Long Range Planning Glossary
Important terms and definitions related to planning and land use policy.
This glossary is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or permitting advice.
Housing capable of being purchased or rented by a household with very low, low, or moderate income, based on a household's ability to make monthly payments necessary to obtain housing. Housing is considered affordable when a household pays less than 30 percent of its gross monthly income (GMI) for housing including utilities.
Land designated for agriculture or conservation. (See "Williamson Act.")
Use of land for the production of food and fiber, including the growing of crops and/or the grazing of animals on natural prime or improved pasture land.
To incorporate a land area into an existing district or municipality, with a resulting change in the boundaries of the annexing jurisdiction.
Area; Area Median Income
As used in State of California housing law with respect to income eligibility limits established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), "area" means metropolitan area or non metropolitan county. In non metropolitan areas, the "area median income" is the higher of the county median family income or the statewide non metropolitan median family income.
A condition of a site, structure, or area that may cause nearby buildings and/or areas to decline in attractiveness and/or utility. The Community Redevelopment Law (Health and Safety Code, Sections 33031 and 33032) contains a definition of blight used to determine eligibility of proposed redevelopment project areas.
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 "Brown Act"
The Ralph M. Brown Open Meeting Act (commencing with Government Code Section 54950) requires cities and counties to provide advance public notice of hearings and meetings of their councils, boards, and other bodies. Meetings and hearings with some exceptions must be open to the public.
Buildout; Build out
Development of land to its full potential or theoretical capacity as permitted under current or proposed planning or zoning designations.
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.
Special physical characteristics of a structure or area that set it apart from its surroundings and contribute to its individuality.
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. All of California's largest cities are charter 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.
Congestion Management Plan (CMP)
A mechanism employing growth management techniques, including traffic level of service requirements, standards for public transit, trip reduction programs involving transportation systems management and jobs/housing balance strategies, and capital improvement programming, for the purpose of controlling and/or reducing the cumulative regional traffic impacts of development. Assembly Bill 1791, effective August 1, 1990, requires all cities, and counties that include urbanized areas, to adopt by December 1, 1991, and annually update a Congestion Management Plan.
The number of permanent residential dwelling units per acre of land. Densities specified in the Comprehensive Plan may be expressed in units per gross acre or per net developable acre.
An increase in the allowable number of dwelling units granted by the city or county in return for the project's providing low- or moderate-income housing (see Government Code Section 65915).
Design Guidelines maintain the quality of communities by developing reasonable, practical, and objective guidance to assist residents, property-owners, and designers in identifying the key building characteristics and components that define the character of a community which can be used as a guide in designing new or remodeled structures.
Design Review Committee
A group appointed by the city council to consider the design and aesthetics of development within design review zoning districts.
The physical extension and/or construction of urban land uses. Development activities include: subdivision of land; construction or alteration of structures, roads, utilities, and other facilities; installation of septic systems; grading; deposit of refuse, debris, or fill materials; and clearing of natural vegetative cover (with the exception of agricultural activities). Routine repair and maintenance activities are exempted.
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 or less intensive zone (for example, from multi-family residential to single-family residential or from residential to agricultural).
The interrelationship of living things to one another and their environment; the study of such interrelationships.
Economic Base theory essentially holds that the structure of the economy is made up of two broad classes of productive effort. These include basic activities that produce and distribute goods and services for export to firms and individuals outside a defined localized economic area, and nonbasic activities whose goods and services are consumed at home within the boundaries of the local economic area. Viewed another way, basic activity exports goods and services and brings new dollars into the area; non basic activity recirculates dollars within the area. This distinction holds that the reason for the growth of a particular region is its capacity to provide the means of payment for raw materials, food, and services that the region cannot produce itself and also support the nonbasic activities that are principally local in productive scope and market area.
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.
CEQA defines environment as "the physical conditions which exist within the area which will be affected by a proposed project, including land, air, water, mineral, flora, fauna, noise, and objects of historic or aesthetic significance."
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, and more.
Fiscal Impact Analysis
A projection of the direct public costs and revenues resulting from population or employment change to the local jurisdiction(s) in which the change is taking place. Enables local governments to evaluate relative fiscal merits of general plans, specific plans, or projects.
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 0.5.
General Law City
A city incorporated under and administered in accordance with the general laws of the state.
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.).
See Development Fees.
Development of vacant land (usually individual lots or left over properties) within areas that are already largely developed.
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 legislative measure which has been placed on the election ballot as a result of voter signatures. At the local level, initiatives usually propose changes or additions to the general plan and zoning ordinance. The right to initiative is guaranteed by the California Constitution.
Jobs/Housing Balance; Jobs/Housing Ratio
The availability of affordable housing for employees. The jobs/housing ratio divides the number of jobs in an area by the number of employed residents. A ratio of 1.0 indicates a balance. A ratio greater than 1.0 indicates a net in commute; less than 1.0 indicates a net out commute.
Planting – including trees, shrubs, and ground covers – suitably designed, selected, installed, and maintained as to enhance a site or roadway permanently.
The occupation or utilization of land or water area for any human activity or any purpose defined in the Comprehensive Plan.
Land Use Regulation
A term encompassing the regulation of land in general and often used to mean those regulations incorporated in the Comprehensive Plan, as distinct from zoning regulations (which are more specific).
Land Use Classification
A system for classifying and designating the appropriate use of properties.
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. The LAFCOs establish spheres of influence for all the cities and special districts within the county. They also consider incorporation and annexation proposals.
Level of Service (LOS)
A scale that measures the amount of traffic a roadway may be capable of handling on a roadway or at the intersection of roadways. Levels range from A to F, with A representing the highest level of service.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires that when an adverse environmental impact or potential impact is identified, measures must be proposed that will eliminate, avoid, rectify, compensate for or reduce those environmental effects.
When a project is not exempt from CEQA and will not have a significant adverse effect on the environment, a negative declaration must be prepared. The negative declaration is an informational document that describes the reasons why the project will not have a significant effect and proposes measures to completely mitigate or avoid any possible effects.
Any parcel or area of land or water that is essentially unimproved and devoted to an open space use for the purposes of (1) the preservation of natural resources, (2) the managed production of resources, (3) outdoor recreation, or (4) public health and safety.
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 process 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 specific statement of principle or of guiding actions that implies clear commitment.
Land which has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for the production of crops. It has the soil quality, growing season, and moisture supply needed to produce sustained high yields of crops when treated and managed, including water management, according to current farming methods. Prime Farmland must have been used for the production of irrigated crops within the last three years.
An action, activity, or strategy carried out in response to adopted policy to achieve a specific goal or objective. Policies and programs establish the "who," "how" and "when" for carrying out the "what" and "where" of goals and objectives.
A ballot measure challenging a legislative action by the city council or county board of supervisors. When sufficient voter signatures are filed before the council or board action becomes final, the council or board must either set aside its action or call an election on the matter. Use permits, variances, and subdivisions cannot be challenged by 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 on area schools.
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.).
Sphere of Influence
A plan for the “probably physical boundary and service area of a local agency” as approved by the LAFCO. It identifies the area available to a city for future annexation. However, unless another arrangement has been made, the city has no actual authority over land outside its city limits.
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 recorder.
See final map subdivision.
The attempt to give form, in terms of both beauty and function, to selected urban areas or to whole cities. Urban design is concerned with the location, mass, and design of various urban components and combines elements of urban planning, architecture, and landscape architecture.
Urban Boundary Line
A boundary, sometimes parcel specific, located to mark the outer limit beyond which urban development will not be allowed. It has the aim of discouraging urban sprawl by containing urban development.
A limited waiver from the property development standards of the zoning ordinance. Variance requests are subject to public hearing, usually before a zoning administrator or board of zoning adjustment. Variances do not allow a change in land use.
Visioning is a community-based planning effort in which citizens and leaders work together to identify a series of shared goals encompassing all aspects of community life. The goals can cover such areas of common concern as the natural and built environment, economic and community development, transportation, education, culture, recreation, sports, and human needs.
Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)
A key measure of overall street and highway use. Reducing VMT is often a major objective in efforts to reduce vehicular congestion and achieve regional air quality goals.
The total area above a given point on a watercourse that contributes water to its flow; the entire region drained by a waterway or watercourse that drains into a lake, or reservoir.
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 for each zone, 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 body.