Land Use Planning & Advocacy

Founded in 1971, Save Mount Diablo has been instrumental in increasing open space on and around the mountain from 6,788 acres to more than 110,000 acres.

We also helped to create urban growth boundaries, a vital component of countywide smart growth policy. One of the most important ways SMD protects land is not by purchasing it, but by working for the creation and implementation of land use policies that protect open space from development.

Despite our successes, 80,000 acres of Diablo and its foothills are still threatened by development.

Land Use Contact

Juan Pablo Galván
Land Use Manager
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Urban Limit Lines

Urban Limit Lines (ULL) may be the most important Contra Costa County-wide land use policy that SMD has helped to succeed.

Basically, ULLs are lines drawn around developed areas or areas that are planned for development that, beyond which, urban-style development cannot occur. So if a city lies on one side of the line and open space is on the other, a city can’t just build a hundred-house subdivision over the line without consequences.

ULLs were first created in Contra Costa by the County in 1990. Through the years, SMD helped to make them stronger, and in 2000, the County tightened its line. In 2004, it was mandated that each city in the County and the County itself had to have a voter-approved ULL in order to receive their share of return-to-source transportation funding. This was a big boost in the fight to protect open space around Diablo since to break the line would put at risk money an entity would otherwise receive.

They’re not permanent or immovable. Some ULLs ‘sunset’ (expire) and have to be renewed. If a city or the County wants to move the ULL by 30 acres or less, that can be done by a 4/5ths vote of a city council or Board of Supervisors (depending on which line gets moved). If someone wants to move a line by more than 30 acres, that can only be done by a majority vote of the people. So if the County wanted to move its ULL by more than 30 acres, a majority of Contra Costa voters would have to vote for that in an election.

ULLs are an important part of the SMD toolkit and we are always looking for ways to strengthen them, as well as potential threats that may require us to come to their defense.

Parks Bond – SB 5

California voters will decide in June 2018 whether to borrow $4 billion to fund improvements to California’s parks and water systems after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) on Sunday October 15th. Its formal title is the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018.

The bond measure, which must be paid back over time with interest, will finance boosts to water recycling, stormwater capture and conservation infrastructure as well as expansion and repairs to state, regional and local parks.

Its main proponent, State Senator Kevin de León, said it is the first bond measure in state history to focus on social equity, including access to parks for all Californians and targeting water and flood control investments to the areas with the most unmet needs. The last statewide parks bond was approved by voters in 2002.

SMD supported SB 5 as it was being developed and worked to ensure that it would benefit the Bay Area and Diablo-region environment, park users and residents. We will continue our support in 2018 to pass the first state-wide parks bond in more than 15 years.

California Environmental Quality Act

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. It was passed in 1970 to supplement the National Environmental Policy Act (passed the year before) through state law. Public agencies are entrusted with compliance with CEQA and its provisions are enforced, as necessary, by the public through litigation and the threat of litigation.

Most proposals for physical development in California are subject to the provisions of CEQA, as are many governmental decisions which do not immediately result in physical development (such as adoption of a general or community plan).

At a minimum, CEQA requires that an initial review of the project and its environmental effects must be conducted. Depending on the potential effects, a further, and more substantial, review may be conducted in the form of an environmental impact report (EIR). A project may not be approved as submitted if feasible alternatives or mitigation measures are able to substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of the project.

SMD makes wise use of CEQA in most of the threats to Diablo open space lands that we defend against. We review project proposals to ensure that the appropriate level of environmental review under CEQA is happening, that the analyses a project undergoes are sufficient, that the full range of environmental impacts a project will have are fully divulged to the public and that project impacts to the environment are mitigated.

If a project applicant does not comply with CEQA, we recruit legal experts and sometimes even file lawsuits to make sure that its provisions are being enforced. Using CEQA is a powerful way for SMD, allies and Diablo-region residents to defend the environment.

Our Policy on Infill Development

Land Use projects that SMD typically engages in are usually located near or beyond the urban edge, could affect important open space resources, wildlife habitat and movement corridors, creeks or aesthetics, and may have the potential to affect natural viewsheds. They might also result in land preservation, mitigation, and recreational opportunities. This is usually not the case with infill projects.

In general, we support the concept of infill development. Since infill development does not usually affect the lands that are most significant to the achievement of our mission, SMD does not typically engage in activities related to infill projects. We also recognize that organizational allies, such as Greenbelt Alliance and East Bay Housing Organizations, have greater expertise and an increased focus on development that occurs within the current urban footprint.

However, SMD understands that population growth in the San Francisco Bay Area is occurring. In their draft Plan Bay Area 2040 (released April 2017), MTC estimates an additional 819,000 new households will be added to the nine-county Bay Area between 2010 and 2040, an increase of 31%. In the 10 cities adjacent to SMD’s area of interest and in unincorporated Contra Costa, the number of households is expected to increase from 289,400 in 2010 to 379,100 in 2040 (31% increase; Brentwood, Dublin and Concord show household growth greater than 40%). As such, SMD supports addressing the need for housing in a range of types and affordability levels.

Therefore, SMD is supportive of residential infill developments that address a specific set of evaluation criteria in a superior way.

Read Save Mount Diablo’s Infill Policy to learn more.