Start a development project on land that may be contaminated

Comply with the Maher Ordinance by testing your site and mitigating contamination under regulatory oversight.

What to do

The Maher Ordinance requires performing environmental site assessment, mitigation, and if needed, remediation for development on sites with known or suspected contamination. If the Maher Ordinance applies to your project, we must provide regulatory oversight for your project. We will guide you through permitting, technical review, and compliance.

The following steps describe the general requirements for development projects on private property. We will evaluate specific requirements on a case-by-case basis. Contact us if you have any questions.

1. Check if the Maher Ordinance applies to your project

If your project is at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, you need to apply to the Article 31 Program instead.

The Maher requirements apply to your project if:

  • You will disturb 50 cubic yards of soil or more

  • You need a site or grading permit from the Department of Building Inspection

  • Your project is in the Maher area

If the Maher requirements do not apply, then you do not need to apply to our program to get your site or grading permit.

Check the San Francisco Planning Information Map to see what areas we already know are in the Maher Area. The Maher Ordinance generally applies to areas:

  • With current or past industrial use or zoning
  • Within 100 feet of current or past underground storage tanks
  • That used to be part of the bay, marsh, or creek areas
  • Within 150 feet of a current or former elevated highway

Learn more about the specific land included in the Maher area in Building Code Section 106A.

2. Submit an application

Apply with our Site Assessment and Mitigation Program as early as you can to avoid project delays. Apply before you submit your building or grading permit application to the Department of Building Inspection. 

If your project is on a site permit, see more information under "Special Cases" below.

3. Perform pre-construction site assessment and mitigation activities

You need a qualified environmental professional to perform this work.

To comply, you may need to submit:

  • A Site History Report
  • A Subsurface Investigation Work Plan
  • A Subsurface Investigation Report
  • A Site Mitigation Plan

If needed, you may also need to submit:

This is a stepwise process, so plan ahead to see how this may affect your schedule. Learn more about the requirements for these documents.

4. Apply for your site or grading permit

Once your caseworker determines you have met pre-construction requirements, you may apply to the Department of Building Inspection for your building or grading permit.

You need a building or grading permit to start earth work. Submit your building permit application with:

  • A Department of Public Health (DPH) program routing checklist
  • A compliance letter from us, such as:
    • A Maher waiver
    • A letter approving a Site History Report which presents no evidence that hazardous materials may be at your site
    • A letter approving a Subsurface Investigation Report which presents data indicating no hazardous materials are at your site
    • A letter approving your Site Mitigation Plan, Health and Safety Plan, and Dust Control Plan (where applicable)
    • A letter saying that the site has completed an equivalent regulatory process

Once you submit your plans, the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) will send them to us. We will update your permit application and approve your plans as appropriate. We will ask for the Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) for sign-off.

5. Implement your project

Once your have a site or building permit, you may implement your project. If you need a site permit in advance of compliance, see "Special cases" at the bottom of this page.

6. Submit a Land Use Covenant (LUC)

If your project is complete and you still have significant hazardous substances in the soil, groundwater, or soil vapor, you might have to record a Land Use Covenant (LUC). This is also called a deed restriction. A LUC tells current owners about hazardous substances under the property, activity use limitations (AULs), and any required activities to ensure the property remains safe for it's intended use. If your property has a deed of trust or mortgage, you might also need a subordination agreement.

Activity use limitations (AULs) may include:

  • Restrictions on sensitive uses
  • A requirement to implement an Operations, Maintenance, and Monitoring Plan
  • Other administrative or engineering controls

7. Submit a Site Mitigation Completion Report

The final Site Mitigation Completion Report must include:

  • Description of the Site Mitigation Plan (SMP)
  • Description of cleanup/mitigating measure work
  • Any incidents that needed a contingency plan
  • Documentation of soil and groundwater transportation, disposal, and testing
  • Verification documentation
  • As-built drawings
  • Confirmation sample results
  • Waste manifests
  • Dust monitoring data

8. Get your Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) approved

If your building will be occupied, you need to get your Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) approved. Certain activities may be performed after TCO and tracked on the Certificate of Final Completion and Occupancy (CFCO) but these must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Special cases

If your project is in a residential area, consider a waiver

If your project is in a residential area, consider a waiver

You might want to apply for a waiver to reduce your Maher requirements. You can get a waiver if:

  • If your project has been in residential use since 1921
  • There is no evidence that the soil and/or groundwater may contain hazardous substances

Email your documents to your assigned caseworker. We will review your application and determine what requirements apply to your project. To apply for the waiver, include one of the following documents:

  • Phase I Environmental Site Assessment
  • Historical Resource Evaluation
  • Report of Residential Building Record (3R Report)
  • A cover letter summarizing the historical information, including:
    • A description of current site use and proposed project
    • Current and proposed site plan and elevation drawings. Plans and drawings must show the planned area and depth of soil disturbance.
    • Sanborn maps from:
      • 1900-1930
      • 1930-1960
      • 1960-2000
      • 2000-present

Sanborn fire insurance maps

Sanborn fire insurance maps have information about past hazardous material use. They can help you understand historical site use and sources of contamination.

If you need a site permit in advance of compliance

If you need a site permit in advance of compliance

If your work is on a site permit, you can open a HEALTH addenda to get your site permit approved before you meet the Maher requirements. We will track the requirements on the HEALTH addenda instead. Prepare a letter addressed to the Department of Building Inspection and the Department of Public Health, saying:

  • You plan to meet the requirements in Health Code Article 22A
  • You will submit an addendum schedule which includes HEALTH as the first addendum
  • You will not disturb soil before meeting the requirements

 Include this letter with your Department of Building Inspection application for a site permit.

If your project is on City property

If your project is on City property

Contact our program to determine how to comply:

San Francisco is an old city with a history of environmental contamination. Health Code Article 22A, also known as the Maher Ordinance, is a local law that requires land owners to develop their land in a way that is safe for people and the environment. This law makes sure San Francisco has more environmental protections for development than the rest of California.

The Site Assessment and Mitigation Program, part of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Population Health Division, Environmental Health Branch, regulates Health Code Article 22A.

Get help

Email us for guidance

We can help you understand the requirements for your project.


Contact the DBI

If you have questions about the building permit process contact the Department of Building Inspection:

Last updated April 18, 2024