Los Angeles County General Plan Update makes uneven progress
In reducing densities in habitat lands and in expanding Significant Ecological Areas, the Update is on the right track. But the draft ordinance to protect these resources remains severely flawed.
Over the last 2 years, EHL has reviewed and commented on numerous documents associated with the Los Angeles County “2035” General Plan Update as well as the Antelope Valley “Town and Country” Plan. The latter is a portion of the Update that is proceeding on a “fast track.” We have also convened multiple meetings with staff and reached out to local groups and agencies. All this is important because ecologically intact areas still exist not only in the Santa Monica Mountains but over large areas in the northern County and in foothill locations near the San Gabriel Mountains and in the Puente Hills near Orange County.
EHL has supported expansion of “Significant Ecological Areas" or SEAs, which are mapped locations where development undergoes higher scrutiny and mitigation. While some locations still need to be captured, expansion represents major progress. We have similarly supported the proposed “downplanning” of more remote rural areas for reasons of habitat, fire safety, and agriculture, and to reduce the cost of infrastructure and services. In most cases, the draft maps change the old pattern of 1 or 2 acre estates - which would hopelessly chop up the SEAs and other rural areas - to densities of 1 unit per 10, 20 or 40 acres. While EHL supported even lower densities, particularly within SEAs, this nonetheless again represents major improvement. However, the plans still lack the flexibility to create development configurations that facilitate resources protection.
EHL has also worked intensively on the revised ordinance that guides development within SEAs, stressing the importance of project design that first and foremost avoids natural resources and that keeps preserved land contiguous. Unfortunately, the latest draft of the ordinance fails to impose an avoidance standard, deferring to fixed mitigation ratios. This will allow habitat to be destroyed even when it was feasible not to do so. As the ordinance adoption been delayed so that more work can be done, this provides an opportunity for EHL to continue to seek improvement.
Finally, because acquisition and project set-asides are not enough to protect SEAs, EHL recommended a “transfer of development rights” system whereby density is shifted––along with compensation to the landowner––out of SEAs and into designated Economic Opportunity Areas that are more suited for development. This is now a placeholder in the Update and part of a future implementation plan.
EHL will continue to engage at upcoming public hearings.