Land Use & Real Estate Terms
BROWN ACT—California’s open meeting law for local government “legislative bodies,” which requires most actions be conducted in public and specifies standards for public participation. Certain exceptions allow closed session action Gov’t Code § 54950 et seq.
BUILDING COVERAGE—The amount of land covered or permitted to be covered by a building, usually measured in terms of percentage of a lot, or floor area ratio (FAR).
CALIFORNIA COASTAL ACT—(see also Coastal Commission/Coastal Development Permit) State law, originally enacted by the Legislature but later enacted by voter initiative, which requires special planning and permits for development in the coastal zone. Pub. Res. Code § 30000 et seq
COVENANTS, CONDITIONS AND RESTRICTIONS (CC&RS)—Deed restrictions that affect title to property that often are recorded by a master developer to govern development standards, easement rights and other matters for subdivisions.
CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENT QUALITY ACT (CEQA)—California statute requiring public agencies to identify and consider the environmental effects of a development project. Pub. Res. Code § 21000, et seq.
CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY (COO)—Official certification by a government agency that specific premises conform to provisions of the zoning ordinance (and building code) and may be used or occupied. A certificate is granted for new construction or for alteration or additions to an existing structure. Unless such a certificate is issued, a structure
cannot be occupied. Some government agencies permit issuance of temporary certificates of occupancy.
CHARTER CITY—A city incorporated under its own charter rather than under the general laws of the state. Charter cities have broader powers than do general law cites in matters of municipal affairs. Charter cities still are subject to state and federal constitutional limitations and are subject to state laws that are deemed to be of “statewide importance.” Cal. Const. Art XI § 3 and § 5; Gov’t Code § 34400 et seq. and § 34450 et seq.
COASTAL COMMISSION—State agency created by the California Coastal Act that reviews development plans within
the Coast Zone according to the California Coastal Act of 1976. In an area with a certified “Local Coastal Program” a local agency and not the Coastal Commission will have jurisdiction over many activities.
COMMUNITY FACILITIES DISTRICT (MELLO-ROOS)— Local agencies can levy special taxes to pay for public works and some public services pursuant to the formation of these special districts. Gov’t Code § 53311 et seq.
CONDEMNATION—The exercise by a governmental agency of the right of eminent domain to acquire property; just
compensation must be paid. Relocation assistance per Gov’t Code § 7260 et seq. also applies.
CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT (CUP)—Permit allowing a use under certain specified conditions, usually described
in a zoning code, which assure that the use will not be detrimental to the public health, safety, and welfare and will not impair the integrity and character of the zone district. Conditions are imposed to reduce the impacts.
CONDOMINIUM—A dwelling unit in a residential development or a space in an office of commercial project that is created under a legal arrangement specifying that the unit is individually owned but the common areas are owned, controlled, and maintained through an organization consisting of all the individuals owners.
CORTESE-KNOX-HERTZBERG LOCAL GOVERNMENT REORGANIZATION ACT—California law that governs city and special district boundaries, incorporation, spheres of influence and dissolution; and also creates a local agency
formation commission (LAFCO) in every county. Gov’t Code § 56000 et seq.
DAVIS-STIRLING COMMON INTEREST DEVELOPMENT ACT—California state law that governs common interest developments (homeowners’ associations) including their development and operation. Civ. Code § 1350 et seq.
DEED RESTRICTION—A private legal restriction on the use of land that is contained in the deed to the property or
otherwise formally recorded. Deed restrictions “run with the land” and bind successive owners and occupants of property.
DENSITY BONUS/INCENTIVES—Financial or other types of incentives to a developer that builds affordable housing. Density bonuses are mandatory of a developer builds a certain percentage of affordable housing. Gov’t Code §
65915 et seq.
DENSITY TRANSFER—A process that allows an allowable density in one area to be used in another area. Where
density transfer is permitted, the average density over an area would remain constant, but allow for internal variations.
DENSITY ZONING—Averaging residential density over an entire parcel and placing no restrictions on lot size or dwelling type.
DEVELOPER FEE OR DEVELOPMENT IMPACT FEE— Counties and cities can charge a developer an impact fee to
pay for public facilities; state law requires that certain nexus findings be made to ensure there is a fit between the fee
charged and the service provided. Gov’t. Code § 66000 et seq. See also Mitigation Fee Act.
DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT—An agreement adopted by ordinance between a developer and a city or county
establishing the conditions under which a particular development may occur. The agreement must be recorded on the title. The local government “vests” the regulations applicable to the site for an agreed-upon period prior to actual development to allow preparation and approval of plans. The agreement also frequently vests a particular project or ability to develop. Gov’t Code § 65864 et seq.
DISSOLUTION STATUTES (AB 1X26 AND AB 1484)— Legislation adopted in 2011 and 2012 that abolished
Redevelopment Agencies and established a process to wind down the affairs of Redevelopment Agencies by creating “successor agencies.”
DOWNZONING—Change in the zoning classification of land to one permitting development that is less intensive or dense than the prior zoning.
EASEMENT—The portion of a property for which access or use is allowed by a party other than the owner and which is
EMINENT DOMAIN—The constitutional right of public entites to acquire or take private property for public use or
public purpose upon paying just compensation and due process to the owner. Cal. Const. Act. I § 19; Code Civ. Proc. § 1230.010 et seq.
ENCROACHMENT—Any obstruction into a right of way or adjacent property.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT (EIR)—An EIR is the public document used by government agencies pursuant to CEQA that analyzes the significant environmental effects of a proposed project, compares alternatives and discusses possible methods to reduce or avoid the environmental impacts. When no significant environmental impact will result, a “negative declaration” is issued.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT—Environment impact document prepared pursuant to the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
EXCLUSIVE NEGOTIATING AGREEMENT (ENA)—A term for agreements between parties to exclusively negotiate during a particular time period. Often used by government agencies and private parties to document the parameters of a future sale of public property to a private owner.
FINAL SUBDIVISION MAP—Map on an approved subdivision that is recorded, usually showing surveyed lot lines, street rights-of-way, easements, monuments, and distances, angles, and bearings pertaining to the exact dimensions of all parcels, street lines, etc.
FAR (FLOOR AREA RATIO)—Gross floor area of all buildings on a lot divided by the lot area.
FORM-BASED ZONING—Zoning regulations regulating property and uses based on design and physical form of
buildings, streetscapes and public places with less emphasis on allowed uses inside buildings.
GENERAL LAW CITY—A city that relies on state laws to spell out their governance structure and duties. Gov’t Code
§ 36501 et seq. A city is either a general law city or a charter city.
GENERAL PLAN—Required document adopted by the local legislative body of a city or county to establish the policies regarding its jurisdiction and long-term development in the form of a map and accompanying textual elements. State law requires certain “elements” to a General Plan. Sometimes called a comprehensive plan or master plan, it is often characterized as the constitution for development. Gov’t Code § 65300 et seq.
INCLUSIONARY ZONING—A zoning policy and program that requires the provision of affordable housing or payment of in lieu of fees as part of new residential development.
INFILL DEVELOPMENT—Development of new housing or other buildings on scattered vacant sites in a built-up area. In CEQA, this has a specific definition in CEQA Guidelines.
INITIAL STUDY—Under CEQA, a preliminary analysis of the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project. If the lead agency determines that there is a fair argument that the project may individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the environment, as EIR must be prepared.
INVERSE CONDEMNATION—The effective taking or reduction in value of a property as a result of public action, in contrast to a direct taking through eminent domain.
LOCAL AGENCY FORMATION COMMISSION (LAFCO)— Commission in each county that regulates annexations,
spheres of influence detachments, dissolutions and incorporations. Gov’t Code § 56000 et seq.
LOT LINE ADJUSTMENT—An action under the Subdivision Map Act whereby 4 or fewer legal lots have their boundaries adjusted but which does not create any additional lots. Lot line adjustments do not require the preparation of a Tentative Tract Map or Final Map.
MELLO-ROOS COMMUNITY FACILITIES ACT (MELLO-ROOS ACT)—Local agencies can levy special taxes to pay for public works and some public services by creating. See also “community facilities districts.” Gov’t Code § 53311 et seq.
MILLS ACT (HISTORIC PRESERVATION)—A contract to preserve a historic property. In exchange for entering the contract, an owner obtains a lower property tax assessment. Gov’t Code § 50280 et seq.; Rev. & Tax. Code § 439.
MITIGATION MONITORING REPORTING PROGRAM (MMRP)—Program adopted as part of a mitigated negative declaration or environmental impact report that establishes a reporting system to determine and schedule compliance with the mitigation measures adopted as part of the MND or EIR.
MITIGATION FEE ACT (DEVELOPMENT IMPACT FEES)—A state law allowing counties and cities to charge development impact fees on development to pay for public facilities. Requires the preparation of a “nexus study” and the adoption of certain findings. Gov’t Code § 66000 et seq.
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT (NEPA)— NEPA requires that federal agencies prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for any project that may adversely affect the environment.
NEGATIVE DECLARATION (ND) AND MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION (MND)—(ND) Under CEQA,
a statement that describes why a project will not have a significant adverse effect on the environment, and that may propose measures to avoid all possible adverse effects. (MND) Under CEQA, a negative declaration that includes
measures needed to mitigate or avoid a project’s significant effects on the environment.
NONCONFORMING LOT—A lot that does not meet current zoning requirements.
NONCONFORMING STRUCTURE OR BUILDING—A building that does not meet current zoning requirements.
NONCONFORMING USE—A land use that does not meet current zoning requirements.
OFF-SITE IMPROVEMENT—Improvements or facilities that may be required as a part of the approval of a project-such as the installation of streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, street trees, etc., that are located off-site from the project, often are publicly-owned property.
OVERLAY ZONE—Set of zoning provisions that apply to a site in addition to those of the underlying district. Developments within an overlay zone must conform to the requirements of both zones (or the more restrictive one).
PARCEL—Real property, lot, or contiguous group of lots in single ownership or under single control, and usually considered a unit for purposes of development. Not every parcel is a legal lot capable of transfer.
PARCEL MAP—A subdivision map that divides a parcel into four of fewer lots. Current state law does not require a
Tentative Map or Final Map.
PERMIT STREAMLINING ACT—Public agencies must meet statutory deadlines for decisions on certain administrative/ non-legislative decisions related to development projects. Gov’t Code § 65920 et seq.
PLANNED UNIT DEVELOPMENT (PUD)—Land use zoning that allows for adoption of a set of development standards specific to a particular project. PUD zones usually do not contain detailed development standards.
PLANNING COMMISSION (PLANNING AGENCY)—The body, appointed by the city council or board of supervisors, charged with developing the general plan, formulating and administering the zoning map and ordinance, and reviewing development applications. A planning commission’s decisions may be final, recommendations to the legislative body or appealable to the legislative body.
PROPOSITION 13 (1978)—Limits the property tax rate to one percent of assessed value, limits reassessments, requires voter approval for special taxes. Cal. Const. Art. XIII A.
PROPOSITIONS 218 (1996)/26 (2010)—Requires voter or property owner approval for local taxes, assessments,
and fees. Cal. Const. Arts. XIII C and XIII D; Gov’t Code § 53750 et seq.
QUIMBY ACT/QUIMBY FEES—Cities and counties can require a subdivider to dedicate land for parks or pay an in
lieu fee. Gov’t Code § 66477.
REDEVELOPMENT (COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT LAW)—Prior to the Dissolution Statutes, a redevelopment agency could use tax-increment revenues and eminent domain to revitalize a blighted area. Cal. Cost. Art. XVI, § 16, Health & Safety Code § 33000 et seq. All development activities by RDAs ceased on June 27, 2011.
“RUN WITH THE LAND”—A term for a covenant or restriction –either contained in a deed or imposed by local government – that is binding on the present and all future owners of the property. CUP’s are restrictions that run with the land.
SPECIAL TAX—Special tax revenues are restricted to special uses. Special taxes require two-thirds voter approval. Cal. Const. Arts, XIII A, § 4 and XIII C., § 2; Gov’t Code § 50075 et seq., § 53722 et seq. and § 53970 et seq.
SPECIFIC PLAN—Under California’s Planning and Zoning Law, a plan adopted by a city or county to implement its
general plan for designated areas. A special plan contains the locations and standards for land use densities, streets, and other public facilities in greater detail than the general plan map and text. Gov’t Code § 65450. A specific plan’s provisions supercede provisions in a zoning code.
SPHERE OF INFLUENCE—The probable ultimate physical boundary and service limits of a local agency as approved
by a LAFCO, identifying the area available to a city for future annexation.
SPOT ZONING—Zoning of a parcel of land in a manner that is inconsistent or incompatible with surrounding zoning or
SUBDIVISION—Division of any unit or units of land for the purpose of sale, lease, or financing.
SUBDIVISION MAP ACT—State law that regulates the subdivision of land with tentative maps and parcel maps. Gov’t Code § 66410 et seq.
TRANSFER OF DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS (TDR)—The ability to transfer development rights and/or density from one site to another site.
TENTATIVE SUBDIVISION MAP—A map showing the design and improvement of a proposed subdivision of five or
more lots. A city or county must place on the map all the restrictions deemed necessary for the division. Additional conditions or substantive design changes cannot be required once a tentative subdivision map is approved. A tentative
map “lasts” for two years unless extended and is superceded by a Final Map.
TRANSIENT OCCUPANCY TAX (TOT)—Often called a “hotel or “bed” tax, this local tax is a tax on hotel or short
TRIBAL CONSULTATION (SB 18)—A city or county processing General Plan (Amendments) and Specific Plan
(Amendments) adoptions must notify applicable tribal governments and provide tribal governments the opportunity to consult on projects. Gov’t Code § 55352.3.
VARIANCE—Permission to depart from the literal lot design requirements of a zoning ordinance. For a variance to be
granted, the local decision-making body must make findings that, as to a specific parcel, a hardship would exist if a variance were not granted and that granting it would not constitute a special privilege. Technically, variances apply to sites and structures, not uses.
VESTED RIGHT—A right that has become absolute and fixed and cannot be defeated or denied by subsequent conditions or a change in regulations, unless it is taken and paid for.
WATER SUPPLY ASSESSMENT (WSA, SBS 610 AND 221)— Certain large developments must analyze availability of water supply.
WILLIAMSON ACT CONTRACT—The Williamson Act (Govt. Code § 51200 et seq.) authorizes local governments to
designate “agricultural preserves” and allows for taxation of land within those preserves based on agricultural use, rather than the “highest and best use.” In return for this preferential tax treatment, the landowner must agree to maintain the land in agricultural uses for a minimum of ten years. Automatically renews every ten years unless cancelled or terminated.
ZERO LOT LINE—Development approach where a building is sited on one or more lot lines to allow more flexibility in site design and to increase the amount of usable open space on the lot.
ZONING CODE—Ordinances enacted by a city or county that divides a community into districts or zones within which
permitted and special uses are established. Gov’t Code § 65800 et seq.