What is the Maher Ordinance?


Historically low lying areas or properties too wet to build on in San Francisco had been leveled with foreign fill to allow for their development. The contents and origin of the fill material used as part of the initial development of these areas are unknown and have been found to commonly contain an array of contaminates. Originally created in 1986, the Maher Ordinance (also referred to as San Francisco Health Code Article 22A) had primarily been established to address the potential presence of contaminated soil and groundwater from the historic use of foreign fill material.

Is Your Project in the Maher Zone?

The Maher Ordinance is a San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) stipulation that covers areas with a current or historic industrial use or zoning; areas within 100 feet of current or historical underground tanks; areas within 150 feet of a current or former elevated highway; and formerly filled bay, marsh or creek areas. The Maher Zone has been largely mapped out and primarily is located on properties along the bay and Interstate 280. Complying with the Maher Ordinance has affected the commercial development projects of many of our clients in San Francisco, particularly those located in the Dogpatch neighborhood. Essel is familiar with areas suspected to be in the Maher Zone and has worked with the San Francisco Planning Department and Department of Public Health to determine if properties are suspected to be contaminated.

Location Isn’t Everything

A property may look to be in the clear of the mapped Maher Zone, but a historic environmental investigation of a property is necessary to determine if a development project is affected by the Maher Ordinance. A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment provides insight to historic use of a property and identifies any known sources of contamination or recognized environmental conditions. If a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment finds a property to have a clean environmental history, the San Francisco Department of Environmental Health may deem a site compliant, and require no further investigation.

What’s Next?

Depending on the nature of future development of a property, further investigation may be required. If your project requires the removal of 50 cubic yards of soil from the site, the San Francisco Department of Public Health must oversee the characterization and mitigation of hazardous substances in soil and groundwater. To determine the extent of contamination on a project site due to the presence of foreign fill or historic industrial activity, a subsurface investigation involving soil and groundwater analysis for a specified list of organic and inorganic chemicals is necessary. The investigation should be modified based upon the findings of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and future development plans.  Prior to completing a subsurface investigation, the work plan must be approved by the Department of Environmental Health.

Laboratory analysis of soil and groundwater from a project site provides data to characterize material for either off-site disposal or use onsite. In scenarios where soil is found to contain hazardous chemicals, a site mitigation plan is required to limit health risks of workers and future tenants of the property. Essel is familiar with typical requirements of site mitigation plans and works with contractors for the removal and documentation of the disposal of hazardous waste identified during development.

Don’t let the Maher Ordinance stand in the way of your development project. Contact Essel today to keep your project on schedule.