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

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *