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Politics & Policy

San Francisco laws are a tangled mess. Talk with our AI charter bot

A robot sits on an orange chair, reading a long printed document in front of a computer displaying code. Multiple screens with code are visible in the background.
We’re embedding a GPT that allows readers to ask questions about the city charter. | Source: AI illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard

At a recent mayoral debate, San Francisco Mayor London Breed tossed out a joke—or was it?—that ChatGPT should rewrite the city charter. 

The charter, the legal document laying out how San Francisco is organized and governed, consists of 18 articles, six appendices and countless chapters and sections on everything from business and health regulations to parks, planning, police, fire, tax and election codes. The charter is akin to our local constitution, and changes are approved by voters

It’s not exactly light reading: One hard copy available on Amazon clocks in at 604 pages and 2.3 pounds. Currently, the best way to look up a rule or regulation is to Google it. Or use the search function on American Legal Publishing and wade through reams of legalese until your eyes water. So we threw the charter into ChatGPT to see if the artificial intelligence tool could help answer questions about this living document. 

As it turns out, the charter is so voluminous that even the bot refused to sift through the layers upon layers of laws that make up San Francisco’s charter.

For example, when asked how many total business taxes there are in the city, we had to badger the bot repeatedly before it provided anything close to a comprehensive list. Likewise, when we asked how many commissions there are in the city, the bot gave answers—first 56, then 58—that were far below the Civil Grand Jury’s count of 115.

Our CharterGPT comes with the same caveats as the budget bot we created earlier this month. The bot is often wrong and should be fact-checked. The source document covers the city’s extensive municipal codes but not budgeting or the policy choices of specific elected officials. 

Here are some examples of questions you can ask our charter bot:

  • How are ballot measures created? 
  • Can the mayor directly hire a police chief?
  • Who appoints members of the Planning Commission?
  • What is the filing fee to open a bingo parlor?
  • Which part of the city has the tallest building height limits? 
  • What is the penalty for drinking in public?
  • Can I fish at Lake Merced?
  • What permits do I need to open a hot dog cart? 

In the box below, you can try asking your own questions about the charter. As always, we’re happy to hear your thoughts at