The Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan (SMSP) is the law of the land in the county’s unincorporated rural canyon areas, according to a 19-page legal analysis prepared by a prominent Orange County attorney specializing in land use and environmental cases.
A coalition of canyon organizations commissioned the study, after county planning officials told shocked residents, in April, that the SMSP’s controls on development, including limits on grading and building densities, were not enforceable. Enacted by a resolution of county supervisors in 1977, these controls “are not regulatory and provide guidelines and policies only,” said Colby Cataldi, deputy director of Orange County Public Works, due to the plan’s age and method of enactment. To be legally binding, a new SMSP would be required, said Cataldi, at an estimated cost of $1.6 million and three years of work.
But the new study by John McClendon of Liebold McClendon & Mann concludes otherwise: the existing SMSP “is not rendered ineffectual on account of it having been adopted by resolution and that its provisions are sufficiently ‘fundamental, mandatory and clear’ for the county and the courts to enforce them.” California law requires every city and county to enact a general plan, the study explains, as “a constitution for all future development” and it is its single most important planning document. Once a county or city has adopted a general plan, it may prepare more detailed specific plans — like the SMSP — to implement the general plan for all or part of the area covered by the general plan.
After analyzing relevant county codes, state statutes, general plan guidelines, and court cases, McClendon concludes: “To the extent the county or anyone else is either seeing tooth decay or no teeth at all in the Sil-Mod Specific Plan, I would suggest they take a closer look.”
The four canyon groups, Inter-Canyon League, Saddleback Canyons Conservancy, Canyon Land Conservation Fund, and Rural Canyons Conservation Fund, commissioned the study after County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, whose third district includes the SMSP area, acknowledged Cataldi’s analysis, but wrote that he also invited “a formal alternative opinion, which I believe will be useful to advance the discussion.” The groups have submitted the study to Spitzer for his response, and posted it online at blog.iclorg.org.
Ray Chandos, is a college professor who has lived in Trabuco Canyon for 33 years. He is secretary/treasurer of the Rural Canyons Conservation Fund (RCCF), founded in 1983 to encourage citizen involvement in land use and planning. The RCCF led a citizen movement that culminated in 1991 with the enactment of the Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan (FTSP).
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