White Papers

The White Papers below can answer many of the questions you may have about the planning process, requirements of specific jurisdictions, and the history of city planning.

Local Regulatory Information

Guide to local jurisdictions

Case Sudy: Irish Hills Paza

Commercial Retail in San Luis Obispo

Case Study: Broad Street Mixed Use

Mixed-Use in San Luis Obispo

Case Study: Orcutt Union School District

Enhanced revenue from surplus land


Frequently Asked Questions


Advisory Body/Advisory Committee

A body that provides non-binding strategic advice to the management of a corporation, organization, or foundation. The informal nature of an advisory board gives greater flexibility in structure and management compared to the board of directors.


The American Institute of Certified Planners provides the only nationwide, independent verification of planners’ qualifications. Certified planners pledge to uphold high standards of practice, ethics, and professional conduct, and to keep their skills sharp and up to date by continuously pursuing advanced professional education.


The process of changing a property’s governmental boundaries, such as bringing property into the City limits. Cities annex territory to provide urbanizing areas with municipal services and to exercise regulatory authority necessary to protect public health and safety.

Area Plan

The long-range development plan for a local or regional area that provides detailed information and solutions to guide the future physical and regulatory characteristics for that particular area of a city.

Board of Supervisors

Oversees most county departments and programs and annually approves their budgets; supervises the official conduct of county officers and employees; controls all county property; appropriates and spends money on programs that meet county residents’ needs, and makes land use and other decisions.

Building Permit

A building permit must be issued by a municipal agency or officer before activities such as construction, alteration, or expansion of buildings or improvements on the land may legally commence. Each jurisdiction establishes threshold levels to determine when a building permit is required.

California Coastal Commission

Established by voter initiative in 1972 (Proposition 20) and later made permanent by the Legislature through adoption of the Coastal Act. The Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial state agency composed of twelve members; six of the voting commissioners are locally elected officials and six are appointed by the public. There are three (3) non-voting members representing the Resources Agency, the CA State Transportation Agency, and the State Lands Commission. The CACC plans and regulates the use of land and water in the coastal zone.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

CEQA, a law promulgated in the ‘70s, generally requires state and local government agencies to inform decision makers and the public about the potential adverse environmental impacts of proposed projects, and to reduce those environmental impacts to the extent feasible.

Certificate of Compliance

A certificate of compliance “legalizes” a parcel of land.   Certificates are issued if they conform with the jurisdiction’s Subdivision Code and the State’s Subdivision Map Act.

Coastal Development Permit

The regulatory mechanism by which proposed developments in the coastal zone are brought into compliance with the policies of Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act.

Conditional Use Permit (CUP)

Allows a city or county to consider through a public hearing process special uses which may be essential or desirable to a particular community, but which are not allowed as a matter of right within a zoning district.

Development Permit

Any permit issued by the city/county, or other authorized governing agency, for construction, land use, or other alteration of land.


An easement involves the right to use a parcel of land to benefit an adjacent parcel of land, such as to provide vehicular or pedestrian access to a road or sidewalk. Technically known as an easement appurtenant.

Environmental Impact Report (EIR)

Typically, a third party-prepared report that documents in detail the probable environmental impacts of a proposed project to provide the decision-making body and the public . The EIR process includes publication and public review of a draft report. The final EIR incorporates responses to all comments received during the review period and also proposes measures designed to mitigate significant environmental impacts and a program for monitoring mitigation measures.

Final Map

Final maps are what convert a tentative tract or parcel map from a conceptual approval into a legal parcel(s).

General Plan

A broad, long-range policy document or blueprint that guides future development and is a comprehensive collection of goals and policies related to a multitude of aspects of community life. There are typically seven (7) mandated elements to a general plan: Land Use, Open Space, Conservation, Housing, Circulation, Moise, and Safety. The legislative body of a city or county may update a general plan only four (4) times per year.

Infill Development

Development or redevelopment of land that has been bypassed, remained vacant, and/or is underused as a result of the continuing urban development process. Use of such lands for new housing and/or other urban development is considered a more desirable alternative than to continue to extend the outer development pattern laterally and horizontally thus necessitating a higher expenditure for capital improvements than would be required for infill development. The use of infill development, among others, promotes the best use of resources and also will tend to have a positive impact upon tax and other fiscal policies.

Land Use Entitlement/Land Use Permit

A discretionary permit and legal agreement between a landowner or its agent and the governing municipality or regulatory agency to allow for the development of a certain land use. Permit conditions of approval are tied to the land and not the owner/developer.

Land Use “101”

The City of San Luis Obispo, CA prepared a field guide to the legal concepts of Land Use and Planning Law. 

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Lead Agency

The public agency that has the principal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project. Under CEQA, the lead agency, has the primary responsibility for determining what level of environmental review is prepared for a project and for preparing and approving the appropriate document. 

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Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO

Independent regulatory commissions created by the California Legislature to control the boundaries of cities and most special districts, as well as to regulate the various public facilities and services that serve within them (e.g., water, sewer, fire protection, parks, libraries, airports, etc.).

Lot Line Adjustment

Section 66412(d) of the Subdivision Map Act specifies that lot line adjustment is between four or fewer adjoining parcels, where the land taken from one parcel is added to adjoining parcel, and where a greater number of parcels than originally existed is not thereby created. The process is based upon the creation of lots that are “equal to or better than” the current configuration.

Minor Use Permit

Provides a low-cost permit process where a full public hearing process is not required for reviewing uses and activities that may be appropriate in the applicable zoning district, but whose effects on site and surroundings cannot be determined before being proposed for a specific site.

Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND)

A mitigated negative declaration is a statement by a local government that a limited number of significant environmental impacts have been identified and that these impacts can be readily mitigated if the prescribed measures are implemented. The MND has, to a significant degree, replaced the Focused Environmental Impact Report.

Municipal Code

The laws and ordinances passed within a specific municipality or local governing body, which may not, in their implementation, violate state or federal laws.

Overlay Zone/Combining Designation

Overlay zoning is a regulatory tool that creates a special zoning district, placed over an existing base zone(s), which designates special provisions in addition to those in the underlying base zone.

Planning Commission

A body of citizens, usually having seven members, that serve within local government, acting as an advisory group to the municipal governing body on issues and policies related to planning, land use regulation, and community development.

Public Improvements

Any construction, reconstruction, or upgrading of a water, sanitary sewer, or storm sewer line, public streets (including bicycle lanes) or sidewalk or undergrounding of public utilities.

Specific Plan

A comprehensive planning and zoning document for a defined geographic region of the City/County that guides implementation the General Plan through a special set of development standards applied to that particular geographic area.


The division of a lot, tract, or parcel of land into two or more lots, plats, sites, or other divisions of land for the purpose, whether immediate or future, of sale or of building development.

Tentative Map/Vesting Tentative Map

A map to be prepared for the purpose of showing the design and improvement of a proposed subdivision, and to also show the existing conditions in and around such proposed subdivision. Approval of this map confers a vested right to proceed with development for a specified period of time after recordation at the option of the subdivider.

Williamson Act/Agricultural Conservation

Also known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, permits local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners restricting parcels of land to agricultural or open space use.  In return, landowner property tax assessments are much reduced, based upon farming and open space use as opposed to full market value.

Zoning Code/Zoning Regulations

The legally established text for implementing the vision, goals, and policies of a community’s General Plan. Zoning regulates the use of land within the community’s jurisdiction.