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New effort to save downtown San Francisco would ax environmental checks

A construction site with scaffolding, workers, and exposed concrete floors.
State Sen. Scott Wiener has proposed a new law that aims to revitalize San Francisco’s downtown by removing restrictions for new developments. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

State Sen. Scott Wiener has proposed a new law that would allow developers in downtown San Francisco to skip environmental checks to remodel or replace outdated buildings faster.

Wiener said his new bill, SB 1227, would speed up the revitalization of San Francisco’s downtown corridor by creating relief from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), according to a press release.

The bill would apply to most projects for the next 10 years if they’re not built on hazardous waste sites, aren’t historical landmarks and don’t involve demolishing another building that’s housed tenants in the past decade.

The bill would also expand a property tax exemption used by affordable housing projects to encourage the production of moderate-income workforce housing projects in downtown San Francisco.

Wiener proposes SB 1227 alongside another bill, SB 969, which would allow restaurants and bars to serve alcohol outdoors in so-called Entertainment Zones.

“Getting people back out in the streets is key to the economic recovery of cities across California,” Wiener said. “By creating Entertainment Zones, we’re giving people a reason to go back to areas where recovery has been slow while creating a vital new revenue stream for bars and restaurants.”

“Downtown San Francisco matters to our city’s future, and it’s struggling—to bring people back, we need to make big changes and have open minds,” Wiener said.

Critics allege CEQA is cited too broadly by special interest groups to kneecap new developments, sometimes creating insurmountable barriers to new housing.

The legislation is backed by Mayor London Breed, who said the city must look for new ways to activate its deserted downtown corridors.

“San Francisco thrives when downtown thrives, but the reality is that we need to evolve beyond the traditional 9-to-5 neighborhood it has been for decades,” Breed said.

David Sjostedt can be reached at