Frequently Asked Questions
- What does the Long Range Planning
The mission of the Long Range Planning Division is to research, analyze, develop, and communicate land use policies that meet Federal and State mandates in a manner that fosters economic, social, cultural, and environmental prosperity across the county.
- What is the Comprehensive Plan?
The State of California defers most matters related to planning and development to cities and counties; however, the state requires that cities and counties develop a General Plan. The County's general plan, the Comprehensive Plan, expresses a vision of the future and constitutes a blueprint that guides future development throughout Santa Barbara County. It describes community development goals and policies, which create the foundation for land use decisions made by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
The State of California requires that a General Plan include at least seven mandatory elements or sections: The Land Use Element, the Circulation Element, the Housing Element, the Conservation Element, the Open Space Element, the Noise Element, and the Seismic Safety & Safety Element. These elements provide a framework for the presentation of objectives, land use policies, and development standards. Additional optional elements covering subjects of local interest may be included, such as the Agriculture Element.
The state requires that the Elements in a Comprehensive Plan be internally consistent. For example, the Open Space Element and the Housing or Land Use Element cannot propose conflicting policies on the same site (i.e., one set of policies that preserves the site, and another set of policies that enables development on the site).
- Can the Comprehensive Plan be changed?
Under current state law, the Comprehensive Plan may be amended or changed up to four times in a calendar year.
- How is the public involved in the development
of land use policy amendments?
The development of land use policy is an extensively public process that requires input and direction from residents, community groups, business groups, and others. The public may have a direct impact on policy development through participation on a Planning Advisory Committee (see GPAC below) and through participation in hearings and other public meetings that occur when land use policies are recommended, adopted, or changed by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Announcements regarding meetings and hearings are posted on the Long Range Planning website and in local newspapers. The public may also request to be added to a mailing list on a particular project to receive regular updates on that project.
- What is unique about communities in the Coastal
All proposed development projects in communities that are within the Coastal Zone require review and permitting by the California Coastal Commission. A separate Land Use Element called the Santa Barbara County Coastal Plan has been developed for communities within the Coastal zone. Generally, the Coastal Zone extends from the coast inland 1,000 yards and includes Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands.
- Do cities have a General Plan?
The State of California requires that all counties and cities have in place an internally consistent General Plan.
- What is a Housing Element?
The Housing Element is a mandatory component of the Comprehensive Plan that deals specifically with a jurisdiction’s housing needs and establishes policies and programs to meet these needs for all economic segments of the population. The policies and programs may include the development of in lieu fees to subsidize affordable housing development, identification of sites to be rezoned at higher residential densities, or changes in development standards such as set-backs and height limits to enable the development of affordable housing. Since the State of California has declared that housing is of a statewide concern, the state exerts a higher level of participation and oversight regarding a jurisdiction’s Housing Element. In particular, the Housing Element is the only element in the Comprehensive Plan that is required to undergo an update every five years.
- What is a RHNA number?
RHNA is an acronym for “Regional Housing Needs Assessment.” The “RHNA Number” is developed by the state on a countywide basis, and is intended to be indicative of the number of housing units that need to be produced at various levels of affordability. A county and the incorporated cities within the county are required to divide up the larger RHNA number, with each assuming a “fair share” of the housing responsibility.
- Why do we have Community Plans?
Community Plans and Specific Plans are often used by cities and counties to focus planning efforts on a smaller area and to plan the future of a particular area in greater detail than what is provided by the Comprehensive Plan. A Community Plan is part of the Land Use Element, and it supplements the policies of the Comprehensive Plan.
- What is CEQA?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a state law that requires local and state government to consider the potential environmental effects of a project before making a decision on whether to approve the project. It sets forth the requirements for the environmental analysis of proposed public and private projects, including the preparation and review of environmental impact reports (EIRs) or the issuance of exemptions and negative declarations (NDs).
- What is an EIR?
An environmental impact report (EIR) is a detailed informational document prepared by the public agency responsible for carrying out a project as part of the CEQA process. An EIR describes and analyzes a project’s significant environmental effects and discusses ways to mitigate or avoid those effects.
- What is an annexation?
An annexation is the process of adding land to a jurisdiction’s area of authority. Examples include extending a city’s boundaries to include land that was once under the authority of the county, or a water district extending its boundaries to include land that was once only serviced by well water.
- What is LAFCO?
In California, all local government boundaries are drawn by a special agency in each county called the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO. LAFCOs are charged with creating orderly local boundaries in order to minimize sprawl. Major land use decisions that LAFCOs make include annexations, incorporations, and the identification of Spheres of Influence. LAFCOs are governed by a Board of elected officials selected to represent local cities and the county.
- What is a Sphere of Influence?
A Sphere of Influence designates the physical boundaries and service area of a city or special district. It defines the probable future boundary of a city and is intended to designate land that the city desires to annex from the county.
- Are the Comprehensive Plan and zoning the same
A general plan is a set of long-term goals and policies that the community uses to guide development decisions. Although the plan establishes standards for the location and density of uses, it does not directly regulate land use. Zoning, on the other hand, is regulatory. Under the zoning ordinance, development must comply with specific, enforceable standards such as minimum lot size, maximum building height, minimum building setback, and a list of allowable uses. Zoning is applied lot by lot, whereas a general plan typically has a community-wide perspective.
- What are the cities within Santa Barbara
Eight incorporated cities exist within Santa Barbara County. These cities have their own City Councils, Planning Commissions, and General Plans, and they make their own land use decisions. They include: Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Buellton, Solvang, Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Guadalupe.
- Where are the unincorporated areas of the
Santa Barbara County’s Comprehensive Plan governs land use in the unincorporated area. This includes the communities of Casmalia, Cuyama, Gaviota, portions of the Eastern Goleta Valley, Isla Vista, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Montecito, Orcutt, Santa Ynez, Summerland, and Vandenberg Village as well as the rural areas throughout the county, excluding Los Padres National Forest and Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- What is a GPAC?
GPAC is an acronym for General Plan Advisory Committee. The Board of Supervisors appoints a GPAC to advise the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors on matters related to periodic updates of Community Plans that the General Plan. GPAC’s are advisory in nature and have no authority to approve, deny, or require modifications to any matter or project under consideration.
- What is SBCAG?
SBCAG is an acronym for Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. SBCAG is a regional government agency that manages transportation funds, sponsors transportation programs, and facilitates regional land use programs such as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).