STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Pete Wilson, Governor
GOVERNOR'S OFFICE OF PLANNING AND RESEARCH
1400 Tenth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Lee Grissom, Director, Office of Planning and Research
Robert Cervantes, Chief, Planning Unit
Antero Rivasplata, Chief, State Clearinghouse
March 1988, Revised August 1990
Table of Contents
State Law and Local Planning
The General Plan
Other Ordinances and Regulations
Annexation and Incorporation
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
This is a citizen's guide to land use planning as it is practiced in California.
Its purpose is to explain, in general terms, how local communities regulate
land use and to define some commonly used planning terms. The booklet covers
the following topics:
Cities and counties "plan" in order to identify important community
issues (such as new growth, housing needs, and environmental protection),
project future demand for services (such as sewer, water, roads, etc.),
anticipate potential problems (such as overloaded sewer facilities or crowded
roads), and establish goals and policies for directing and managing growth.
Local governments use a variety of tools in the planning process including
the general plan, specific plans, zoning, and the subdivision ordinance.
- State Law and Local Planning
- The General Plan
- Other Ordinances and Regulations
- Annexation and Incorporation
- The California Environmental Quality Act
- A Glossary of Planning Terms
The examples to be discussed here represent common procedures or methods,
but are by no means the only way of doing things. State law establishes
a framework for local planning procedures, but cities and counties adopt
their own unique responses to the issues they face. The reader is encouraged
to consult the bibliography for more information on planning in general
and to contact your local planning department for information on planning
in your community.
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STATE LAW AND LOCAL PLANNING
State law is the foundation for local planning in California. The California
Government Code (Sections 65000 et seq.) contains many of the laws pertaining
to the regulation of land uses by local governments including: the general
plan requirement, specific plans, subdivisions, and zoning.
However, the State is seldom involved in local land use and development
decisions; these have been delegated to the city councils and boards of
supervisors of the individual cities and counties. Local decisionmakers
have adopted their own sets of land use policies and regulations based upon
the state laws.
Plan and Ordinances
There are currently 456 incorporated cities and 58 counties in California.
State law requires that each of these jurisdictions adopt "a comprehensive,
long-term general plan for [its] physical development." This general
plan is the official city or county policy regarding the location of housing,
business, industry, roads, parks, and other land uses, protection of the
public from noise and other environmental hazards, and for the conservation
of natural resources. The legislative body of each city (the city council)
and each county (the board of supervisors) adopts zoning, subdivision and
other ordinances to regulate land uses and to carry out the policies of
its general plan.
There is no requirement that adjoining cities or cities and counties have
identical, or even similar, plans and ordinances. Cities and counties are
distinct and independent political units. Each city, through its council
and each county, through its supervisors, adopts its own general plan and
development regulations. In turn, each of these governments is responsible
for the planning decisions made within its jurisdiction.
In most communities, the city council or board of supervisors has appointed
one or more hearing bodies to assist them with planning matters. The titles
and responsibilities of these groups vary from place-to-place, so check
with your local planning department regarding regulations in your area.
Here are some of the more common types of hearing bodies and their usual
In some cities and counties, these bodies simply advise the legislative
body on the proposals that come before them, leaving actual approval to
the council or board of supervisors. More commonly, these bodies have the
power to approve proposals, subject to appeal to the council or board of
supervisors. These hearing bodies, however, do not have final say on matters
of policy such as zone changes and general or specific plan amendments.
- The Planning Commission: considers general plan and
specific plan amendments, zone changes, and major subdivisions.
- The Zoning Adjustment Board: considers conditional use
permits, variances, and other minor permits.
- Architectural Review or Design Review Board: reviews
projects to ensure that they meet community aesthetic standards.
State law requires that local governments hold public hearings prior to
most planning actions. At the hearing, the council or supervisors or advisory
commission will explain the proposal, consider it in light of local regulations
and environmental effects, and listen to testimony from interested parties.
The council, board, or commission will vote on the proposal at the conclusion
of the hearing.
Depending upon each jurisdiction's local ordinance, public hearings are
not always required for minor land subdivisions, architectural or design
review or ordinance interpretations. The method of advertising hearings
may vary. Counties and general law cities publish notice of general plan
adoption and amendment in the newspaper. Notice of zone change, conditional
use permit, variance, and subdivision tracts is published in the newpaper
and mailed to nearby property owners. Charter cities may have other notification
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THE GENERAL PLAN
The local general plan can be described as the city's or county's "blueprint"
for future development. It represents the community's view of its future;
a constitution made up of the goals and policies upon which the city council,
board of supervisors, or planning commission will base their land use decisions.
To illustrate its importance, all subdivisions, public works projects, and
zoning decisions (except in charter cities other than Los Angeles) must
be consistent with the general plan. If inconsistent, they must not be approved.
The general plan is not the same as zoning. Although both designate how
land may be developed, they do so in different ways. The general plan and
its diagrams have a long-term outlook, identifying the types of development
that will be allowed, the spatial relationships among land uses, and the
general pattern of future development. Zoning regulates present development
through specific standards such as lot size, building setback, and a list
of allowable uses. In counties and general law cities, the land uses shown
on the general plan diagrams will usually be reflected in the local zoning
maps as well. Development must not only meet the specific requirements of
the zoning ordinance, but also the broader policies set forth in the local
State law requires that each city and each county adopt a general plan containing
the following seven components or "elements": land use, circulation,
housing, conservation, open-space, noise, and safety (Government Code Sections
65300 et seq.). At the same time, each jurisdiction is free to adopt a wide
variety of additional elements covering subjects of particular interest
to that jurisdiction such as recreation, urban design, or public facilities.
Most general plans consist of: (1) a written text discussing the community's
goals, objectives, policies, and programs for the distribution of land use;
and, (2) one or more diagrams or maps illustrating the general location
of existing and future land uses. Figure 1 is an example of a general plan
Each local government chooses its own general plan format. The plan may
be relatively short or long, one volume or ten volumes, depending upon local
needs. Some communities, such as the City of San Jose, have combined the
required elements into one document and most communities have adopted plans
which consolidate the elements to some extent. State law requires that local
governments make copies of their plans available to the public for the cost
Although state law establishes a set of basic issues for consideration in
local general plans, each city and county determines the relative importance
of each issue to local planning and decides how they are to be addressed
in the general plan. As a result, no two cities or counties have plans which
are exactly alike in form or content. Here is a summary of the basic issues,
Approving the Plan
- The land use element designates the general location
and intensity of housing, business, industry, open space, education, public
buildings and grounds, waste disposal facilities, and other land uses.
- The circulation element identifies the general location
and extent of existing and proposed major roads, transportation routes,
terminals, and public utilities and facilities. It must be correlated with
the land use element.
- The housing element is a comprehensive assessment of
current and projected housing needs for all economic segments of the community
and region. It sets forth local housing policies and programs to implement
- The conservation element addresses the conservation,
development, and use of natural resources including water, forests, soils,
rivers, and mineral deposits.
- The open-space element details plans and measures for
preserving open-space for natural resources, the managed production of resources,
outdoor recreation, public health and safety, and the identification of
- The noise element identifies and appraises noise problems
within the community and forms the basis for distributing new noise-sensitive
- The safety element establishes policies and programs
to protect the community from risks associated with seismic, geologic, flood,
and wildfire hazards.
The process of adopting or amending a general plan encourages public participation.
Cities and counties must hold public hearings for such proposals. Advance
notice of the place and time of the hearing must be published in the newspaper
or posted in the vicinity of the site proposed for change. Prior to approval,
hearings will be held by the planning commission and the city council or
board of supervisors.
Community and Specific Plans
"Community plans" and "specific plans" are often used
by cities and counties to plan the future of a particular area at a finer
level of detail than that provided by the general plan. A community plan
is a portion of the local general plan focusing on the issues pertinent
to a particular area or community within the city or county. It supplements
the policies of the general plan.
Specific plans describe allowable land uses, identify open space, and detail
infrastructure availability and financing for a portion of the community.
Specific plans implement, but are not technically a part of the local general
plan. In some jurisdictions, specific plans take the place of zoning. Zoning,
subdivision, and public works decisions must be in accordance with the specific
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The general plan is a long-range look at the future of the community. A
zoning ordinance is the local law that spells out the immediate, allowable
uses for each piece of property within the community. In all counties, general
law cities, and the city of Los Angeles, zoning must comply with the general
The purpose of zoning is to implement the policies of the general plan.
Under the concept of zoning, various kinds of land uses are grouped into
general categories or "zones" such as single-family residential,
multi-family residential, neighborhood commercial, light industrial, agricultural,
etc. A typical zoning ordinance describes 20 or more different zones which
may be applied to land within the community. Each piece of property in the
community is assigned a zone listing the kinds of uses that will be allowed
on that land and setting standards such as minimum lot size, maximum building
height, and minimum front yard depth. The distribution of residential, commercial,
industrial, and other zones will be based on the pattern of land uses established
in the community's general plan. Maps are used to keep track of the zoning
for each piece of land.
Zoning is adopted by ordinance and carries the weight of local law. Land
may be put only to those uses listed in the zone assigned to it. For example,
if a commercial zone does not allow five-story office buildings, then no
such building could be built on the lands which have been assigned that
zone. A zoning ordinance has two parts: (1) a precise map or maps illustrating
the distribution of zones within the community; and, (2) a text which both
identifies the specific land uses allowed within each of those zones and
sets forth development standards.
The particular zone determines the uses to which land may be put. If a landowner
proposes a use that is not allowed in the zone, the city or county must
approve a rezoning (change in zone) before development of that use can begin.
The local planning commission and the city council or county board of supervisors
must hold public hearings before property may be rezoned. The hearings must
be advertised in advance. The council or board is not obligated to approve
requests for rezoning and, except in charter cities, must deny such requests
when the proposed zone conflicts with the general plan.
In addition to the zoning applied to each parcel of land, many cities and
counties use "overlay zones" to further regulate development in
areas of special concern. Lands in historic districts, downtowns, floodplains,
near earthquake faults or on steep slopes are often subject to having additional
regulations "overlain" upon the basic zoning requirements. For
example, a lot that is within a single-family residential zone and also
subject to a steep-slope overlay zone, must meet the requirements of both
zones when it is developed.
Cities may "prezone" lands located within the surrounding county
in the same way that they approve zoning. Prezoning is usually done before
annexation of the land to the city in order to facilitate its transition
into the city boundaries. Prezoning does not change the allowable uses of
the land nor the development standards until such time as the site is officially
annexed to the city. Likewise, land that has been prezoned continues to
be subject to county zoning regulations until annexation is completed.
A variance is a limited waiver of development standards. The city or county
may grant a variance in special cases where: (1) application of the zoning
regulations would deprive property of the uses enjoyed by nearby, similarly
zoned lands; and (2) restrictions have been imposed to ensure that the variance
will not be a grant of special privilege. A city or county may not grant
a variance that would permit a use that is not otherwise allowed in that
zone (for example, a commercial use could not be approved in a residential
zone by variance). Typically, variances are considered when the physical
characteristics of the property make it difficult to develop. For instance,
in a situation where the rear half of a lot is a steep slope, a variance
might be approved to allow the house being built to be closer to the street
than usually allowed. Variance requests require a public hearing and neighbors
are given the opportunity to testify. The local hearing body then decides
whether to approve or deny the variance.
Conditional Use Permits
Most zoning ordinances identify certain land uses which do not precisely
fit into existing zones, but which may be allowed upon approval of a conditional
use permit (sometimes called a special use permit or a CUP) at a public
hearing. These might include community facilities (such as hospitals or
schools), public buildings or grounds (such as fire stations or parks),
temporary or hard-to-classify uses (such as Christmas tree sales or small
engine repair), or land uses with potentially significant environmental
impacts (hazardous chemical storage or building a house in a floodplain).
The local zoning ordinance specifies those uses for which a conditional
use permit may be requested, which zones they may be requested in, and the
public hearing procedure. If the local planning commission or zoning board
approves the use, it will usually do so subject to certain conditions being
met by the permit applicant. Alternatively, it may deny uses which do not
meet local standards.
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In general, land cannot be divided in California without local government
approval. Dividing land for sale, lease or financing is regulated by local
ordinances based on the State Subdivision Map Act (commencing with Government
Code Section 66410). The local general plan, zoning, subdivision, and other
ordinances govern the design of the subdivision, the size of its lots, and
the types of improvements (street construction, sewer lines, drainage facilities,
etc.). In addition, the city or county may impose a variety of fees upon
the subdivision, depending upon local and regional needs, such as school
impact fees, park dedications, etc. Contact your local planning department
for information on local requirements and procedures.
There are basically two types of subdivisions: parcel maps, which are limited
to divisions resulting in fewer than five lots (with certain exceptions),
and final map subdivisions (also called tract maps), which apply to divisions
resulting in five or more lots. Applications for both types of subdivisions
must be submitted to the local government for consideration in accordance
with the local subdivision ordinance and the Subdivision Map Act.
Upon receiving an application for a subdivision map, the city or county
staff will examine the design of the subdivision to ensure that it meets
the requirements of the general plan, the zoning ordinance, and the subdivision
ordinance. An environmental impact analysis must be prepared and a public
hearing held prior to approval of a tentative tract map. Parcel maps may
also be subject to a public hearing, depending upon the requirements of
the local subdivision ordinance.
Approval of a subdivision map generally means that the subdivider will be
responsible for installing improvements such as streets, drainage facilities
or sewer lines to serve the subdivision. These improvements must be installed
or secured by bond before the city or county will grant final approval of
the map and allow the subdivision to be recorded in the county recorder's
office. Lots within the subdivision cannot be sold until the map has been
recorded. The subdivider has at least two years (and depending upon local
ordinance, usually more) in which to comply with the improvement requirements,
gain final administrative approval, and record the final map. Parcel map
requirements may vary dependent upon local ordinance requirements.
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OTHER ORDINANCES AND REGULATIONS
Cities and counties often adopt other ordinances besides zoning and subdivision
to protect the general health, safety, and welfare of their inhabitants.
Contact your local planning department for information on the particular
ordinances in effect in your area. Common types include: flood protection,
historic preservation, design review, hillside development control, growth
management, impact fees, traffic management, and sign control.
Local ordinances may also be adopted in response to state requirements.
Examples include: Local Coastal Programs (California Coastal Act); surface
mining regulations (Surface Mining and Reclamation Act); earthquake hazard
standards (Alquist-Priolo Special Studies Zone Act); and hazardous material
disclosure requirements. These regulations are generally based on the applicable
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ANNEXATION AND INCORPORATION
Annexation (the addition of territory to an existing city) and incorporation
(creation of a new city) are controlled by the Local Agency Formation Commission
(LAFCO) established in each county by the state's Cortese-Knox Act (commencing
with Government Code Section 56000). The commission is made up of elected
officials from the county, cities, and, in some cases, special districts.
LAFCO duties include: establishing the "spheres of influence"
that designate the ultimate service areas of cities and special districts;
studying and approving requests for city annexations; and, studying and
approving proposals for city incorporations. Below is a very general discussion
of annexation and incorporation procedures. For detailed information on
this complex subject, contact your county LAFCO.
When the LAFCO receives an annexation request, it will convene a hearing
to determine the worthiness of the proposal and may deny or conditionally
approve the request based on the policies of the LAFCO and state law. Annexation
requests which receive tentative approval are delegated to the affected
city for hearings and, if necessary, an election. Annexations which have
been passed by vote of the inhabitants or which have not been defeated by
protest (in cases where no election was required) must be certified by the
LAFCO as to meeting all its conditions before they become final. It is the
LAFCO, not the city, that is ultimately responsible for the annexation process.
When the formation of a new city is proposed, the LAFCO studies the economic
feasibility of the proposed city, its impact on county and special districts,
and the provision of public services. If the feasibility of the proposed
city cannot be shown, the LAFCO can terminate the proceedings. If the proposed
city appears to be feasible, LAFCO will refer the proposal to the county
board of supervisors for hearing along with a set of conditions to be met
upon to incorporation. If the supervisors do not receive protests from a
majority of the involved voters, an election will be held to create the
city and elect city officials.
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THE CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ACT
The California Environmental Quality Act (commencing with Public Resources
Code Section 21000) requires local and state governments to consider the
potential environmental effects of a project before deciding whether to
approve it or not. CEQA's purpose is to disclose the potential impacts of
a project, suggest methods to minimize those impacts, and discuss alternatives
to the project so that decision makers will have full information upon which
to base their decision. CEQA is a complex law with a great deal of subtlety
and local variation.
The following discussion is extremely general. The basic requirements
and administrative framework for local governments' CEQA responsibilities
are described in the California Environmental Quality Act: Law and Guidelines.
For more information, readers should contact their local planning department
or refer to the CEQA listings in the bibliography.
The "lead agency" is responsible for seeing that environmental
review is done in accordance with CEQA and that environmental analyses are
prepared when necessary. The agency with the principal responsibility for
issuing permits to a project (or for carrying out the project) is deemed
to be the "lead agency". As lead agency, it may prepare the environmental
analysis itself or it may contract for the work to be done under its direction.
In practically all local planning matters (such as rezoning, conditional
use permits, and specific plans) the planning department is the lead agency.
Analyzing a project's potential environmental effect is a multistep process.
Many minor projects are exempt from the CEQA requirements. These include
single-family homes, remodeling, accessory structures, and some lot divisions
(for a complete list refer to California Environmental Quality Act: Law
and Guidelines). No environmental review is required when a project
is exempt from CEQA.
When a project is subject to review under CEQA, the lead agency prepares
an "initial study" to assess the potential adverse physical impacts
of the proposal. When the project will not cause a "significant"
impact on the environment or when it has been revised to eliminate all such
impacts, a "negative declaration" is prepared. The negative declaration
describes why the project will not have a significant impact and may require
that the project incorporate a number of measures ensuring that there will
be no such impact. If significant environmental effects are identified,
then an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be written before the project
can be considered by decision makers.
An EIR discusses the proposed project, its environmental setting, its probable
impacts, realistic means of reducing or eliminating those impacts, its cumulative
effects, and alternatives to the project. CEQA requires that Negative Declarations
and EIRs be made available for review by the public and other agencies prior
to consideration of the project. The review period allows concerned citizens
and agencies to comment on the completeness and adequacy of the environmental
review prior to its completion. When the decision making body (the city
council, board of supervisors, or other board or commission) approves a
project, it must certify the adequacy of the environmental review. If its
decision to approve a project will result in unavoidable significant impacts,
the decision making body must state, in writing, its overriding reasons
for granting the approval and how the impacts are to be addressed.
An EIR is an informational document. It does not, in itself, approve or
deny a project. Environmental analysis must be done as early as possible
in the process of considering a project and must address the entire project.
There are several different types of EIRs that may be prepared, depending
upon the project. They are described in the California Environmental
Quality Act: Law and Guidelines written by the Governor's Office of Planning
and Research and the Resources Agency.
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These are some commonly used planning terms. This list includes several
terms that are not discussed in this booklet.
Board of Supervisors
A county's legislative body. Board members are elected by popular vote and
are responsible for enacting ordinances, imposing taxes, making appropriations,
and establishing county policy. The board adopts the general plan, zoning,
and subdivision regulations.
The California Environmental Quality Act (commencing with Public Resources
Code Section 21000). In general, CEQA requires that all private and public
projects be reviewed prior to approval for their potential adverse effects
upon the environment.
A city which has been incorporated under its own charter rather than under
the general laws of the state. Charter cities have broader powers to enact
land use regulations than do general law cities.
A city's legislative body. The popularly elected city council is responsible
for enacting ordinances, imposing taxes, making appropriations, establishing
policy, and hiring some city officials. The council adopts the local general
plan, zoning, and subdivision ordinance.
Council of Governments. There are 25 COGs in California made up of elected
officials from member cities and counties. COGs are regional agencies concerned
primarily with transportation planning and housing; they do not directly
regulate land use.
A portion of the local general plan that focuses on a particular area or
community within the city or county. Community plans supplement the policies
of the general plan.
Conditional Use Permit
Pursuant to the zoning ordinance, a conditional use permit (CUP) may authorize
uses not routinely allowed on a particular site. CUPs require a public hearing
and if approval is granted, are usually subject to the fulfillment of certain
conditions by the developer. Approval of a CUP is not a change in zoning.
An increase in the allowable number of residences granted by the city or
county in return for the project's providing low- or moderate-income housing
(see Government Code Section 65915).
Design Review Committee
A group appointed by the city council to consider the design and aesthetics
of development within design review zoning districts.
Fees charged to developers or builders as a prerequisite to construction
or development approval. The most common are: (1) impact fees (such as
parkland acquisition fees, school facilities fees, or street construction
fees) related to funding public improvements which are necessitated in part
or in whole by the development; (2) connection fees (such as water line
fees) to cover the cost of installing public services to the development;
(3) permit fees (such as building permits, grading permits, sign permits)
for the administrative costs of processing development plans; and, (4) application
fees (rezoning, CUP, variance, etc.) for the administrative costs of reviewing
and hearing development proposals.
This term refers to the rezoning of land to a more restrictive zone (for
example, from multi-family residential to single-family residential or from
residential to agricultural).
Environmental Impact Report. A detailed review of a proposed project, its
potential adverse impacts upon the environment, measures that may avoid
or reduce those impacts, and alternatives to the project.
Final Map Subdivision
Final map subdivisions (also called tract maps or major subdivisions) are
land divisions which create five or more lots. They must be consistent with
the general plan and are generally subject to stricter requirements than
parcel maps. Such requirements may include installing road improvements,
the construction of drainage and sewer facilities, parkland dedications,
Floor Area Ratio
Abbreviated as FAR, this is a measure of development intensity. FAR is the
ratio of the amount of floor area of a building to the amount of area of
its site. For instance, a one-story building that covers an entire lot has
an FAR of 1. Similarly, a one-story building that covers 1/2 of a lot has
an FAR of 1/2.
General Law City
A city incorporated under and run in accordance with the general laws of
A statement of policies, including text and diagrams setting forth objectives,
principles, standards, and plan proposals, for the future physical development
of the city or county (see Government Code Sections 65300 et seq.).
Typically, this refers to a second dwelling attached to or separate from
the main residence that houses one or more elderly persons. California Government
Code 65852.1 enables cities and counties to approve such units in single-family
See Development Fees.
A general term describing public and quasi-public utilities and facilities
such as roads, bridges, sewers and sewer plants, water lines, power lines,
fire stations, etc.
Pursuant to CEQA, an analysis of a project's potential environmental effects
and their relative significance. An initial study is preliminary to deciding
whether to prepare a negative declaration or an EIR.
A ballot measure which has been placed on the election ballot as a result
of voter signatures and which addresses a legislative action. At the local
level, initiatives usually focus on changes or additions to the general
plan and zoning ordinance. The right to initiative is guaranteed by the
Local Agency Formation Commission. The Cortese-Knox Act (commencing with
Government Code Section 56000) establishes a LAFCO made up of elected officials
of the county, cities, and, in some cases, special districts in each county.
LAFCOs establish spheres of influence for all the cities and special districts
within the county. They also administer incorporation and annexation proposals.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires that when an environmental
impact or potential impact is identified, measures must be proposed that
will eliminate, avoid, rectify, compensate for or reduce those environmental
When a project is not exempt from CEQA and will not have a significant effect
upon the environment a negative declaration must be written. The negative
declaration is an informational document that describes the reasons why
the project will not have a significant effect and proposes measures to
mitigate or avoid any possible effects.
A set of zoning requirements that is superimposed upon a base zone. Overlay
zones are generally used when a particular area requires special protection
(as in a historic preservation district) or has a special problem (such
as steep slopes, flooding or earthquake faults). Development of land subject
to overlay zoning requires compliance with the regulations of both the base
and overlay zones.
A minor subdivision resulting in fewer than five lots. The city or county
may approve a parcel map when it meets the requirements of the general plan
and all applicable ordinances. The regulations governing the filing and
processing of parcel maps are found in the state Subdivision Map Act and
the local subdivision ordinance.
Planned Unit Development (PUD)
Land use zoning which allows the adoption of a set of development standards
that are specific to the particular project being proposed. PUD zones usually
do not contain detailed development standards; these are established during
the pro- cess of considering the proposals and adopted by ordinance if the
project is approved.
A group of residents appointed by the city council or board of supervisors
to consider land use planning matters. The commission's duties and powers
are established by the local legislative body and might include hearing
proposals to amend the general plan or rezone land, initiating planning
studies (road alignments, identification of seismic hazards, etc.), and
taking action on proposed subdivisions.
A ballot measure challenging a legislative action by the city council or
county board of supervisors. Referenda petitions must be filed before the
action becomes final and may lead to an election on the matter. The California
Constitution guarantees the right to referendum.
School Impact Fees
Proposition 13 put a limit on property taxes and thereby limited the main
source of funding for new school facilities. California law allows school
districts to impose fees on new developments to offset their impacts of
A minimum distance required by zoning to be maintained between two structures
or between a structure and property lines.
A plan addressing land use distribution, open space availability, infrastructure,
and infrastructure financing for a portion of the community. Specific plans
put the provisions of the local general plan into action (see Government
Code Sections 65450 et seq.).
The map or drawing illustrating a subdivision proposal. The city or county
will approve or deny the proposed subdivision based upon the design depicted
by the tentative map. A subdivision is not complete until the conditions
of approval imposed upon the tentative map have been satisfied and a final
map has been certified by the city or county and recorded with the county
See final map subdivision.
Transportation Systems Management (TSM)
A transportation plan that coordinates many forms of transportation (car,
bus, carpool, rapid transit, bicycle, walking, etc.) in order to distribute
the traffic impacts of new development. Rather than emphasizing road expansion
or construction (as does traditional transportation planning), TSM examines
methods of increasing the efficiency of road use.
A limited waiver from the requirements of the zoning ordinance. Variance
requests are subject to public hearing, usually before a zoning administrator
or board of zoning adjustment. Variances may only be granted under special
Local codes regulating the use and development of property. The zoning ordinance
divides the city or county into land use districts or "zones",
represented on zoning maps, and specifies the allowable uses within each
of those zones. It establishes development standards such as minimum lot
size, maximum height of structures, building setbacks, and yard size.
Zoning Adjustment Board
A group appointed by the local legislative body to consider minor zoning
adjustments such as conditional use permits and variances. It is empowered
to conduct public hearings and to impose conditions of approval. Its decisions
may be appealed to the local legislative body.
A planning department staff member responsible for hearing minor zoning
permits. Typically, the zoning administrator considers variances and conditional
use permits and may interpret the provisions of the zoning ordinance when
questions arise. His/her decision may be appealed to the local legislative
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BIBLIOGRAPHY: A FEW GOOD BOOKS
The reader is encouraged to refer to the following books for a better
understanding of planning in California.
Alternative Techniques for Controlling Land Use: A Guide to Small Cities
and Rural Areas in California, by Irving Schiffman (University Center
for Economic Development and Planning, California State University, Chico)
1982, revised1989. This book discusses, in detail, concepts such
as hillside development standards, planned unit development, and specific
California Environmental Quality Act: Statutes and Guidelines (Governor's
Office of Planning and Research, Sacramento, California) 1996, 301 pp.
The CEQA Guidelines describe the requirements for evaluating environmental
impacts. Out of Print, check in the government documents section of your
California Land Use and Planning Law, by Daniel J. Curtin Jr., (Solano
Press, Pt. Arena, California) revised annually. A look at the planning,
zoning, subdivision, and environmental quality laws that is illustrated
by references to numerous court cases.
The General Plan Guidelines (Governor's Office of Planning and Research,
Sacramento, California) 1987, 368 pp. The Guidelines discuss local planning
activities and how to write or revise a general plan.
Guide to California Government, (League of Women Voters of California,
Sacramento, California) 13th Edition, 1986, 167 pp. An excellent summary
of the processes of local and state government.
Guide to the Cortese/Knox Local Government Reorganization Act of 1985,
by the Assembly Local Government Committee (Joint Publications Office, Sacramento,
California),1985, 228 pp. A compilation of the law that authorizes annexations
and other local government reorganizations. It contains a flowchart illustrating
the annexation process.
Planning Commission Handbook (League of California Cities, Sacramento,
California) 1984. A well-written overview of the role of the planning commission
and California planning law.
Subdivision Map Act Manual, by Daniel J. Curtin, Jr., (Solano Press,
Pt. Arena, California), revised annually. A practitioner's guide to the
Map Act, including pertinent legal precedents.
Your Guide to Open Meetings, The Ralph M. Brown Act, by the Senate
Local Government Committee (Joint Publications Office, Sacramento, California),
1989. An easy to read explanation of the state's open meeting laws and the
responsibilities of local government with regard to public meetings.
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