Urban Ag and the General Plan: San Francisco

San Francisco’s charter requires that ordinances affecting land use must be consistent with or conform to the policies of the city’s General Plan. Last week’s Planning Commission resolution urging the Board of Supervisors to enact a new urban agriculture planning code included an assessment of how the revised code relates to the General Plan. Not surprisingly, the Commission concluded that promoting urban agriculture through zoning changes that make it easier to locate urban farms and gardens would conform to the General Plan.  But the resolution went further by affirmatively stating that urban agriculture helps to achieve a number of San Francisco’s broad goals and objectives. 

The following General Plan policies (in bold) and Planning Commission assessments (in italics) illustrate why cities like San Francisco should embrace zoning and other land use regulations that encourage the expansion of urban food production. The Commission’s claims make sense, and may seem obvious to advocates of urban agriculture, but empirical data would provide much stronger support.
Excerpted from Planning Commission Resolution No. 18276, which was passed by the Commission on February 17, 2011.
Policy:  Encourage development which provides substantial net benefits and minimizes undesirable consequences. Discourage development which has substantial undesirable consequences that cannot be mitigated.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance, in part, will facilitate the growth of small businesses engaged in urban agricultural activity. These businesses have substantial net benefits to the City of San Francisco, both economically and ecologically. The proposed Ordinance will foster local production of food, a goal of Executive Directive 09‐03, “Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco.”
Policy: Maintain a favorable social and cultural climate in the city in order to enhance its attractiveness as a firm location.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will facilitate the growth of small businesses dedicated to the production and consumption of locally grown and seasonally consumed produce and processed goods. The growth of the local food sector in San Francisco creates a favorable social and cultural climate in the City that attracts firms and their employees.
Policy: Promote the attraction, retention and expansion of commercial and industrial firms which provide employment improvement opportunities for unskilled and semi‐skilled workers; Assist newly emerging economic activities.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance facilitates the creation of small businesses engaged in urban agricultural activity. This is an emerging economic activity in San Francisco and the proposed Ordinance will formalize the status of much of the current urban agricultural activity currently underway. In addition, these firms involved in urban agriculture can provide employment opportunities for unskilled and semi‐skilled workers throughout the calendar year because of the favorable growing climate in San Francisco.
Policy: Ensure and encourage the retention and provision of neighborhood‐serving goods and services in the cityʹs neighborhood commercial districts, while recognizing and encouraging diversity among the 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; Promote neighborhood commercial revitalization, including community‐based and other economic development efforts where feasible.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will permit urban agriculture uses, either principally or with Conditional Use authorization, in neighborhood commercial districts, thereby promoting the mixed commercial‐residential character of those areas. Those neighborhood commercial districts in need of revitalization will benefit from the proposed Ordinance as it allows a new use category to be established where before they were prohibited. The establishment of urban agricultural uses in the neighborhood commercial districts will help provide neighborhood serving goods in the form of fresh produce.
Policy: Encourage appropriate neighborhood‐serving commercial activities in residential areas, without causing affordable housing displacement.
Assessment: Within residential districts the proposed Ordinance will allow urban agricultural activity that is desirable and appropriate, akin to the small pedestrian‐oriented corner grocery stores and other convenience shops. Urban agricultural activity can meet frequent and recurring needs of residents without disrupting the residential character of the area. The proposed Ordinance establishes physical and operational standards that help to ensure that the urban agricultural activity in residential areas will be primarily pedestrian‐oriented, that it serve the needs of the immediate residential neighborhood, that it not draw significant trade from outside the neighborhood, that it not be disruptive to the livability of the surrounding neighborhood and restrict the use of heavy machinery.
Policy: Encourage mixed land use development near transit lines and provide retail and other types of service oriented uses within walking distance to minimize automobile dependent development; Promote the development of non‐polluting industries and insist on compliance with established industrial emission control regulations by existing industries.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will foster the local production of food which will, in many instances, allow residents of San Francisco to forgo an automobile trip to a grocery store and instead travel by bicycle or foot to an urban agricultural use permitted to sell produce. Given the physical and operational standards, the urban agricultural uses allowed will be non‐polluting.
Policy: Restore and replenish the supply of natural resources.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance facilitates activities that seek to cultivate land to increase vegetation, replenish wildlife and landscape man‐made surroundings. It will permit projects that revitalize the urban environment both economically and ecologically.
Policy: Expand community garden opportunities throughout the City.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will facilitate the establishment of community gardens throughout all zoning districts as it proposes to principally permit such use, when it meets the physical and operational standards, in all zoning districts.
Policy: That existing neighborhood‐serving retail uses will be preserved and enhanced and future opportunities for resident employment in and ownership of such businesses will be enhanced.
Assessment: The proposed Ordinance will facilitate the creation of new neighborhood serving businesses that can be resident owned. With the creation of new, resident owned urban agriculture businesses, existing neighborhood serving retail will have another establishment from which to purchase products or additional patrons in the form of new the owners and employees of the urban agriculture businesses.

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