Chandos: Study Finds Canyons Land Use Plan Legally Binding

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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

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).

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

Smisek: Another Point of View on The Sil-Mod Plan

Foothills Sentry: Open letter to Supervisor Spitzer, Save Our Specific Plans

  • David Zenger

    Public Works, RDMD, etc., etc. have been spouting this “resolution only” baloney for years. They gave Bill Campbell a legal toehold to do whatever he damn well pleased for his well-heeled supporters in the canyons.

    This included flouting the FTSP (that WAS adopted by ordinance) and finally gutting major provisions of it completely.

    Campbell’s largess extended to the taxpayers building free storm drains, bridges, road improvements and stream bed remediation that only benefited adjacent property owners.

    And nobody ever said a word.

    Now they’re using the old “it’s too expensive” and Spitzer is parroting “we’ll have to start all over” routine. Man, this crap gets old.

    • Rivett

      I did a little research and yep, it’s 100% BS.

      General Plans are required by law to be passed by resolution, and they can’t just be ignored. Specific Plans can be passed either by resolution or ordinance but it doesn’t matter, because if the provisions or the General Plan are enforceable then the provisions of a Specific Plan (also passed by resolution) are no less so.

      p.4 paragraph 5:

      “The adoption of a specific plan is a legislative act similar to adoption of a general plan or zoning ordinance.”

      • David Zenger

        Right. Rick Goacher and I pushed back against this bovine crapola when we were on the Planning Commission together; and Bill Campbell had the Public Works staff push back.

        The Planning Division at the County was (and seemingly still is) completely bought-and-paid for.

        Man, you needed (and seemingly still do) wings to stay above the BS.

        • Rivett

          Crazy stuff. If you haven’t already, you’ll appreciate reading the legal analysis linked in the article. Just about completely eviscerates the ‘non-binding’ argument.