When Inconvenient Truths Displace Popular Fictions: What Proposed SB 375 and The California Legislation Addressing Climate Change Reveal About Local Land Use Planning and Control


It has long been an axiom of California land use law that land use planning and regulation is primarily a local matter, subject to local control. But, while California courts and land use practitioners tend to accept this notion as a first principle, is it really true? Or has local land use control become more of a popular fiction, a legal paradigm often invoked but now so riddled with conditions and qualifications that it fails adequately to explain the reality of what is a much more complex regulatory scheme? And if local control is, or has for some time been, diminishing, is that a good or a bad thing in light of the ever more regional—even global—cumulative impacts of the physical developments shaped by land use planning and regulation? This article explores these questions in the context of recently proposed California legislation (SB 375) designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the critical transportation sector by land use planning and regulation at the regional level.

The politically popular theory that locally elected legislators—city council-persons and county supervisors—are in the best position to know local conditions and their constituents’ best interests animates the principle of local land use planning authority. While California has had a Regional Planning Law in place since 1963, that law provides that any regional plans created under it “shall be advisory only and shall not have any binding effect on the counties and cities located within the boundaries of the regional planning district for which the regional plan is adopted.”

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Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Energy & Utilities Updates, Environmental Updates, Zoning, Planning & Land Use Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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