimum.

  • Automated teller machines should be recessed from the sidewalk, when possible, or should be incorporated into limited financial service facilities inside the facility with adequate waiting space for patrons.

Eating and Drinking Establishments

Eating and drinking establishments include bars, sit-down restaurants, fast food restaurants, self-service restaurants, and take-out food. Associated uses which can serve similar functions and create similar land use impacts include ice cream stores, bakeries and cookie stores. Guidelines for eating and drinking establishments are needed to achieve the following purposes:

  • Regulate the distribution and proliferation of eating and drinking establishments, especially in districts experiencing increased commercial activity;

  • Control nuisances associated with their proliferation;

  • Preserve storefronts for other types of local-serving businesses; and

  • Maintain a balanced mix of commercial goods and services.

The regulation of eating and drinking establishments should consider the following:

  • Balance of retail sales and services;

  • Current inventory and composition of eating and drinking establishments;

  • Total occupied commercial linear frontage, relative to the total district frontage;

  • Uses on surrounding properties;

  • Available parking facilities, both existing and proposed;

  • Existing traffic and parking congestion; and

  • Potential impacts on the surrounding community.

In districts where the proliferation of eating and drinking establishments could generate problems, the following guidelines should be employed in the consideration of new establishments, relocations, changes from one kind of eating and drinking establishment to another (e.g. from self-service restaurant to full-service restaurant), expansion or intensification of existing establishments:

  • The establishment should not add to an overconcentration of eating and drinking establishments in a single district. The balance of commercial uses may be threatened when eating and drinking establishments occupy more than 20% of the total occupied commercial frontage. Proposals for eating and drinking establishments which would increase the proportion of total occupied commercial frontage above 20% should be reviewed to ensure that they would not reduce the variety of neighborhood-serving uses; nor create substantial noise, traffic, parking problems, or other nuisances in the district or surrounding neighborhood. Those establishments that would do the above should not be permitted. Except in districts with an established pattern of service to a broad market, such as North Beach, such establishments should not occupy more than 25% of the total commercially-occupied frontage in a district. To minimize the problems they can create, eating and drinking uses should generally be at least 100 feet apart from each other, unless there are factors making clustering of uses appropriate. For example, a configuration of clustered eating and drinking uses where off-street parking is shared might be more appropriate than an even distribution of such establishments.

  • New, expanding or relocating eating and drinking uses should not impose significant adverse impacts on traffic and transit volumes and circulation and parking congestion. If such impacts are anticipated, especially on transit-preferential streets, the proposed use, expansion or relocation should be redesigned to mitigate such impacts, or it should be prohibited. (See Auto-Oriented Facilities section and Policy 9 of this Objective for more specific guidelines on parking).

  • Eating and drinking uses should be adequately soundproofed or insulated for noise and operated so as to reasonably protect adjoining and surrounding upper-story residences from disturbances. Fixed source equipment noise should not exceed the decibel levels specified in the Noise Control Ordinance.

Fast Food Restaurants and Self-Service Restaurants

Fast food restaurants and self-service restaurants including take-out food establishments are retail uses which provide quick food service for consumption on or off the premises, which are often designed to serve a high volume of customers at a high turnover rate. As a result, this use can generate problems in traffic and pedestrian circulation, parking congestion, litter, noise and odors. All guidelines for eating and drinking establishments should apply to fast food restaurants and self-service restaurants in addition to the guidelines stated below.

  • Large fast food restaurants occupying more than 1000 square feet of floor area are discouraged in neighborhood commercial cluster districts, small-scale neighborhood commercial districts and those individual districts where such discouragement is noted in their description and purpose statements. Large fast food restaurants of that size usually are designed to attract high volumes of customers from a large trade area. Such volumes of customers can generate various nuisance problems for the surrounding residential neighborhoods, especially parking congestion, traffic and pedestrian circulation, litter and late-night activity.

  • The proposed use should not add to an overconcentration of fast food restaurants in a single district. As a general rule, fast food restaurants should be evenly distributed throughout the district. However, in certain locations, clustering may be more appropriate. For example, a configuration of clustered fast food restaurants where sufficient off-street parking is shared between them might make more efficient use of land than an even distribution of fast food restaurants throughout the district. The number of large fast food restaurants and small self-service restaurants should not exceed the maximum number that would be allowed if all fast food restaurants in the district were at least 500 feet from each other.

  • To avoid potential pedestrian-vehicle conflicts where large numbers of children are present, fast food restaurants should not be within 500-foot walking distance of an elementary or secondary school.
  • New or expanding large fast food restaurants should provide a detailed analysis of their anticipated impacts on transportation systems. If problems are anticipated, especially on transit-preferential streets, the proposed use should be reduced in size and/or redesigned to mitigate the above impacts, or prohibited. If the estimated parking demand for the use cannot be accommodated by existing or new off- or on-street parking facilities, the use should provide ample off-street parking on the site or within a reasonable walking distance of the site to provide for the parking demand; otherwise the use should be prohibited (see Auto-Oriented Facilities section and Policy 9 of this Objective for detailed guidelines.

  • The use should provide adequate waiting space for walk-in patrons.

  • The use should be equipped with sufficient outdoor and indoor trash receptacles to avoid litter problems in the surrounding neighborhood.

  • The operator of the use should be responsible for maintaining the sidewalk within a one-block radius of the site free of paper or litter.

  • The use should be designed and operated to contain fumes and odors within the cooking areas, so that such fumes and odors will not spread to adjacent or upper-story uses.

  • The new or expanding use should close at 12:00 Midnight or earlier.

Take-Out Food, Convenience Stores, and Similar Quick-Stop Establishments

Quick-stop establishments include fast food restaurants, self-service restaurants, take-out food, convenience stores and other quick-stop establishments which may or may not involve food service. These latter uses may include small or medium-sized grocery stores, film processing stores, video rental outlets, dry cleaners, and other establishments which primarily provide convenience goods and services and generate a high volume of customer trips. Guidelines for fast food restaurants and self-service restaurants including take-out food are noted separately above.

  • These uses should be interspersed with other retail businesses and avoid undue concentration of one type of product.

  • The site should provide adequate waiting space for walk-in or drive-in patrons.

  • The site should be equipped with sufficient outdoor trash receptacles to avoid litter problems in the surrounding neighborhood.

  • New or expanding uses should not impose significant adverse impacts on traffic and transit volumes and circulation and parking congestion. If such impacts are anticipated, especially on transit-preferential streets, the proposed use should be redesigned to mitigate such impacts, such as being reduced in size or providing off-street parking, or the use should be prohibited (see Auto-Oriented Facilities section and Policy 9 of this Objective for detailed guidelines).

Entertainment and Adult Entertainment Uses

Adult entertainment uses are generally inappropriate in most neighborhood commercial districts because:

  • There is adequate provision of space for these uses in other areas of the city. Commercial space in neighborhood commercial districts should be preserved for other types of uses which provide essential retail goods and services for the surrounding residential communities.

  • Neighborhood commercial districts are located near family-oriented residential areas; since adult entertainment uses may attract criminal activity, their proximity to residential areas, parks, schools and churches may introduce criminal activity in such neighborhoods, or may tend to reduce property values;

They appeal to a more specialized clientele, drawing customers from outside the neighborhood who may drive and create or add to parking congestion, and occupy space that could be devoted to uses which serve a broader segment of the immediate neighborhood.

Entertainment uses may be appropriate in certain districts or parts of districts. The following guidelines should be used in their review:

  • Except in the Broadway district, where later hours may be appropriate under carefully regulated conditions, entertainment uses should not be open after 2:00 a.m. in order to minimize disruption to residences in and around a district. For uses involving liquor service, potentially loud music, dancing or large patron volumes, earlier closing hours may be necessary.

  • Entertainment uses should be adequately soundproofed or insulated for noise, as certified by an acoustical engineer, and operated so as to reasonably protect surrounding residences. Fixed source equipment noise should not exceed the decibel levels specified in the San Francisco Noise Control Ordinance. Ventilation systems should be adequate to permit doors to stay closed during performances.

  • Except for movie theaters with substantial soundproofing, entertainment uses should not involve electronic amplification after midnight, in order to minimize disruption to surrounding residences.

  • New adult entertainment uses should be at least 1000 feet from the nearest existing adult entertainment use.


  • Hotels should be discouraged if they displace existing retail sales and services which are necessary and desirable for the surrounding neighborhoods.

  • Districts with an overconcentration of hotels and similar accommodations, it is preferable that new hotels be located at least 300 feet from any existing hotel, motel or bed and breakfast establishment unless there are factors such as traffic circulation, parking, or land use distribution which make clustering appropriate.

  • New hotels should contribute to an active retail frontage by providing stores, coffee shops, or convenience retail on the ground story of the major street frontage.

  • Hotel development should be compatible in scale and design with the overall district character and especially with buildings on the same block.

  • Access to required hotel parking should be designed to minimize interruption of the active retail frontage and disturbance to adjacent residences.

Auto Repair Services

  • Adequate building space should be provided for carrying out all repair services inside the building.

  • Auto repair facilities should be large enough to accommodate all cars on site and avoid on-street parking of cars before or after repair work is done. If temporary on-site storage of cars must be outside the building, suitable landscaping or screening should be provided.

Auto-Oriented Facilities

Most uses have the potential to be auto-oriented, depending on the extent to which patrons, employees, and other visitors arrive by automobile. In general, however, the uses which tend to be the most auto-oriented are those which:

  • Serve automobiles directly, such as gas or service stations, auto repair garages, or automobile washes;

  • Serve customers while in their cars, such as drive-through windows for banking, food service or film processing;

  • Provide convenience goods and services such as fast food restaurants or take-out food, convenience grocery stores, financial services (with drive-up teller services);

  • Sell bulky items or items purchased in volume such as furniture or appliance stores, supermarkets, and large discount stores; and

  • Operate at times or for purposes in such a manner that most customers view alternate modes of transportation as impractical.

Any use exhibiting some or all of these characteristics should be carefully evaluated for its potential impact on the transportation systems serving it (See Policy 9 for guidelines on parking demand analysis). Uses which are expected to generate significant adverse impacts on the transportation systems serving them should not be permitted.

Non-thoroughfare transit-preferential streets, collector, local and recreational streets which are located in residential areas, as designated in the Transportation Element of the General Plan, are not considered appropriate for auto-oriented facilities. Certain major and secondary thoroughfares are appropriate for auto-oriented or drive-up facilities.

Such uses which exhibit these characteristics should not be located in areas where large numbers of children are present, in order to avoid pedestrian-vehicular conflicts. Typically, the use should not be within 500-foot walking distance of an elementary or secondary school.


Promote economically vital neighborhood commercial districts which foster small business enterprises and entrepreneurship and which are responsive to economic and technological innovation in the marketplace and society.

The economic vitality of neighborhood commercial districts is an essential component of the fiscal health of the city and is necessary to ensure that quality services are available to its people. There must be a strong city commitment to assist local businesses in maintaining and improving the economic climate and to provide the physical improvements and public services necessary to ensure confidence in local investors.

Through the enterprise of small businesses, neighborhood commercial districts provide significant full and part-time employment opportunities for city residents. Neighborhood businesses' payroll and gross receipts taxes make a substantial contribution to the city's tax base. City policies should foster an environment conducive for neighborhood commercial employment and revenue expansion.
Encouragement of competition, entrepreneurship and risk-taking will help to ensure that the marketplace is able to respond to changing business conditions and consumer preferences. The city should ensure that a variety of space is available for a diversity of small business uses, but should not protect or insulate small businesses from the vagaries of the marketplace.

While recognizing the interest of residents and businesses alike to maintain the diverse and unique features of our neighborhoods and their shopping areas, the commercial districts need flexible patterns of building development and commercial uses to reflect shifting demographic patterns and changing technology. The districts need to be able to adapt to changes in population which bring in people with different cultural, ethnic, and social needs. As consumers and businesses respond to changes in technology and economics, the neighborhood commercial districts will need to make corresponding changes. Means should be found whereby districts are allowed to respond to future economic and resident demands for goods and services while at the same time maintaining their basic physical character.

Demand for increased professional, personal and business services should be accommodated in new construction above the ground floor in districts which have the capacity to add commercial space without displacing residents, destroying the predominant scale of development, or overburdening the transportation system.

Retailers, restaurants, and other consumer oriented businesses require professional and business services to operate their businesses. Often these professional and business services can provide more effective service to their clients by locating in neighborhood commercial districts. These uses should be accommodated as long as they are not so large or intensive as to detract from the primary retail and service functions which the district provides to the general public. Large-scale "back office" services are not appropriate in neighborhood commercial districts.

Preserve and promote the mixed commercial-residential character in neighborhood commercial districts. Strike a balance between the preservation of existing affordable housing and needed expansion of commercial activity.

Most neighborhood commercial districts contain dwelling units in addition to commercial uses. Flats, apartments, and residential hotels are frequently located above ground-story commercial uses; fully residential buildings are common in some districts. The retention of this mix is desirable. Among other things, it ensures the presence of people on the streets at different times which increases safety and business vitality on evenings and weekends. Residents in commercial areas help to create an active street life, which promotes interaction between people in the neighborhood.

The mixed residential-commercial character of most neighborhood commercial districts should be promoted by encouraging new construction of upper-story residential units above commercial development in mixed-use buildings. In order to make feasible such mixed-use projects, higher residential density and/or reductions in required parking may be warranted in districts with a reduced need for auto ownership or where anticipated parking demand can be accommodated off-site.

Existing residential units in neighborhood commercial districts comprise a valuable affordable housing resource which provides for the needs of San Francisco's diverse population. Most of these units are in sound or rehabilitable wood-frame structures and they are among the least expensive rental units in the city.

On the other hand, conversion of this housing is an important means of providing competitive and affordable commercial space to small businesses, many of which provide personal, medical, professional and business services to neighborhood residents and the general public. Conversions of ground-story residential units should be permitted in all neighborhood commercial district without special review. In many neighborhood commercial districts, the physical location and structural aspects of the upper-story housing units make it attractive and feasible to convert them to commercial use. Due to the limited supply of vacant land, some commercial expansion into the residential space may be the only feasible way to adequately meet the commercial needs of the trade area served by the district. Therefore, limited conversions of upper-story units should be accommodated as long as the conversions are not so numerous as to upset the general equilibrium between commercial and residential uses or to constitute a substantial loss of housing.

Because the appropriateness of residential conversions depends on many factors which vary from district to district, land use controls should be adjusted to reflect the different needs of each district. In most districts certain conversions, such as those at the ground story or third story, can be regulated by permitting or prohibiting them without special review, while those at the second story may need case-by-case review by the City Planning Commission. In other districts, however, proposed conversions at all stories may need case-by-case review. A balance must be struck between the need to retain the housing and the need to provide for commercial expansion. Some upper-story conversions may be appropriate, if based on a review of an individual case, it is found that the need for commercial expansion clearly outweighs the need to preserve affordable housing. In that case-by-case review the following guidelines should be employed:

  • The need for additional commercial space in the district should be clearly established. The need to preserve affordable housing may be presumed in light of the citywide shortage of such housing and established policy in the Residence Element.

  • The amount of commercial space necessary and desirable to serve the retail and service function of a district varies depending on the size of the trade area, proximity to other commercial districts, and competition from other land uses.

  • In neighborhood commercial districts consisting of a small cluster of lots or a short linear commercial strip with low-scale development, commercial uses at the ground story should be focused on the convenience needs (such as groceries and laundry) of nearby residents. In these districts no new commercial use should be permitted above the ground story, nor should conversions of existing residential units above the ground story be permitted.

  • In small-scale neighborhood commercial districts most of the anticipated demand for commercial growth can be accommodated through new construction at the first two stories on vacant or underused parcels without the necessity to convert upper story residential units. However, in some of these districts where demand for commercial space is particularly strong, allowing commercial uses above the second story in new construction and allowing some conversion of existing residential units at the first and second stories may be appropriate as long as the general equilibrium between retail, office, and residential uses is maintained.

  • In larger, moderate-scale neighborhood commercial districts which are intended to provide a wider range of goods and services to a larger trade area, growth opportunities through new construction at the first two stories on vacant or underused parcels may be insufficient to meet the demand for commercial space.

  • While the retention of mixed use buildings and the construction of new mixed use buildings is desirable in these districts, construction of new, fully commercial structures, and some conversion of existing upper story residential units may be appropriate to meet demand if the increased commercial activity would not adversely affect existing traffic or parking congestion.

  • Conversions should be disallowed if commercial space suitable for occupancy by the proposed commercial use is available elsewhere in the district.

  • Commercial and institutional uses which do not primarily serve the general public usually are not appropriate in neighborhood commercial areas unless they are minor uses ancillary to those which do serve the general public, such as a small dental laboratory or small business accountant.
  • Along predominantly residential secondary side streets and alleys of linear or areawide districts, conversions are inappropriate. The more residential character of the secondary streets should be protected in order to provide a transition between the commercial and surrounding residential districts.

  • Conversions should not adversely impact the livability of any remaining units in the building. Entrance to the remaining units should be separate from the access to the commercial uses in the building. In buildings where re-conversion back to dwelling units may be desirable, the kitchens should be retained.

  • Buildings with five or more housing units contain a large proportion of the housing stock in the neighborhood commercial districts and should be protected from complete conversion to commercial use.

  • Conversion may be appropriate if the unit(s) is unsuitable for residential occupancy because of offensive noise, especially from traffic or late night activity, which is generated on the same site or near the unit, or because of the obstruction of residents' access to light and air by a building adjacent to or near the unit(s).

  • Conversion may be appropriate if the housing unit is declared by the Superintendent of the Bureau of Building Inspection or the Chief of the Bureau of Fire Prevention to be unsafe and/or incapable of being made habitable for residential occupancy. However, if the property owner has shown possible willful neglect or a pattern of negligence in performing ordinary maintenance, thereby resulting in uninhabitable or unsafe units, the conversion should not be permitted, or the property owner should add other replacement rental units to the city's housing supply.

  • In evaluating the proposed conversion of a unit which is suitable and safe for residential occupancy, consideration should be given to offsetting the loss of such housing by requiring the applicant to provide comparable replacement housing on the site, or within the neighborhood, or to provide financial assistance toward the creation of new rental housing or the rehabilitation of uninhabitable rental housing.

  • Tenant should be given ample written notice by the property owner prior to filing the application to convert the unit(s) and, for any conversion that is permitted, property owners should make relocation assistance available to displaced tenants, i.e. efforts to identify housing comparable in size, price, and location; and the payment of moving expenses and a relocation allowance, particularly in the case of units occupied by low or moderate income residents.

  • In evaluating proposed conversions, consideration should be given to economic hardships to both property owners and tenants which might result from the denial or approval of the conversion application.

The same considerations that apply to conversions apply to demolition of housing units. Therefore, demolitions should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis using the same guidelines that are to be used in reviewing conversions. Demolition permits should be reviewed in conjunction with the permits for the replacement structures whenever possible. When this is not possible, conditions applying to future building permits may be attached to the demolition permit or the new building permit may require further review. The replacement structure should include housing units for which there is an exhibited demand, or replacement rental units should be added to the city's housing supply. In order to encourage prompt replacement of demolished structures, permits should not be approved for temporary uses, such as general advertising signs or parking, unless such uses are appropriate permanent uses.


Encourage the location of neighborhood shopping areas throughout the city so that essential retail goods and personal services are accessible to all residents.

Neighborhood shopping districts should be distributed throughout the city so that all residential areas are within a service radius of one-quarter to one-half mile, depending upon the population density and topography of the area served. Most residential areas meet this service area standard, as can be seen on Map 4. Some remaining residential areas which are not served by commercial districts within these distances are served by individual commercial uses located within a quarter of a mile. These individual uses are typically corner grocery stores which are open long hours, providing a range of food and household convenience goods. The few remaining residential areas, which are neither served by neighborhood commercial districts nor by individual commercial uses, are typically of such low density that they cannot economically support nearby commercial activity. It would be appropriate to revise the zoning to allow a smaller convenience commercial use in those areas if a market demand develops, as long as the location meets the criteria of Objective 6, Policy 2 of the Residence Element.

Map 4MAP 4 - Residential Service Areas of Neighborhood Commercial Districts and Uses

Discourage the creation of major new commercial areas except in conjunction with new supportive residential development and transportation capacity.

Economic growth exhibited in any given commercial area, when viewed from a citywide or regional perspective may not represent "real" or absolute growth, but rather a relocation of economic activity from another commercial area, contributing to its decline. "Real" growth of retail activity requires an actual increase in expenditures which is directly linked to increases in disposable personal income. Because there are opportunities for business expansion within existing commercial areas, the creation of major new commercial areas should be discouraged unless a significant new market is being created to support the proposed development.

Adopt specific zoning districts, which conform to a generalized neighborhood commercial land use and density plan.

The application of other policies under this "neighborhood commercial" objective results in land use distribution patterns shown on the Generalized Neighborhood Commercial Land Use and Density Plan as shown on the accompanying map. Neighborhood Commercial zoning districts should conform to the map, although minor variations consistent with the policies may be appropriate. The Generalized Neighborhood Commercial Land Use and Density Plan provides for the following categories of neighborhood commercial districts:

map 5MAP 5 - Generalized Neighborhood Commercial Land Use and Density Plan

Neighborhood Commercial Clusters
These districts provide a limited range of convenience retail goods and services to residents in the immediate neighborhood typically during daytime hours. In general, these districts should be limited to no more than one or two blocks of continuous retail frontage. Some districts may extend for several blocks with small stores, sometimes interspersed among housing. Generally, commercial uses should be limited to the ground floor and the upper stories should be residential. These districts are intended to be located in neighborhoods which do not have the need for or capacity to handle larger-scale commercial activities.

Small-Scale Neighborhood Commercial Districts
These districts provide convenience goods and services to the local neighborhood as well as limited comparison shopping to a wider market area. The size of these districts may vary from one to three blocks to several blocks in length. Commercial building intensity should be limited to the first two stories with residential development occasionally interspersed. Upper stories should be reserved for residential use. These districts are typically linear and should be located along collector and arterial streets which have transit routes.

Moderate-Scale Neighborhood Commercial Districts
These districts provide a wide range of comparison and specialty goods and services to a population greater than the immediate neighborhood, additionally providing convenience goods and services to local residents. These districts can be quite large in size and scale and may include up to four stories of commercial development, although most districts have less. They may include residential units on the upper stories. Due to the moderately-large scale and levels of activity, these districts should be located along heavily-trafficked thoroughfares which also serve as major transit routes.

Neighborhood Commercial Shopping Centers
These districts provide retail goods and services for car-oriented shoppers. Typically, the district contains mostly one-story and a few two-story buildings with a substantial amount of off-street parking. Except for the largest NC-S districts, goods and services can range from groceries to a full range of merchandise. Residential uses are permitted but are uncommon. Because these districts provide an alternative building format with more parking opportunities than the traditional liner shopping districts, they should be located where their design is compatible with existing neighborhood scale and where they compatibly supplement other traditional commercial districts in serving new or low-density areas.

Individual Neighborhood Commercial Districts
These districts generally are small- or moderate-scale commercial districts undergoing rapid economic change, or potentially subject to intense development pressure. In most districts, separate zoning controls specific to each district’s particular needs and characteristics are needed to deal with the economic growth and land use changes which each area is experiencing. In some districts, eating and drinking uses have proliferated, displacing other types of retail goods and services needed by the neighborhood. Financial institutions, such as banks and savings and loan associations, have multiplied in certain districts, displacing other types of businesses, tending to concentrate and create nodes of congestion, and sometimes detracting from the visual and design character of the district. In many individual districts, special controls are necessary to protect existing housing from conversion to commercial use and encourage the development of new housing. Certain other districts in mature, low-density residential areas may require special controls to protect the existing scale and character of development and to prevent undue congestion.

Neighborhood Commercial Transit Districts
These districts serve high volumes of transit, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic, and therefore are oriented towards the pedestrian realm. These districts generally restrict automobile oriented services. They can be large or small in scale, but always accommodate ample housing. To maintain the mixed-use character of the district, most commercial uses are permitted on the ground floor and lower levels and housing is strongly encouraged at upper levels. The focus of service and retail uses are neighborhood serving, however transit districts generally offer comparison shopping for surrounding neighborhoods and may also offer niche or specialty shops and services. Individual districts often have specific zoning controls and design principles which detail specific preferences that acknowledge the existing context.

Promote high quality urban design on commercial streets.

Most of San Francisco's neighborhood commercial districts were developed concurrently with residential development and have physical forms which relate to the needs and tastes prevalent during the first half of this century. During this period, commercial units were built along streetcar lines and at major street intersections, often with residential flats on the upper floors, thus creating the familiar "linear" or "strip" commercial districts.

The small lot pattern prevalent at that time also encouraged the development of small buildings and stores. The resulting scale has come to characterize San Francisco's attractive and active neighborhood commercial districts. The small-scale character should be maintained through the regulation of the size of new buildings and commercial uses.

Continuous commercial frontage at the street level is especially important in all but the lowest intensity commercial districts with limited market areas. It prevents the fragmentation and isolation of fringe areas, improves pedestrian accessibility, and enhances the physical and aesthetic cohesiveness of the district. The design of new buildings should harmonize with the scale and orientation of existing buildings. Additionally, a correspondence of building setbacks, proportions, and texture helps establish visual coherence between new development and existing structures on a commercial street.

The appeal and vitality of a neighborhood commercial district depends largely on the character, amenities, and visual quality of its streets. The main function of neighborhood commercial streets is to provide retail goods and services in a safe, comfortable, and attractive pedestrian environment.


The following guidelines for urban design are intended to preserve and promote positive physical attributes of neighborhood commercial districts and facilitate harmony between business and residential functions. The pleasant appearance of an individual building is critical to maintaining the appeal and economic vitality of the businesses located in it, as well as of the whole neighborhood commercial district. An individual project's building design and site layout should be compatible with the character of surrounding buildings and the existing pattern of development in neighborhood commercial districts.
In designing a new development or evaluating a development proposal, the following criteria should be considered:

  • Overall district scale;
  • Individual street character and form;
  • Lot development patterns;
  • Adjacent property usage, especially buildings of historical, cultural or architectural importance;
  • Proposed site development and building design;
  • Handicapped access;
  • Potential environmental impacts; and
  • Feasible mitigation measures.

Site Layout

  • The site plan of a new building should reflect the arrangement of most other buildings on its block, whether set back from, or built out to its front property lines.

  • In cluster and linear districts with continuous street building walls, front set-backs are discouraged, in order to maintain a continuous block facade line. However, outdoor activities such as sidewalk cafes and walk-up windows may be accommodated by recessing the ground story. In addition, publicly accessible open space may be provided in a front setback if: the retail activity of the street is not adversely affected; there is a shortage of nearby open space to serve district shoppers, workers and residents; the site is appropriate in terms of its topography and sun and wind conditions; and attractive seating and landscaping are provided.

  • New development should respect open space corridors in the interior of blocks and not significantly impede access of light and air nor block views of adjacent buildings.

  • On irregularly shaped lots, through-lots or those adjacent to fully-built lots, open space located elsewhere than at the rear of a property may improve the access of light and air to residential units.

  • Outdoor activities associated with an eating and drinking or entertainment establishment which abut residentially-occupied buildings should be discouraged.

Scale, Height and Bulk

  • In most cases, small lots with narrow building fronts should be maintained in districts with this traditional pattern.

  • When new buildings are constructed on large lots, the facades should be designed in a series of elements which are compatible with the existing scale of the district.

  • The height of a proposed development should relate to the individual neighborhood character and the height and scale of adjacent buildings to avoid an overwhelming or dominating appearance of new structures. On a street of varied building heights, transitions between high and low buildings should be provided. While three-and four-story buildings are appropriate in many locations, two-story buildings are more appropriate in some areas with lower-scale development.

  • The height and bulk of new development should be designed to maximize sun access to nearby residential open space, parks, plazas, and major pedestrian corridors.


  • Facades of new development should be compatible with the proportions and design features of adjacent facades that contribute to the positive visual qualities of the neighborhood commercial district.

  • To encourage continuity of "live" retail sales and services, at least one-half of the total width of any new or reconstructed building, parallel to and facing the commercial street, should be devoted to entrances, show windows, or other displays. Where a substantial length of windowless wall is found to be unavoidable, eye-level display, a contrast in wall treatment, offset wall line, outdoor seating and/or landscaping should be used to enhance visual interest and pedestrian vitality.

  • Clear, untinted glass should be used at and near the street level to allow maximum visual interaction between sidewalk areas and the interior of buildings. Mirrored, highly reflective glass or densely-tinted glass should not be used except as an architectural or decorative accent.

  • Where unsightly walls of adjacent buildings become exposed by new development, they should be cleaned, painted or screened by appropriate landscaping.

  • Walk-up facilities should be recessed and provide adequate queuing space to avoid interruption of the pedestrian flow.

Architectural Design

  • The essential character of neighborhood commercial districts should be preserved by discouraging alterations and new development which would be incompatible with buildings which are of fine architectural quality and contribute to the scale and character of the district. The details, material, texture or color of existing architecturally distinctive buildings should be complemented by new development.

  • Existing structures in sound or rehabilitable condition and of worthwhile architectural character should be reused where feasible to retain the unique character of a given neighborhood commercial district.

  • The design of new buildings, building additions and alterations, and facade renovations should reflect the positive aspects of the existing scale and design features of the area. Building forms should complement and improve the overall neighborhood environment.

  • Building design which follows a standardized formula prescribed by a business with multiple locations should be discouraged if such design would be incompatible with the scale and character of the district in which the building is located.


  • The materials, textures and colors of new or remodeled structures should be visually compatible with the predominant materials of nearby structures. In most neighborhood commercial districts, painted wood, masonry and tiles combined with glass panes in show cases, windows and doors are the most traditional and appropriate exterior wall materials.


  • Individual buildings in the city's neighborhood commercial districts are rich in architectural detailing, yet vary considerably from building to building, depending upon the age and style of their construction. Vertical lines of columns or piers, and horizontal lines of belt courses or cornices are common to many buildings as are moldings around windows and doors. These elements add richness to a flat facade wall, emphasizing the contrast of shapes and surfaces.

  • A new or remodeled building should relate to its surrounding area by displaying compatible proportions, textures, and details. Nearby buildings of architectural distinction can serve as primary references. Existing street rhythms should also be continued on the facade of a new building, linking it to the rest of the district.

Rooftop Mechanical Equipment

  • Rooftop mechanical equipment which may be visually obtrusive or create disturbing noises or odors should be located away from areas of residential use and screened and integrated with the design of the building.


  • The character of signs and other features attached to or projecting from buildings is an important part of the visual appeal of a street and the general quality and economic stability of the area. Opportunities exist to relate these signs and projections more effectively to street design and building design. Neighborhood commercial districts are typically mixed-use areas with commercial units on the ground or lower floors and residential uses on upper floors. Sign sizes and design should relate and be compatible with the character and scale of the building as well as the neighborhood commercial district. As much as signs and other advertising devices are essential to a vital commercial district, they should not be allowed to interfere with or diminish the livability of residences within the neighborhood commercial district or in adjacent residential districts. Signs should not be attached to facades at residentially- occupied stories nor should sign illumination shine directly into windows of residential units.

Landscaping and Street Design

  • Street trees should be provided in each new development. If a district tree planting program or streetscape plan exists, new development should be landscaped in conformity with such plans. In places where tree planting is not appropriate due to inadequate sidewalk width, interference with utilities, undesirable shading, or other reasons, other means such as window boxes, planter boxes or trellises may be chosen.

  • Open uses such as parking lots should be visually screened along the street frontage by low walls, earth berms and/or landscaping. However, the safety of the lots should not be reduced through these measures.

  • A landscaped buffer of trees and shrubs should be used along those edges of a parking lot bordering residentially-developed properties.

  • In addition to landscaping at the periphery of the parking lot, planting islands between parked vehicles should be located within the lot, whenever feasible. Trees and other plantings provide shade and variety to the visual monotony of parked automobiles, especially when the lot is viewed from adjacent residences.


Preserve historically and/or architecturally important buildings or groups of buildings in neighborhood commercial districts.

Most neighborhood shopping streets are closely linked to the history of San Francisco and contain structures and features which document certain periods or events. A few of these buildings are designated landmarks while others may qualify as architecturally or historically significant or contributory buildings but have not yet been nominated. Some of the landmarks on shopping streets are commercial buildings as, for example, the Castro Theater on Castro Street, while others are institutions such as St. Francis of Assisi Church in North Beach or South San Francisco Opera House near Third Street. Only one existing historical district, the Liberty Hill Historic District, overlaps with a section of a neighborhood shopping street, Valencia Street. No other neighborhood commercial area has yet been designated a historical or conservation district although many contain examples of fine architecture and historic buildings and might in whole or in part qualify as districts.

Many of San Francisco's neighborhood shopping areas were developed during the first half of this century and, in many cases, their growth is linked to the evolution of street car lines. Small stores for retail and services clustered along thoroughfares with street car service. As more residential development occurred around them, they attracted more and more businesses and, over time became the intensely developed, active shopping streets we know today. Due to their gradual development over several decades and replacement of old buildings with new structures, most districts do not have a uniform architectural style but are composed of buildings originating in various periods. They range from Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and International Style to plain, functional architecture of the post-war period. The few architecturally uniform shopping areas are the small shopping centers and a few commercial blocks which were built in the forties and fifties in the western and south-western neighborhoods, often as part of large residential tract development.

A common feature of the older neighborhood shopping areas is the prevalent small-scale development which is based on the small lot pattern of blocks which mainly were intended for residential development. During the first half of the century, in cases where several lots were merged for larger commercial development, builders avoided the appearance of massive buildings by articulating the facades to resemble a series of buildings. Unfortunately, the concern about compatibility of scale was neglected in the sixties and seventies when large enterprises, especially financial institutions, developed imposing, out-of-scale buildings and disturbed the existing small-scale environment.
Another common feature of San Francisco's shopping streets is the commercial-residential mixed use of the buildings. In the last century, many storekeepers lived above their stores as was customary in European countries. This established the pattern of developing commercial units with residential flats on the upper floors. It was not until the forties and fifties, that single-story commercial development became more common in the single-family residential areas in the western and south-western part of the city.

Many historically and/or architecturally significant buildings or groups of buildings on neighborhood shopping streets already have been identified through the work of the Landmarks Advisory Board, in the 1976 DCP architectural survey, and in special surveys such as the studies of Union Street and North Beach. These surveys should be systematized and extended to all neighborhood shopping streets. Those streets or parts of streets whose built environment represents an important historic period or are of outstanding architectural or aesthetic quality should be protected as historic or conservation districts. Those important buildings that are not part of a larger grouping should be protected as individual landmarks.

Pending formal designation of districts and individual landmarks, these important buildings and groups of buildings should be protected, where feasible, by application of the following guidelines which are intended to protect and enhance the distinguished character of neighborhood shopping streets and to further the preservation of historically and/or architecturally significant structures and features.

  • The demolition of historically and/or architecturally important buildings should be avoided and their restoration should be encouraged. Buildings of lesser importance which nevertheless contribute to the character of the street, also should be retained and enhanced if feasible.

  • In renovating such structures, the design of the original structure should be respected. Renovation efforts should be guided by the policies of the Urban Design and Preservation Elements and Standards for Rehabilitation of the Secretary of the Interior.

  • Alterations and additions to any historically or architecturally important building should be compatible with the original building and not diminish its character. If original building components cannot be restored, contemporary design which respects the scale, detailing, material and color of the original structure, is permissible. Where possible, special attention should be paid to restoration of original storefronts as they are essential components of neighborhood shopping areas.

  • Business signs are important features in neighborhood commercial areas. Distinguished old signs, especially those identifying historic businesses and landmark buildings should be preserved. Old signs painted directly on walls should be preserved and not be painted over if they are of historic or aesthetic quality.
  • Signs on historically or architecturally important buildings should be designed as an integral part of the building and not detract from the architecture. All new signs, including business signs and billboards should be compatible with the existing scale of the district and be carefully designed not to upset the character of the district.

  • Positive urban design elements of the streetscape such as the proportion of street and sidewalk to adjacent building heights, landscaping and street trees, artwork and street furniture should be preserved and enhanced with the goal of maintaining and improving the established character and yet allowing the many functions of a neighborhood oriented, commercial area to be carried out in a pleasant and attractive environment.

  • New development near buildings of historic or architectural importance should harmonize with the historic fabric. Slavish imitation of historic styles should be avoided and innovative new architecture which contributes positively to the established urban design character of the district, encouraged. The design of new structures should establish linkages with design characteristics of the surrounding buildings such as building height, massing, height of stories, window proportions and framing, material and color, horizontal and vertical articulation, set-backs, stairs and other design elements.

  • New development in historic or conservation districts, should respect the existing development pattern and scale, height of adjacent buildings, open space corridors in the interior of the block, facade design and rhythm, and special features characteristic of buildings in the particular district.


Regulate uses so that traffic impacts and parking problems are minimized.

New, expanding or relocating uses should not significantly increase traffic congestion or parking problems. Each use should be evaluated for its anticipated impacts on the transportation systems (i.e. traffic circulation, parking, transit service, pedestrian circulation) particularly during peak traffic hours and with respect to surrounding residential areas. The degree of detail in the analysis should be commensurate with the size and location of the use (compared with traffic volumes and parking availability), its potential as a heavy trip generator and the level of transportation and parking in the vicinity.

If the use will generate significant additional traffic congestion, then the use should be redesigned to mitigate such congestion or the use should not be allowed.

If the use will generate parking demand which cannot be accommodated by the district's existing supply, the use should be redesigned to reduce parking demand or parking should be provided in an amount adequate to meet demand. Such parking should be appropriately located, designed, landscaped, and operated. If adequate parking does not exist of cannot be provided, or excess parking demand cannot be otherwise mitigated, the use should not be allowed.

The following types of uses are potential heavy vehicle trip generators, due to the nature and/or size of use, and should be closely examined:

Commercial Use

  • Fast Food Restaurant, Self-Service Restaurants and Take-Out Food Establishment (with or without drive-up facility)
  • Full-Service Restaurant
  • Take-Out Food Establishment
  • Supermarket
  • Convenience Store (Late-night or 24-hour)
  • Bank or other Financial Service (with or without automated teller machine or drive-up facility)
  • Automotive Gas or Service Station
  • Medical Service

Institutional Uses

  • Hospital or Medical Center
  • Post Office

Potential traffic impact and parking demand generated by the use should be evaluated, using estimates of the numbers of customers and trips generated by the use and the distribution of different types of trips by mode of travel for various time periods, when possible, on a neighborhood or area-specific basis. Other comparable uses in similar locations should be examined and the transportation problems they generate should be assessed.

In the case of fast food restaurants and other take-out food uses, information should be provided as to expected rate of turnover and proportions of customers taking out food vs. eating on-site. In evaluating customer volume, the size of the kitchen should be considered; high customer volumes may be anticipated for a facility with a kitchen occupying 500 square feet or more. Other special types of retail operations such as those with small catalog showrooms and large inventory storage areas also may need especially detailed projections of customer volumes.

The analysis should indicate whether the use will:

  • Aggravate significantly existing on-street parking problems and shortages or cause waiting vehicles to queue across the sidewalk into the street or into a high-volume vehicular or transit lane or bus stop, especially during the peak hours of traffic or transit volume.

  • Attract a significant amount of additional vehicular traffic into the area and adjacent neighborhoods.

  • Worsen significantly pedestrian circulation in the area and/or significantly increase the potential for pedestrian/vehicle conflicts.

Parking needed for new housing in commercial districts should be provided but parking in excess of projected demand should be avoided. In some districts well served by transit, especially where overall vehicular ownership is low, reducing the required off-street parking for residential uses may be appropriate, in order to encourage mixed housing and commercial development, use resources efficiently, encourage transit usage and reduce the cost of housing.

Promote neighborhood commercial revitalization, including community-based and other economic development efforts where feasible.

While most commercial districts have healthy economies, some districts have declined. The latter areas are underused and are often characterized by vacant lots and boarded up or deteriorating storefronts. As a consequence, there is inadequate provision of convenience goods and services to nearby residents. The City should participate in a variety of efforts to revitalize these districts.

However, the ultimate success of a neighborhood commercial district depends upon factors which are beyond the scope of the public sector. Private sector investment must bear primary responsibility for economic revitalization. A viable commercial district can only exist if the goods and services available are appropriate to the population it serves.

Almost all successful neighborhood commercial revitalization efforts are initiated by local businessmen with a strong desire and commitment to upgrade their businesses, properties, and neighborhoods. Because revitalization of an entire commercial district requires diligence and cooperation of all merchants and property owners sustained over a long period of time, a strong merchants' association is essential. The City should provide businessmen who have exhibited a strong commitment to upgrade their areas with assistance in organizing or strengthening their merchants' association and preparing and carrying out their improvements.

For its part, the City should provide the physical improvements and public services necessary to ensure confidence in local investors. These include police and fire protection, adequate maintenance of streets, sidewalks and sanitation services, as well as proper enforcement of zoning, health, and building codes to ensure the health and safety of merchants, residents, and shoppers. Capital improvements should be made as required, including lighting, street furnishings, public spaces, and mini-parks. Traffic circulation, transit, and parking availability should be managed to allow maximum accessibility to the retail corridor with a minimum of congestion and disruption to the neighborhood.

Community development corporations can also assist in revitalization efforts by providing employment and community services to local residents through community-owned local business enterprises. Encouragement and assistance should be given to organizations having the potential of successfully carrying out local economic development projects.

Efforts to upgrade neighborhood commercial districts should occur in conjunction with efforts to improve the quality of the surrounding community, with respect to physical condition of the housing stock, recreation and open space, and delivery of services.



San Francisco has long been recognized as a regional center for governmental, educational, and health services. As the Bay Area population outside San Francisco has required additional governmental and educational services, San Francisco's relative share of regional employment growth in this sector has diminished somewhat. However, San Francisco retains its preeminence as a regional center for state and federal governmental functions and for medical services. These services are projected to be among the fastest growing employment sectors of the San Francisco economy in future years. New employment opportunities are expected to be available at all occupational levels, from highly skilled professional positions to semi-skilled service positions due to improved technology and expanded federal funding.

During the last decade the delivery capability of medical services has increased significantly. Newly emerging medical centers and clinics have clustered around hospital facilities which are expanding themselves. Educational institutions located in residential areas have also experienced significant growth in recent years in response to changing social and educational values of contemporary students. As the institutions expanded curricula and physical facilities to accommodate larger enrollments and changing educational demands, adjacent residential areas in the city have begun to feel the impact of more intensely utilized school sites.

Because governmental, health and educational services provide valuable services to residents and constitute a significant share of employment opportunities to local residents, it is important to preserve the vitality of this sector. However, future growth must be managed to achieve equitable distribution of benefits to all geographical and cultural sub-populations of the city and to minimize associated adverse effects on surrounding areas.

Promote San Francisco, particularly the civic center, as a location for local, regional, state and federal governmental functions.

In a manner similar to other economic functions such as office uses and institutions, physical proximity of various governmental activities is important to the efficient functioning of daily activities of related agencies. The city should strengthen the locational advantages of this clustering of governmental services by insuring provision of an adequate amount of space in the Civic Center area to serve this function without endangering surrounding residential areas.

Governmental activities also serve as an important resource for employment opportunities, particularly for men and women with entry level clerical skills. Individuals working for governmental agencies in and around the Civic Center can avail themselves of excellent transit service to the Center, lessening the need to utilize automobiles. The Civic Center is also near areas of high unemployment.

Encourage the extension of needed health and educational services, but manage expansion to avoid or minimize disruption of adjacent residential areas.

The continued, controlled expansion of educational and medical institutions is important to the city in the provision of valuable and needed services to residents and employment opportunities. Medical care and hospitals are important in neighborhoods which would otherwise be relatively isolated from treatment facilities. Evening and adult schools provide possibilities for working individuals to extend their vocational or casual interests. These institutions also provide extensive employment opportunities and training opportunities. Institutional growth is also anticipated to create many new jobs for residents in areas of the city other than downtown.

The expansion needs of institutions often conflict with efforts to preserve and protect the scale and character of residential neighborhoods. Large educational and medical institutions attract people from outside a neighborhood, aggravating traffic and parking problems. Institutional buildings tend to be larger in scale and more intensely used than residential buildings which often surround them. In addition, institutional expansion often requires removal of housing and displacement of residents.

To minimize the disruption caused by institutional expansion, the city should continue its policy of reviewing expansion plans. This review examines the needs of adjacent resident areas for housing, on-street parking and safe, quiet streets as well as the needs of the institution. Educational and medical institutions are required to develop and submit master plans to the city prior to any specific expansion request. Such master plans define long-term and short-range development plans of the institution. The early review of institutional development plans will permit exploration of alternate ways to address the needs of the institution in order to minimize potential conflicts with the residential area.

Promote the provision of adequate health and educational services to all geographical districts and cultural groups in the city.

San Francisco has a well developed public health care delivery system with well staffed and equipped public and private hospitals. Unfortunately, the clustering of many of these major facilities in relatively few areas creates problems in the adjacent residential neighborhoods. This clustering also serves to limit access of residents in other parts of the City to the health care and employment opportunities which these large institutions offer. Similar distribution and accessibility problems exist with respect to educational and job training institutions.

The city should actively encourage the decentralization of major institutional facilities to other areas of San Francisco, particularly those presently without adequate services. Vacated school sites and facilities should be examined as a potential expansion resource. There also exist areas of underused land in the city in which the physical impact of institutional development would be acceptable and might even provide the necessary impetus for desired new community development.



Recognition of San Francisco as a center for tourism and visitor trade extends throughout California, the United States, and the world. The city serves as a major West Coast destination for travelers who come to enjoy sightseeing, to attend national conventions, or to complete business transactions.

Visitor trade constitutes an important economic base for San Francisco and is responsible for employing, directly and indirectly, more residents than any other economic sector. It generates substantial revenues in many related economic areas including transportation, general merchandising, eating and drinking places, food stores, other retail trade, motor vehicles and service stations, personal services, and entertainment and recreation. By far the largest expense for visitors is hotels or motels, followed by restaurants and retail sales.

Such spending is important, for it stems from sources outside the Bay Area, and thus provides a substantial input of new dollars to the local economy. The expenditure of these new dollars in the local economy has a powerful effect in generating additional spending by local merchants and, in turn, generates higher personal incomes for resident owners and employees of visitor trade facilities. Tourist demand also has the effect of expanding the availability and selection of local goods and services.

In addition to providing the city with added revenues, visitor trade provides significant employment opportunities to San Francisco residents in the service occupations. Many of these jobs can be filled by low and semi-skilled workers who may have limited employability in other employment sectors.

While the economic benefits of visitor trade are felt in the employment and earnings sectors of the economy, certain adverse impacts are also related to tourism. Among these are added density and congestion in some parts of the city; strains on parking, mass transit, and other important municipal services. The most obvious negative aspect of increased tourist activity is increased pedestrian and vehicle congestion at points of interest where there is no additional capacity to accommodate demand. This not only reduces local residents' ability to enjoy the event, but may ultimately limit the attractiveness to out-of-town visitors. If congestion spills over into the surrounding residential or commercial business areas, the mobility in and quality of these areas is impaired. Also, in certain commercial areas, efforts to cater to visitors' tastes have altered the mix of goods and services offered to the extent that local demands are no longer met. In instances, the quality of merchandise and services has also declined. There are, therefore, a number of tourism related impacts that may negate the economic and employment benefits of tourism.

Guide the location of additional tourist related activities to minimize their adverse impacts on existing residential, commercial, and industrial activities.

While growth in tourism provides San Francisco with economic and employment benefits, unchecked expansion of the tourist industry can have negative implications for the quality of the city's neighborhoods, and for certain sectors of the economy.

It is therefore important to weigh both the costs and benefits of each specific proposal to expand or promote visitor trade. Activities should be designed and controls should be provided to minimize adverse impacts on surrounding residential, commercial, and industrial activities. The various activities comprising the visitor trade industry naturally tend to locate in geographical proximity to one another just as in other sectors of the economy. This natural tendency should be encouraged for several reasons. San Francisco's attractiveness to the visitor is enhanced by its compact, urban form which allows the visitor to move easily from hotel accommodations and restaurants to convention facilities, sightseeing interest, business appointments, and entertainment. In addition, the geographical proximity of visitor attractions to one another lessens the need for automobile or transit trips, and provides the least additional strain on the city's public transportation system. Finally, the location of visitor related activities within established activity areas may reduce the potential for tourism's negatively associated impacts upon the quality of the city's residential neighborhoods.

Therefore, the city should encourage additional visitor oriented facilities to locate in those areas where visitor attractions and business and convention facilities are at the present time primarily concentrated.

Support locally initiated efforts to improve the visitor trade appeal of neighborhood commercial districts.

Encouraging greater use of neighborhood commercial districts by visitors can be an effective way of providing economic stimulus to such areas and of spreading the benefits as well as impacts of tourism. Care must be taken, however, to avoid situations where the tourist appeal drives out neighborhood services and creates major problems for adjacent residential areas.

Assure that areas of particular visitor attraction are provided with adequate public services for both residents and visitors.

Public services such as transit, and visitor information, benches and restrooms, as well as police, fire, and street cleaning, are especially important at areas of particular visitor attraction. Provision of high quality services is one direct method the city can employ to promote visitor trade in San Francisco. Where appropriate, additional public facilities designed to serve expanding visitor trade should be provided. The development of the George Moscone Convention Center greatly increases the impact of visitors and conventioneers within the downtown area. Care should be taken to assure this increased activity continues to be adequately accommodated with existing and planned public service systems.

Amendment by Resolution 12040 adopted on 9/27/90
Amendment by Proposition F approved by San Francisco Voters 6/3/1997
Amendment adopted by Planning Commission Resolution 14467 on 10/16/1997, and by Board of Supervisors Ordinance 26-98 on 1/15/1998.
Amendments by Resolution 14698 adopted 9/17/1998
Amendments by Resolution 16900 adopted12/2/2004.
Amendments approved by Planning Commission Resolution 17408 on 4/5/2007 and the Board of Supervisors Ordinance 246-07 on 10/30/07.
Amendments by Resolution 18098 on 6/3/2010.



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