The county’s Planning Commission has recommended several changes to the county’s Subdivision Ordinance and to the county’s Resource Protection Ordinance.
The 6-0 vote January 12, with Planning Commissioner John Riess abstaining, sends the recommendations to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, whose approval is necessary to implement any changes. The ordinance changes themselves would carry an environmental Negative Declaration, although an Environmental Impact Report or a Mitigated Negative Declaration may be necessary for particular projects. The Negative Declaration for the ordinance changes was advertised for a 30-day public review period in August and September, and county staff determined that the changes would not have a significant effect on the environment.
One of the changes to the Resource Protection Ordinance involves the definition of a wetland and the “no-touch” rule. The Resource Protection Ordinance prohibits impacts to wetlands which are located within man-made conveyance systems such as culverts, ditches, and agricultural ponds, even if those wetlands are small in scale and have negligible biological value, and the no-touch rule also prohibits impacts to wetlands on lands which have been degraded by past legal disturbance activities to the point where they no longer have significant wetland-dependent sensitive species. The proposed amendments would lift the no-touch rule for those man-made systems if specific findings about their lack of biological function and value are made, although impacts to those areas may still require mitigation under the California Environmental Quality Act and other state and Federal regulations.
Another change exempts from the definition of a wetland ephemeral or perennial streams whose substratum is predominantly non-soil provided that the tributary drainage area is under 100 acres unless substantial evidence demonstrates that the stream contributes significantly to biological function or value.
“We don’t want to be protecting resources with no or negligible environmental value,” said county Department of Planning and Land Use project manager Jeff Murphy.
“What this does is make an exemption,” said DPLU director Gary Pryor. “Those are not wetlands unless somebody can put forth substantial evidence.”
Another change involves the size of a wetland buffer; the current ordinance only requires buffers of an appropriate size to protect habitat resources but does not contain minimum or maximum buffer widths. The new language would create width parameters, stipulating a distance of 50 to 200 feet from the edge of the wetland as appropriate based on functional habitat values and importance in supporting the wetland and upland biological community. The proposed amendment also stipulates that if oak woodland is adjacent to the wetland the entirety of the oak habitat up to 200 feet in width shall be part of the buffer.
Jack Phillips, the chair of the Valle de Oro Community Planning Group, disagreed with the 50-foot buffer allowance. “Reduction to 50 feet will provide very little protection for wetlands in urban areas,” he said.
Factors to be considered by county staff in determining buffer widths include existence of hydrophytic vegetation, condition of the existing wetland, whether the wetland or buffer serves a wildlife corridor, existence of sensitive species, connectivity, and the condition of the wetland upstream and downstream. Although the county has previously allowed minimum buffer widths of 25 feet, those are mostly for wetlands created by man-made drainage systems such as a culvert or ditch, and the change to the no-touch rule would eliminate most cases of buffers under 50 feet. The maximum 200-foot buffer does not limit the amount of open space required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
Additional wetlands language also covers permitted uses, allowing for the removal of diseased plants, habitat restoration, and crossings for roads, driveways, and trails and pathways. Any road crossing must meet requirements including the lack of a feasible alternative which avoids the wetland, location and design causing the least impact, an analysis of whether the crossing could feasibly serve adjoining properties and minimize the number of additional crossings, and mitigation of at least three acres to every one acre impacted including a minimum 1:1 creation ratio.
The ordinance changes allow for the elimination of artificial transient water sources, such as agricultural water runoff, which create and sustain wetlands. The current ordinance prohibits any impacts to the wetland area, but the amendment would allow a transient water source to be discontinued if the impacts are mitigated at a ratio of at least 3:1.
Another amendment involves pre-historic or historic sites; the definition of such sites would be limited to formally-designated sites or locally unique cultural resources.
The enforcement section of the Resource Protection Ordinance would be revised in its entirety. The current provisions only stipulate misdemeanor penalties for violations while the amendments would give the director of the Department of Planning and Land Use the authority to enforce all provisions and to order work to be stopped and corrections to be made if a violation is determined to have occurred. The amendments would also allow County Counsel to commence abatement or enjoinment procedures, would allow for administrative citations and for judicial injunctions of declatory relief, and would allow the director of the Department of Planning and Land Use to order restoration to the pre-violation conditions and to impose time deadlines for restoration activities. The enforcement amendments would also increase the maximum fine per violation from $1,000 to $2,500 and would allow for cost recovery to the county and for restitution to third parties.
“I believe the document works,” said Jim Esposito of Reynolds Communities. “The new document as written is a tool to staff and directions to developers.”
Changes to the Subdivision Ordinance portion on structural improvements for apartments converted to condominiums would include requiring that evidence be provided to show that the complex was originally constructed with approved building permits. Specifically-referenced codes would be replaced with a stipulation that the structure must comply with the building, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical codes in effect at the time of construction.
While that change could translate either into more restrictive or less restrictive building codes, depending on the age of the building, Planning Commissioner Read Miller noted that conversions from apartment to condominium units are a change of ownership and are similar to the sale of a house, in which infrastructure is not required to be upgraded to current standards. “The public’s health and safety has in no way been degraded,” Miller said. “All new construction, all remodeling, does have to meet today’s code.”
The Subdivision Ordinance amendments would also exempt from public road standards any private road ending in a cul-de-sac and not planned to connect to another public road if that road would serve an average daily traffic volume of fewer than 100 vehicles. The road easement would still be required to be at least 40 feet in width but would not be subject to right-of-way width requirements ranging between 52 and 60 feet. If the supervisors approve the amendments, the director of the county’s Department of Public Works would also be authorized to require that roads meeting private road standards be dedicated for public use and maintained by a Permanent Road Division zone.
Another Subdivision Ordinance change would require an analysis to assess the feasibility and practicality of extending on-site roads to a subdivision boundary so that they could connect with roads from adjacent parcels or existing public roads.
Another new clause would require extension of public water supply facilities adequate to serve a subdivision if that subdivision is within a water district’s sphere of influence and the main lines of the existing potable water supply are within 500 feet of that subdivision or if the subdivider has proposed the use of a public water supply to serve the subdivision.
Another Subdivision Ordinance amendment would make the boundary adjustment application review process consistent with other discretionary permit processes and would replace specific information requirements with a stipulation to provide data specified by the Department of Planning and Land Use director.