Los Angeles County Planning Commission acts on Significant Ecological Areas
A revised ordinance delivers both conservation science and project streamlining.
Significant Ecological Areas (SEAs) are mapped in the County’s General Plan, and identify important biological resources. Expanded in 2015, these range from the Santa Monica Mountains to foothill communities like Glendora to the Antelope Valley. The County’s goal is to ensure that development is limited and respects these biological values. The SEA Ordinance governs how such development occurs.
The existing ordinance is decades old. For several years, EHL has participated in an update, meeting with staff, commenting, and testifying on multiple iterations. In February 2019, the Planning Commission approved a draft which will go to the Board in coming weeks. This version makes major advances. Most importantly, it incorporates state-of-the-art conservation thinking, with standards for creating large, intact, and interconnected blocks of habitat if and when subdivision occurs.
Biological constraints would be identified early in the planning process, and a well-illustrated Implementation Guide simplifies compliance. Most projects would set aside a minimum of 75% of the property as natural open space as part of a new, streamlined approval process. Impacted areas would be in the least sensitive part of the site. Other projects would have to meet improved criteria for a special SEA permit, which, as in the prior ordinance, would be overseen by a technical committee. The ordinance also addresses night lighting, heritage trees, reflective glass which cause bird collisions, and other factors. In addition, important SEA components in foothill locations, which had previously been tentative, would be finalized.
In 2016, exemptions from the ordinance for single family homes and fallowed farmland were enacted in the Antelope Valley. While these were not, unfortunately, removed, EHL hopes upcoming community planning efforts will provide that opportunity. There will also be a subsequent process to address unique circumstances in the Santa Monica Mountains.
We commend the Department of Regional Planning for conducting an open and public process, and for finding ways to merge the principles of conservation biology into a user-friendly, clear, and efficient development process.