San Francisco Aims to Mandate Use of Bird-Safe Glazing
September 21, 2011

By Megan Headley,

Many glass installers are used to coordinating with other trades on the job-for example, working with electricians to install hardware or active glazing-but now glass professionals working in San Francisco may have one other party with which to coordinate: biologists.

That's because the recommendation of a qualified biologist would be required to waive an exception to the city's new ordinance, which aims to mandate the use of its Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings.

On July 14, the San Francisco Planning Commission adopted Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings. On September 20, the commission voted to approve an ordinance mandating use of the standard.

AnMarie Rodgers, manager of legislative affairs for the San Francisco planning department, tells™, "The city's legislative body, the board of supervisors, unanimously passed this legislation on first reading." She adds, "The board will vote again on it next week and if all goes well our Mayor will sign it into law on or by October 7."

The standard states that "over 30 years of research has documented that buildings and windows are the top killer of wild birds in North America," and goes on to describe how to prevent future such deaths. The now-adopted ordinance defines bird-safe glazing as "fritting, netting, permanent stencils, frosted glass, exterior screens, physical grids placed on the exterior of glazing or UV patterns visible to birds. To qualify as Bird-Safe Glazing Treatment vertical elements of window patterns should be at least ¼-inch wide at a minimum spacing of 4 inches or horizontal elements at least 1/8-inch wide at a maximum spacing of 2 inches."

The ordinance regulates two hazard types for new construction and replacement facades: "1) location-related hazards, where the siting of a structure creates increased risk to birds and 2) feature-related hazards, which may create increased risk to birds regardless of where the structure is located. Location-related hazards are created by structures that are near or adjacent to large open spaces and/or water. When structures are located in such an area, the portion of the structure most likely to sustain bird-strikes requires façade treatments. Even if a structure is not located near a locational hazard, particular building features also may create a hazard for birds. Structures that create such a feature-related hazard are required to treat all of the feature-related hazard. While these controls do not apply retroactively, the purpose of these controls is to ensure that new construction that is bird-safe and to decrease existing bird-hazards over time.

Rodgers notes that the law will go into effect 30 days after the Mayor signs it. It does not apply retroactively to existing buildings but rather would generally apply to new buildings built near bird habitat.

"Building owners would need to comply with the policy in order to get their permits," explains Erika Lovejoy, senior environmental planner with the San Francisco Planning Department. "It would be looked at during the Planning Department's 'Design Review' process. The Bird-Safe Building Standards only apply to new building, additions, or major retrofits of glass (50 percent or more).

"We've had a very positive response from glass companies such as Arnold Glas and Viracon," Lovejoy adds. "They've both done testing on bird-safe treatments and they have offered technical assistance to local designers on products they have available. We anticipate working with them and other glass companies in the future to compile a comprehensive list of treatment options."

According to information from the planning department, San Francisco's proposed law is modeled after successful programs established in Chicago, Toronto and New York. However, the city's Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings goes beyond other legislated efforts in that it specifies where the controls apply and what needs to be done to make the building "bird-safe."

A recent article in the New York Times noted that legislation is pending in Washington to require that federal buildings adopt similar standards.

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