How to read and research SF Planning (links broken, will fix later)

… or any Gov’t code really. Tax code. California code. Etc. But this will focus on Planning.

Laws are written in words and usually plain language to a degree, except reading through them can be tricky because definitions are not always what they are intuitively. When I dig through laws, I always have a source of legal definitions open so I can check. You’d be surprised what “human” can mean when you read the tax code!

This side is the published San Francisco laws, but we only care about Planning for this post:

Published maps:

Use Districts:

So, as an example, let’s use 668 Guerrero.

Based on above map, we are in zone 7. Scroll down a bit, there’s a table with links for each zone. Clicking there we get a more granular map. This puts us right in RH-3.


You have to check the other light-green to see it’s RH-3 since it’s not labelled exactly in that plot.

ok, now we have the zoning. Back to the code. I’m going to start with the definition of RH-3 and see where that leads.

Article 1.2 says “Definitions”. I just Ctrl-F (find) RH-3, but these are all related to open (outdoor) space use. Moving on.

Article 1.7 says “Compliance” but im going to pass over that for now, i need a definition before I can comply with anything.

Article 2: Use Districts. Ctrl-F, there we go.

Clicking on the link for 209.1, nothing happened for me, but we know the section, so we can find it in the side bar.

Scrolling a bit, we have the definition.

There’s something written in there that might be useful! You just have to read.

Scroll down a bit, there’s a table.

You need to scroll through this to find all the details of what is and isn’t allowed in RH-3. Note that RH-3 is the last column.

There’s a number of codes at the bottom to interpret some entries like ‘P’ for permitted, ‘NP’ for not permitted, and ‘C’ for permit required.

Let’s look at a few important ones for Noisebridge.

Some of what happens at NB might be commercial, i dont know. Floor area ratio is probably important but I’m kind of tired of clicking. These aren’t that big of a deal imo.

:(. No Entertainment, Arts, and Recreation. But before getting too down, click on all the references to see exactly what it means. Never just stop digging. Section 102 covers those terms.

clicking on 102, hey! we’re brought to a bunch of definitions. Sweet.

So i didn’t mention this before, but this is an important concept.

This doesn’t mean we CAN do whatever we want, but we might be able to get a permit for some things as accessory use. it ALSO has a bunch of references. I’m not going to go down that hole, but there are limitations like % of sqr feet allocated to the accessory use vs Primary use. It’s like 25%? 20%? I forget.

Err, ok, EAR is OUT.

Well, we can do Horses if we get a Permit.

Oh well. Back to the table. Industrial Use was not permitted. LoopNet had this building listed as Industrial though. Which is weird. And you can check what’s allowed in Industrial the same way as RH-3. However before even bothering someone should call planning and check.

Just to see the definition, we’d most likely fall under Light Industrial.

But as a tip, no entertainment.

Moving on.

School is by Permit, but what is a School

Ok we’re not a school, is there another Education thing we can fall under:

That sounds a bit more like NB, Can we do Retail and Service Use:


So, there may be other cases we call under, I donno. But we can do something else. Let’s change the use! That’s detailed here:

And has large fees associated with it, as we have found.

So, that’s how you can read and dig through the code. Check all definitions and references. Make no assumptions about what you think you know about terms since it doesn’t tell you explicitly when a term has a specific definition, but most nouns dealing with planning (or taxes or whatever) do.

As a last note, compliance is a risk that can be taken intelligently. That typically means knowing what the cost is if caught. That’s in the fees section.

It would be great if people can double check the above, I make mistakes ALL the time.

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