Land-Use Planning Dictionary
Click on a letter to find the meaning of a word. Definitions are courtesy of Public Health Law & Policy and the California Planning Roundtable.
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accessory use - An activity or structure that is incidental to the main use of a site. For example, a small business office within a store might be considered an accessory use, and might not be counted in the calculation of the size of the store for zoning purposes.
Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance - an ordinance that ties development approvals to the availability and adequacy of public facilities. Adequate public facilities are those facilities relating to roads, sewer systems, schools, and water supply and distribution systems.
Air rights - The right granted by a property owner to a buyer to use space above an existing right-of-way or other site, usually for development.
Amortization of nonconforming uses - A method of eliminating nonconforming uses by requiring the termination of the nonconforming use after a specified period of time. Generally based on the rate of economic depreciation of the use or structure.
Annex - (v.) To incorporate a land area into an existing district or municipality, with a resulting change in the boundaries of the annexing jurisdiction.
Architectural review - Regulations and procedures requiring the exterior design of structures to be suitable, harmonious, and in keeping with the general appearance, historic character, and/or style of surrounding areas. A process used to exercise control over the design of buildings and their settings. (See Design review.)
Arterial - A major street normally controlled by traffic signs and signals, which provides intracommunity travel and access to the countywide highway system. Arterials are usually medium-speed (30-40 mph), medium-capac¬ity (10,000-35,000 average daily trips) roadways. Access to community arterials should be provided at collector roads and local streets, but direct access from parcels to existing arterials is common.
Automobile-intensive use - A use of a retail area that depends on exposure to continuous auto traffic.
Benefit assessment district - An area within a public agency's boundaries that receives a special benefit from the construction of one or more public facilities. A benefit assessment district has no legal life of its own and cannot act by itself. It is strictly a financing mechanism for providing public infrastructure as allowed under the Streets and Highways Code. Bonds may be issued to finance the improvements, subject to repayment by assessments charged against the benefiting properties. Creation of a benefit assessment district enables property owners in a specific area to cause the construction of public facilities or to maintain them (for example, a downtown, or the grounds and landscaping of a specific area) by contributing their fair share of the construction and/or installation and operating costs.
Blight - Physical and economic conditions within an area that cause a reduction of or lack of full utilization of that area. A blighted area is one that has deteriorated or has been arrested in its development by physical, economic, or social forces. Blight spreads; a blighted condition at a site, structure, or area 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 appeals - An appointed board that hears appeals on variances and exceptions.
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.
Brownfield - Abandoned industrial site likely to have groundwater or soil pollution that is a deterrent to redevelopment. (See Greenfield.)
Buffer zone - An area of land separating two distinct land uses that acts to soften or mitigate the effects of one land use on the other — for example, a screen of planting or fencing to insulate the surroundings from the noise, smoke, or visual aspects of an industrial zone or junkyard.
Building envelope - The space remaining on a site in which structures may be built after all building setbacks, height limits, and bulk requirements have been met.
Building Intensity - For residential uses, the actual number or the allowable range of dwelling units per net or gross acre. For nonresidential uses, the actual or the maximum permitted floor area ratios (FARs).
Buildout - Development of land to its full potential or theoretical capacity as permit¬ted under current or proposed planning or zoning designations. (See Carrying capacity (3).)
Built environment - All aspects of our surroundings that are constructed by people: buildings, roads, parks, and so on.
Busway - A vehicular right-of-way or portion thereof — often an exclusive lane — reserved exclusively for buses. Getting public transit out of traffic speeds it up, making it a more attractive option.
California Environmental Quality Act - A state law requiring state and local agencies to regulate activities with consideration for environmental protection. In general, CEQA requires that all private and public projects be reviewed prior to approval for their potential adverse effects upon the environment. If a proposed activity has the potential for a significant adverse environmental impact, an environmental impact report (EIR) must be prepared and certified as to its adequacy before action is taken on the proposed project. General plans require the preparation of a "program EIR."
Caltrans - California Department of Transportation.
Capital improvements program - A program, administered by a city or county government and reviewed by its planning commission, which schedules permanent improvements, usually for a minimum of five years in the future, to fit the projected fiscal capability of the local jurisdiction. The program generally is reviewed annu¬ally, for conformity to and consistency with the general plan.
Carrying capacity - Used in determining the potential of an area to absorb development: (1) The level of land use, human activity, or development for a specific area that can be accommodated permanently without an irreversible change in the quality of air, water, land, or plant and animal habitats. (2) The upper limits of development beyond which the quality of human life, health, welfare, safety, or community character within an area will be impaired. (3) The maximum level of development allowable under current zoning. (See Buildout.)
Channelization - At the intersection of roadways, the directional separation of traffic lanes through the use of curbs or raised islands that limit the paths that vehicles may take through the intersection.
Charrette - An intensive planning session where citizens, designers, and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the design¬ers. More important, it allows everyone who participates to be a mutual author of the plan. The charrette workshop is designed to stimulate ideas and involve the public in the community planning/design process. It is a valuable tool for laying the foundation for the development of a more formal plan (such as a comprehensive plan, master plan, or strategic plan). It is most effective as a component of the formal planning and design process.
Circulation element - One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it contains adopted goals, policies, and implementation programs for the planning and management of existing and proposed thoroughfares, transportation routes, and terminals, as well as local public utilities and facilities, all correlated with the land use element of the general plan.
Community benefits - in planning and land use, this refers to developer exactions that are required as a condition of development. The benefits contained in a community benefits agreement (CBA) may be provided by the developer or by other parties benefiting from the development subsidies, such as the stores that rent space in a subsidized retail development. Some benefits can be built into the project itself, such as the inclusion of a childcare center in the project or the use of environmentally sensitive design elements, such as white roofs that help avoid the "heat island" effect. Some benefits will affect project operations, such as wage requirements or traffic management rules. 0ther benefits will be completely separate from the project, such as money devoted to a public art fund, or support for existing job-training centers.
Community Development Block Grant - A grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on a formula basis for entitlement communities, and by the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for non-entitled jurisdictions. This grant allots money to cities and counties for housing rehabilitation and community development, including public facilities and economic development.
Community facilities district - Under the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 (Government Code section 53311 etseq.), a legislative body may create within its jurisdiction a special district that can issue tax-exempt bonds for the planning, design, acquisition, construction, and/or operation of public facilities, as well as provide public services to district residents. Special tax assessments levied by the district are used to repay the bonds.
Community plan - 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.
Community redevelopment agency - A local agency created under California Community Redevelopment Law, or a local legislative body that has elected to exercise the powers granted to such an agency, for the purpose of planning, developing, re-planning, redesigning, clearing, reconstructing, and/or rehabilitating all or part of a specified area with residential, commercial, industrial, and/or public (including recreational) structures and facilities. The redevelopment agency's plans must be compatible with adopted community general plans.
Commute shed - The area from which people do or might commute from their homes to a specific workplace destination, given specific assumptions about maximum travel time or distance.
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 - 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. All cities, and counties that include urbanized areas, must adopt and annually update a congestion management plan.
Conservation element - 0ne of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it contains adopted goals, policies, and implementation programs for the conservation, development, and use of natural resources, including water and its hydraulic force, forests, soils, rivers and other waters, harbors, fisheries, wildlife, minerals, and other natural resources.
Consistency requirement - Programs in the general plan are to be consistent, not contradictory or preferential. State law requires consistency between a general plan and implementation measures such as the zoning ordinance.
Council of Governments - Regional agencies made up of elected officials from member cities and counties. Concerned primarily with transportation planning and housing, they do not directly regulate land use, though they may exert influence and act in an advisory capacity. There are 25 C0Gs in California.
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions - A term used to describe restrictive limitations that may be placed on property and its use, which usually are made a condition of holding title or lease.
Cross-acceptance - The review by two or more jurisdictions of each other's plans. Each jurisdic¬tion determines whether the plans submitted are consistent or can be made compatible with its own. The process provides for communication and negotiation between the affected jurisdictions.
Cumulative impact - As used in CEQA, the total impact resulting from the accumulated impacts of individual projects or programs over time.
Dedication - The transfer of property from private to public ownership. Dedications for roads, parks, school sites, or other public uses often are made conditions for approval of a development by a city or county.
Defensible space - (1) In firefighting and fire prevention: a 30-foot area of noncombustible surfaces separating urban and wildland areas. (2) In urban areas: open spaces, entry points, and pathways configured to provide maximum opportunities to rightful users and/or residents to defend themselves against intruders and criminal activity.
Density bonus - The allocation of development rights that allow a parcel to accommodate additional square footage or additional residential units beyond the maxi-mum for which the parcel is zoned, usually in exchange for the provision or preservation of an amenity at the same site or at another location. Under California law, a housing development that provides 20 percent of its units for lower income households, or 10 percent of its units for very low-income households, or 50 percent of its units for seniors, is entitled to a density bonus. (See Development rights, Transfer of.)
Density transfer - A way of retaining open space by concentrating densities — usually in compact areas adjacent to existing urbanization and utilities — while leaving historic, sensitive, or hazardous areas unchanged. In some jurisdic¬tions, for example, developers can buy development rights of properties targeted for public open space and transfer the additional density to the base number of units permitted in the zone in which they propose to develop.
Density, Control of - A limitation on the occupancy of land. Density can be controlled through zoning in the following ways: use restrictions, minimum lot-size requirements, floor area ratios, land use-intensity ratios, setback and yard requirements, minimum house-size requirements, ratios comparing number and types of housing units to land area, limits on units per acre, and other means. Allowable density often serves as the major distinction between residential districts.
Density, Employment - A measure of the number of employed persons per specific area (for example, employees per acre).
Density, Residential - The average number of households, persons, or dwelling units per acre of land. Densities specified in the general plan may be expressed in units per gross acre or per net developable acre.
Design review - The comprehensive evaluation of a development and its impact on neigh¬boring properties and the community as a whole, from the standpoint of site and landscape design, architecture, materials, colors, lighting, and signs, in accordance with a set of adopted criteria and standards. Design control requires that certain specific things be done and that other things not be done. Design control language is most often found within a zoning ordinance. Design review usually refers to a system set up outside of the zoning ordinance, whereby projects are reviewed against certain standards and criteria by a specially established design review board or committee. (See Architectural control.)
Design review board - A group appointed by the city council to consider the design and aesthet-ics of development within design review zoning districts. Not all communi¬ties have design review boards or committees.
Developable land - Land that is suitable as a location for structures and that can be developed free of hazards to, and without disruption of, or significant impact on, natural resource areas.
Development rights, Transfer of - A program that can relocate potential development from areas where proposed land use or environmental impacts are considered undesirable (the "donor" site) to another ("receiver") site chosen on the basis of its ability to accommodate additional units of development beyond that for which it was zoned, with minimal environmental, social, and aesthetic impacts. Also known as transfer of development credits. (See Development rights.)
Discretionary decision - As used in CEQA, an action taken by a governmental agency that calls for the exercise of judgment in deciding whether to approve and/or how to carry out a project.
Discretionary review - A special power of a planning commission, outside the normal building permit application approval process, through which the commission can modify or disallow a proposed, zoning-compliant project when exceptional and extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed project exist. These exceptional and extraordinary circumstances often involve conflicts with a jurisdiction's general plan or other policies. For example, if zoning permits a four-story building on a parcel but every building in the neighborhood is two stories tall, the planning commission may exercise its power and deny a permit for a larger building because of general plan language requiring that new buildings reflect the existing character of a neighborhood.
Downzone - 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). Downzoning generally reduces the economic value of land, though it may serve a public benefit.
Dwelling unit - A room or group of rooms (including sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation facilities, but not more than one kitchen), which constitutes an independent housekeeping unit, occupied or intended for occupancy by one household on a long-term basis.
Easement - Usually the right to use property owned by another for specific purposes or to gain access to another property. For example, utility companies often have easements on the private property of individuals to be able to install and maintain utility facilities.
Easement, Conservation - A tool for acquiring open space with less than full-fee purchase, whereby a public agency buys only certain specific rights from the landowner. These may be positive rights (providing the public with the opportunity to hunt, fish, hike, or ride over the land), or they may be restrictive rights (limiting the uses to which the land owner may devote the land in the future).
Economic development commission - An agency charged with seeking economic development projects and economic expansion at higher employment densities. A possible ally for bringing in businesses such as grocery stores to underserved areas.
Eminent domain - The right of government to acquire private property for public use upon the payment of just compensation to the owner. This is also called condemnation. (Condemnation can also mean the closing of an unsafe structure by a public agency to protect the community's safety.) See also Inverse condemnation; Regulatory taking.
Environmental impact report - A report required of general plans by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and which assesses all the environmental characteristics of an area and determines what effects or impacts will result if the area is altered or disturbed by a proposed action. It must assess potential adverse impacts upon the environment, measures that may avoid or reduce these impacts (mitigation measures), and alternatives to the plan. (See California Environmental Quality Act.) An EIR is also conducted for proposed projects.
Environmental impact statement - Under the National Environmental Policy Act, a statement on the effect of development proposals and other major actions that significantly affect the environment. In California this term is used less frequently than EIR, as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and its EIRs play a much bigger role in development in California than does NEPA and its EISes.
Exaction - A fee or dedication required as a condition of development permit approval. Exactions may be incorporated into a community's zoning code or negotiated on a project-by-project basis.
Exurb - Communities located beyond the suburbs.
Final map subdivision - Land divisions that create five or more lots. Also called tract maps or major subdivisions, they must be consistent with the general plan and are gener¬ally 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 popula¬tion 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.
Fiscal impact report - A report projecting the public costs and revenues that will result from a proposed program or development. (See Fiscal impact analysis.)
Floor area ratio - The gross floor area permitted on a site divided by the total net area of the site, expressed in decimals to one or two places. For example, on a site with 10,000 net square feet of land area, a floor area ratio of 1.0 will allow a maximum of 10,000 gross sq. ft. of building floor area to be built. 0n the same site, an FAR of 1.5 would allow 15,000 sq. ft. of floor area; an FAR of 2.0 would allow 20,000 sq. ft.; and an FAR of 0.5 would allow only 5,000 sq. ft. Also commonly used in zoning, FARs are typically applied on a parcel-by-parcel basis as opposed to an average FAR for an entire land use or zoning district.
General plan - A statement of policies, including text and diagrams setting forth objectives, principles, standards and plan proposals, for the long-term future physical development of the city or county. The general plan is a legal document required of each local jurisdiction by the State of California Government Code section 653o1 and adopted by the city council or board of supervi¬sors. In California, the general plan has seven mandatory elements (circulation, conservation, housing, land use, noise, open space, safety and seismic safety) and may include any number of optional elements (such as air quality, economic development, hazardous waste, and parks and recreation). The general plan may also be called a city plan, compre¬hensive plan, or master plan.
Geographic information system - Computer mapping system that produces multiple "layers" (coverages) of graphic information about a community or region. For example, one layer might show the parcels, another layer might show key habitat areas, another layer might show school sites, and so on. It may be composed of maps, databases, and point information. It can be considered a tool for analysis and decision making.
Greenfield - Farmland and open areas where there has been no prior industrial or commercial activity, and therefore where the threat of contamination is lower than in urbanized areas. (See Brownfield.)
Greyfield - A blighted area, often a failed shopping center, that is ripe for redevelop¬ment.
Growth management - A local program limiting the rate of community growth. Communities use a wide range of techniques to determine the amount, type, and rate of development desired by the community and to channel that growth into designated areas. Growth management policies can be implemented through growth rates, zoning, capital improvement programs, public facilities ordinances, urban limit lines, standards for levels of service, and other programs. Examples include an annual cap on the number of building permits issued, tying new development intensity to infrastructure capacity, or limiting the location of new development. (See Congestion management plan.)
Guideway - A roadway system that guides the vehicles using it as well as supporting them. The "monorail" is one such system. The most familiar and still most used guideway is the railroad. Most guideway transit systems make use of wayside electrical power for propulsion.
HCD - The state agency that has principal responsibility for assessing, planning for, and assisting communities to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income households. HCD also certifies housing elements of general plans for local jurisdictions.
Housing element - 0ne of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it assesses the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community; identifies potential sites adequate to provide the amount and kind of housing needed; and contains adopted goals, policies, and implementation programs for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing. Under state law, housing elements must be updated every five years.
Impact fee - A fee, also called a development fee, levied on the developer of a project by a city, county, or other public agency as compensation for otherwise¬unmitigated impacts the project will produce. California Government Code section 66000 et seq. specifies that development fees shall not exceed the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service for which the fee is charged. To lawfully impose a development fee, the public agency must verify its method of calculation and document proper restrictions on use of the fund. (See Nexus.) 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.
Impacted areas - Census tracts where more than 50 percent of the dwelling units house low- and very low-income households. 0ften correlated to food and park deserts, so can be helpful for researching food and park access.
Improved land - Raw land to which has been added basic utilities such as roads, sewers, water lines, and other public infrastructure facilities. Can also mean structures/buildings have been erected on the land.
In lieu fee - Cash payments that may be required of an owner or developer as a substitute for a dedication of land, usually calculated in dollars per lo
Incentive Zoning - The awarding of bonus credits to a development in the form of allowing more intensive use of land if public benefits – such as preservation of greater than the minimum required open space, provision for low- and moderate-income housing, or plans for public plazas and courts at ground level – are included in a project.
Inclusionary Zoning - Regulations that increase housing choice by providing the opportunity to construct more diverse and economical housing to meet the needs of low and moderate-income families. Often such regulations require a minimum percentage of housing for low- and moderate-income households in new housing developments and in conversions of apartments to condominiums.
Infill development - Development of vacant land (usually individual lots or leftover properties) within areas that are already largely developed.
Infrastructure - A general term for public (and quasi-public) services and facilities, such as sewage-disposal systems, water-supply systems, other utility systems, and roads.
Initial study - 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.
Interim Zone - A zoning designation that temporarily reduces or freezes allowable development in an area until a permanent classification can be fixed; generally assigned during general plan preparation to provide a basis for permanent zoning.
joint powers authority - A legal arrangement that enables two or more units of government to share authority in order to plan and carry out a specific program or set of programs that serves both units.
Land banking - The purchase of land by a local government for use or resale at a later date. "Banked lands" have been used for development of low- and moderate-income housing, expansion of parks, and development of industrial and commercial centers. Federal rail-banking law allows railroads to bank unused rail corridors for future rail use while allowing interim use as trails.
Land use - The occupation or utilization of land or water area for any human activity or any purpose defined in the general plan.
Land use element - A required element of the general plan that uses text and maps to desig¬nate the future use or reuse of land within a given jurisdiction's planning area. The land use element serves as a guide to the structuring of zoning and subdivision controls, urban renewal and capital improvements programs, and official decisions regarding the distribution and intensity of development and the location of public facilities and open space.
Leapfrog development - New development separated from existing development by substantial vacant land. The development pattern so created is sometimes referred to as sprawl.
Level of service - A scale that measures the traffic capacity of a roadway or at the intersection of roadways.
Life-cycle costing - A method of evaluating a capital investment that takes into account the sum total of all costs associated with the investment over the lifetime of the project.
Light rail transit - Streetcars or trolley cars that typically operate entirely or substantially in mixed traffic and in nonexclusive, at-grade rights-of-way. Passengers typi¬cally board vehicles from the street level (as opposed to a platform that is level with the train), and the driver may collect fares. Vehicles are each electrically self-propelled and usually operate in one- or two-car trains.
Linkage - With respect to jobs/housing balance, a program designed to offset the impact of employment on housing need within a community, whereby project approval is conditioned on the provision of housing units or the payment of an equivalent in-lieu fee. The linkage program must establish the cause-and-effect relationship between a new commercial or industrial development and the increased demand for housing.
Mello-Roos - issued bonds repaid by a special tax imposed on property owners within a “community facilities” district established by a governmental entity. The bond proceeds can be used for public improvements and for a limited number of services. Named after the program’s legislative authors.
Mitigation Measure - The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) 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 effects to the extent feasible.
Mixed-use - Zoning which permits various uses, such as office, commercial, institutional, light industrial and residential, to be combined in a single building or on a single site in an integrated development project. A street with shops at street level and dwelling units above is an example of mixed use.
Moratorium - A halt to new development or the issuance of permits. Moratoria are often imposed while a new general plan or zoning ordinance is written or when infrastructure (water, sewer) facilities are inadequate to accommodate additional growth.
National Environmental Policy Act - An act passed in 1974 establishing federal legislation for national environmental policy, a council on environmental quality, and the requirements for environmental impact statements.
Negative Declaration - When a project is not exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (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.
Neighborhood Resident Association - A neighborhood resident association is an organization of residential property owners, typically a voluntary, ad hoc political body. An NRA is organized to allow residents of a neighborhood to participate in local land use debates with the political power and voice of a group.
New Urbanism - A design philosophy intended to create a strong sense of community by incorporating features of traditional small towns. Compact, walkable neighborhoods with active streets are a few of the hallmarks of new urbanism.
Nexus - In order to impose a fee, there must be a rational relationship between the cost of the service paid for by the fee and/or the cost of mitigating the circumstance to which the fee is related. A study proving the relationship and valuing the cost is required prior to adoption of the fee.
NIMBY - Not In My Backyard
Noise element - One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it assesses noise levels of highways and freeways, local arterials, railroads, airports, local industrial plants, and other ground stationary sources, and adopts goals, policies, and implementation programs to reduce the community’s exposure to noise.
Nonconforming use - A use that was valid when brought into existence but does not meet current zoning requirements. Any use lawfully existing on any piece of property that is inconsistent with a new or amended general plan, and that in turn is a violation of a zoning ordinance amendment subsequently adopted in conformance with the general plan, will be a nonconforming use. Typically, nonconforming uses are permitted to continue, but may not be expanded or enlarged.
Office of Planning and Research - A governmental division of the state of California that has among its responsibilities the preparation of a set of guidelines for use by local jurisdictions in drafting general plans.
Open space element - One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it contains an inventory of privately and publicly owned open-space lands, and adopted goals, policies, and implementation programs for the preservation, protection, and management of open space lands.
Open space land - 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.
Overlay Zone - 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 an 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.
Parcel - A lot, or contiguous group of lots, in single ownership or under single control, usually considered a unit for purposes of development.
Parcel map - 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.
Parking management - An evolving technique designed to obtain maximum utilization from a limited number of parking spaces. Can involve pricing and preferential treatment for HOVs, non-peak period users, and short-term users.
Parking ratio - The number of parking spaces provided per unit of housing or 1,000 square feet of floor area, e.g., 2:1 or “two per thousand.”
Peak Oil - Since oil is a nonreplenishable commodity, peak oil refers to that point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.
Planned Community - A large-scale development whose essential features are a definable boundary; a consistent but not necessarily uniform character; overall control during the development process by a single development entity; private ownership of recreation amenities; and enforcement of covenants, conditions, and restrictions by a master community association.
Planned unit development - Land use zoning that 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.
Planning Area - The planning area is the land area addressed by the general plan. For a city, the planning area boundary typically coincides with the sphere of influence that encompasses land both within the city limits and potentially annexable land.
Planning Commission - A body, usually having five or seven members, made up of residents appointed by the city council, the mayor, or the board of supervisors to consider land use 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, and so on), and taking action on proposed specific projects and subdivisions. Planning commissions have broad discretionary power; their decisions can be appealed to the legislative body within the jurisdiction (the city council or board of supervisors).
Redevelopment - The renewal and improvement of older commercial and residential areas through actions or programs that encourage and facilitate private and public investment. This investment can include activities and programs designed to improve neighborhoods; strengthen existing businesses; encourage quality renovation and new construction; enhance public spaces and pedestrian amenities; ensure safe, efficient, and convenient traffic flow; attract new businesses; and contribute to the social and economic vitality of the area.
Regional housing needs plan - A state-mandated quantification by a regional Council of Governments of existing and projected housing need, by household income group, for all localities within a region. The identified housing need is one of the bases for development of a jurisdiction’s housing element.
Regulatory Taking - A taking of private property for a public purpose that results from extensive regulation of land.
Right-of-way - A strip of land occupied or intended to be occupied by certain transportation and public use facilities, such as roadways, railroads, and utility lines.
Road Diet - A road diet is a technique in transportation planning whereby a road is reduced in number of travel lanes and/or effective width in order to achieve systemic improvements. One of the most common applications of a road diet is to improve safety or provide space for other users in the context of two-way streets with 2 lanes in each direction. The road diet reduces this to 1 travel lane in each direction. The freed-up space is then used to provide any or several of the following features: 1. (Wider) footpaths/sidewalks 2. (Wider) landscaping strips 3. Cycle lanes, on one or both sides of the road 4. Wider lane widths on remaining traffic lanes (if previously unsafely narrow to allow four lanes) 5. A two-way turn lane / flush traffic median for turning traffic 6. A reversible centre lane
Safety Element - One of the seven state-mandated elements of a local general plan, it contains adopted goals, policies, and implementation programs for the protection of the community from any unreasonable risks associated with seismic and geologic hazards, flooding, and wildland and urban fires. Many safety elements also incorporate a review of police needs, objectives, facilities, and services.
Setback - A minimum distance required by zoning to be maintained between two structures or between a structure and property lines.
Single-Room Occupancy - A single-room-occupancy building is a multitenant building that houses one or two people in each room. Tenants typically share toilets, kitchen facilities, and other common areas within the building.
Smart Growth - A broad concept that describes a series of principles that encourage development that better serves the economic, environmental and social needs of communities than do many of the principles that have guided development in the post-World War II period. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified the following ten principles of smart growth: 1. Mix land uses 2. Take advantage of compact building design 3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices 4. Create walkable neighborhoods 5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place 6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas 7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities 8. Provide a variety of transportation choices 9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective 10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
Specific Plan - 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.
Sphere of Influence - A planning area usually larger than, although sometimes contiguous with, a city’s municipal limits. Sheres of influence are assigned by each county’s local agency formation commission (lafco) and typically indicate the probable ultimate physical boundaries and service area of a city.
Spot Zoning - Rezoning of a lot or parcel of land to permit a use incompatible with surrounding zoning and land uses. Spot zoning confers special privileges and benefits upon the owner of the rezoned parcel, and is inconsistent with comprehensive planning and with zoning. Because zoning must be consistent with a community’s general plan, spot zoning is legally vulnerable.
Sprawl - The process in which the spread of development across the landscape far outpaces population growth. The landscape sprawl creates has four characteristics: a population that is widely dispersed in low-density development; rigid separation of uses, so that homes, commerce and workplaces are segregated from one another; a network of roads laid out to separate land into huge blocks and offering poor access; and a lack of well-defined, thriving activity centers, such as downtowns and town centers. Most of the other features usually associated with sprawl – a lack of transportation choices, relative uniformity of housing options, and difficulty walking from place to place – result from these conditions.
Street Tree Plan - A comprehensive plan for all trees on public streets that sets goals for solar access, and standards for species selection, maintenance, and replacement criteria, and for planting trees in patterns that will define neighborhood character while avoiding monotony or maintenance problems.
Sustainable Development - Development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and confers well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies rely. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Tax Increment Financing - A redevelopment agency’s powerful tool to issue bonds against the anticipated additional revenue of the tax increment. The additional tax revenues result from increases in property values within a development area. State law permits the tax increment to be earmarked for redevelopment purposes but requires at least 20 percent to be used to increase and improve the community’s supply of very low-and low-income housing.
Tentative Map - 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.
Traffic Calming - The process of increasing pedestrian safety by decreasing automobile traffic speed and volume.
Traffic Model - A mathematical representation of traffic movement within an area or region based on observed relationships between the kind and intensity of development in specific areas. Many traffic models operate on the theory that trip are produced by persons living in residential areas and are attracted by various nonresidential land uses.
Traffic Zone - In a mathematical traffic model the area to be studied is divided into zones, with each zone treated as producing and attracting trips. The production of trips by a zone is based on the number of trips to or from work or shopping, or other trips produced per dwelling unit.
Transit-Oriented Development - A system of regularly scheduled buses and/or trains available to the public on a fee-per-ride basis. Also called mass transit.
Transportation Demand Management - A strategy for reducing demand on the road system by reducing the number of vehicles using the roadways and/or increasing the number of persons per vehicle. TDM attempts to reduce the number of persons who drive alone on the roadway during the commute period and to increase the number in carpools, vanpools, buses and trains, walking, and biking.
Transportation Systems Management - A comprehensive strategy developed to address the problems caused by additional development, increasing trips, and a shortfall in transportation capacity. TSM 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, TSM examines methods of increasing the efficiency of road use. TSM measures are characterized by their low cost and quick implementation time frame, such as computerized traffic signals, metered freeway ramps, and one-way streets.
Urban Design - 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 Growth Boundary - An urban growth boundary defines where development should and should not happen. The line circumscribes an entire urbanized area and is used by local governments to guide land-use decisions.
Urban Limit 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 during a specified period, and its location may be modified over time.
Urban Planning - Controls by central or local government over the use of land. Land-use planning is used to keep activities causing harmful externalities, such as noise or visual intrusion, away from places where they are believed to be particularly harmful.
Urban Sprawl - Haphazard growth or outward extension of a city resulting from uncontrolled or poorly managed development.
Use Permit - The discretionary and conditional review of an activity or function or operation on a site or in a building or facility.
Variance - A departure from any provision of the zoning requirements for a specific parcel, except use, without changing the zoning ordinance or the underlying zoning of the parcel. Variances are granted as limited waivers from the requirements of the zoning ordinance. Variances may only be granted under special circumstances, usually upon demonstration of hardship based on the peculiarity of the property in relation to other properties in the same zone district. They require a public hearing, usually before a zoning administrator or board of zoning adjustment.
Vehicle Miles Traveled - 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.
Volume-to-Capacity Ratio - A measure of the operating capacity of a roadway or intersection, in terms of the number of vehicles passing through, divided by the number of vehicles that theoretically could pass through when the roadway or intersection is operating at its designed capacity. Abbreviated as v/c. At a v/c ratio of 1.0, the roadway or intersection is operating at capacity. If the ratio is less than 1.0, the traffic facility has additional capacity. Although ratios slightly greater than 1.0 are possible, it is more likely that the peak hour will elongate into a “peak period.”
Zoning - The division of a city or county by legislative regulations into areas, or zones, which specify allowable uses for real property and size restrictions for buildings within these areas; a program that implements policies of the general plan.