Authority and Procedures
Numerous ruling by various courts (California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court) have established the following precedents in land use regulation:
- The legal basis for all land use regulation is the police power of the City to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its residents.
- Land use regulations are a manifestation of the local police powers conferred by the California Constitution, not an exercise of authority delegated by statute.
- Under the California Constitution an ordinance cannot conflict with general laws that preempt the subject matter.
- The police power is an elastic power. Regulations are sustained under today’s complex conditions which but a short time ago might have been condemned as arbitrary and unreasonable.
- Courts have also held that regulations affecting economic interests in real property are an appropriate exercise of police power.
- The U.S. Supreme Court has held that land use regulations may be enacted through the police power to enhance quality of life by preserving the character and desirable aesthetic features of a city.
- The California Supreme Court has stated that “the land use restriction withstands constitutional attack if it is fairly debatable that the restriction in fact bears a reasonable relation to the general welfare.”
The following state laws outline the legal framework within which a city must exercise its land use functions:
- CA Gov’t. Code § 65100 et seq. - Establishment of local planning agencies, commissions and departments
- CA Gov’t. Code § 65300 et seq. - Authority for and Scope of General Plans
- CA Gov’t. Code § 65800 et seq. - Zoning Regulations
- CA Gov’t. Code § 66410 et seq. - Subdivision Map Act
- CA Gov’t. Code § 65864 et seq. - Development agreements
- Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq. - California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
- Cal. Code of Regulations, Chapter 3, Article 1 §§ 15000 – 15387 - California Environmental Quality Act CEQA Guidelines)
- CA Gov’t. Code § 54950 et seq. - Ralph M. Brown Act (also known as the Open Meeting Act or simply the Brown Act). Pursuant to the Brown Act, all meetings, including study sessions, must be open and public. This means that a quorum of commissioners can discuss commission business in a public meeting only.
- CA Gov’t. Code § 65920 et seq. - Permit Streamlining Act
Los Angeles City Charter (LACC)
The following sections of the LACC define the authority of the Mayor, City Council, the City and Area Planning Commissions as it relates to Planning Cases:
- Conditional Use Permits and other similar quasi-judicial approvals (LACC Sec. 563(b)
- Projects requiring multiple approvals (LACC Sec. 564)
- Appeal process (LACC Sec. 563 (b)(2))
Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC)
LAMC Chapter 1, also known as the Planning and Zoning Code, includes the following sections relating to various discretionary actions requiring application to the Department of City Planning for investigation and determination of these cases:
- LAMC 12.32.F - Land Use Legislative Actions, Zone Changes and Height District Changes
- LAMC 12.32.R - Land Use Legislative Actions, Building Lines
- LAMC 11.5.7 - Specific Plan Procedures
- LAMC 11.5.6 - General Plan
- LAMC 11.5.8 - General Plan Review
- LAMC 14.00 - Public Benefit Projects
- LAMC 12.24 - Conditional Use Permits and Other Similar Quasi-Judicial Approvals
- LAMC 12.27 - Variances
- LAMC 16.05 - Site Plan Review
- LAMC 12.32 H - Land Use Legislative Actions, Amendments of the T Classification and Clarifications of the Q Classification or D Limitation
Types of Cases Referred to the City Engineer
City Planning is the lead City agency in reviewing and approving development applications in the City. The following applications will ALWAYS be referred to BOE for review and comment:
- All subdivision applications
- All Zone Change applications
The following types of cases or projects may be referred to BOE from Planning for review and the possible imposition of required street dedication and improvement conditions by the Filing Notification and Distribution Sheet in conjunction with Planning Department approval:
- City Planning Cases and Zoning Administration Cases involving new construction, additional dwelling units or additional floor area
- New construction of a commercial, industrial or mixed use (with residential) building
- Additional floor area for an existing commercial, industrial, or mixed use building
- Residential new construction that results in three or more dwelling units
- Additional floor area that results in expanding the building envelope and adding additional dwelling units in an existing residential building
- Legalization of any commercial, industrial, or residential floor area built without permits
- Appeal of Hillside Ordinance determination
- Libraries, museums, fire or police stations, or governmental enterprises
- Affordable housing developments
- Recreation or community centers
- Second dwellings on large lots
- Hotels and motels under various conditions in various zones
- Mini-shopping centers and commercial corner developments
- Drive-through fast food establishments
- Conditional Use Permits
- Plan Approvals
- Specific Plan Exemptions
- Specific Plan Permits
- Site Plan Reviews
- Zone Variances
- Zoning Administrator’s Adjustments and Determinations
- To permit buildings on lots in the R1 zone which are located on a Substandard Hillside Limited Street
- Joint living and working quarters for artists and artisans in commercial and industrial buildings and such quarters having reduced parking
- Research and Development centers
- Public and private elementary, middle and high schools
- Storage Facilities
- Hospitals or sanitariums
BOE Investigation and Report Fees
The appropriate BOE fees must be paid per LAMC 61.16 - Summary of Fees for the Bureau of Engineering and LAMC 19.02 - Filing Fees - Division of Land and Private Street Maps and Appeals. In a typical referral packet from City Planning, the following is included:
- Planning case number assigned by the City Planning at the time of payment
- Two (2) copies of the Master Land Use Permit Application
- Two (2) copies of the Radius Map or abutting owners map
- Two (2) copies of the Plot Plan
Upon receipt of the City Planning referral packet, BOE will generate a fee letter (See Fee Letter) as well as a Report will provide specific recommendations for dedication and improvements to City Planning.
The fee and any additional materials can by submitted at one of the following locations:
- Bureau of Engineering, Land Development & GIS Division
201 N. Figueroa St., Suite 290, L.A., CA 90012
- Bureau of Engineering, Valley District Office
6262 Van Nuys Blvd., 2nd Floor, Van Nuys, CA 91401
When the fee is paid, LGD will send a copy of the accompanying materials to the appropriate BOE District Office for investigation. Planning cases are logged into the computer system into the “Planning Case Referral” system (see sample Planning Case Referrals Status Page) and the following pertinent information is entered:
- Case Number and project information
- Date received
- Date paid
- Hearing date
- Date case forwarded to District Office
- Date report received from District office
- Date recommendation report sent to City Planning
Street Design Standards Committee
Per LAMC 17.05 - Design and Standards, the Streets Standards Committee is composed of the Director of Planning as Chairman, the City Engineer and the General Manager of the Department of Transportation. The Committee shall recommend to the Planning Commission the minimum widths of rights of way and roadway improvement standards for all classes of public and private streets and alleys. The present Standard Street Dimensions (Standard Plan S-470-1 - Standard Street Dimensions) was created by the Streets Standards Committee and was adopted by the Planning Commission in May 13, 1999.
Conform to GeneralCommunity, and Specific Plans
Each Planning Case approved must contain a finding that it conforms to both the General, Community, and Specific Plans. It must conform to land use, zoning, circulation, drainage, housing and every other element of the General and/or Specific Plan(s). In addition, any special specific plans such as the Warner Center, Mulholland Scenic Parkway, etc., must be considered and the terms or conditions of the planning case approval must reflect the spirit and intent of the Specific Plans.
City Engineer's Standards
All streets and highways (classified as Boulevards, Avenues, Collectors, and Locals) must conform in alignment and grade to the City Engineer's design specifications. The street widths should conform to Standard Plan S-470-1 - Standard Street Dimensions. The maximum grade for streets should be based on the criteria under the Street Design Manual, Sections E 321.1 and Section E 531.111. The horizontal alignments for all streets should be designed in accordance with the Street Design Manual, Part E.
Scope of Street Improvements
Where a proposed planning case action adjoins one side of an existing street, full dedication and improvement for at least one half the ultimate street width shall be required of the Planning Case.
Widening of Existing Substandard Roadways
Street Designations and Standard Roadway Dimensions
Each of the City’s arterial streets included in the General Plan Circulation System Maps (found in the 2035 Mobility Plan) have been re-designated from the 1999 Transportation Element to reflect the new arterial types included in the Street Standard Plan S-470-1. S-470-1 includes five arterial road types (Boulevard I, II, Avenue I, II, III) whereas the previous S-470-0 had only three (Major Highway Class I, II, Secondary Highway). The expanded range of dimensions more accurately reflect the range of street dimensions that exist today and acknowledges there are many arterial streets that are, and should remain, narrower than their current designation would permit. In a majority of instances, today’s arterial streets have not yet been expanded to reflect the full dimension envisioned by the current designation, as physical changes to the roadway are not made until adjacent parcels are redeveloped.
Per the 2035 Mobility Plan, the following table is the street designations and standard roadway dimensions for all streets in the City of Los Angeles, unless modified by Specific Plans or other legislation.
Dedication and Improvement Requirements
Dedication should be required in accordance with the current standards in effect (Special Order 010-0900 and the Street Design Manual). Additional information regarding Highway Dedication Processing can be found under Other BOE Permits/Processes in the Technical Procedures section, subsection Dedication Processing.
In the hillside terrain area, deviations from the standard required right of way widths may occur. The primary concern is whether the required roadway and right of way widths are determined to be sufficient to perform the minimum functions for the classification of the street being considered.
When an incremental roadway widening is determined to be necessary, Special Order 010-0900 and engineering judgement should be used on whether a physical widening of the roadway can be feasibly accomplished. If not, the possibility of an option for cash payment in lieu of construction can be explored (if approved by District Engineer or LGD Division Engineer) and the following considerations should be made for this determination:
- Probability of further land development in the block within 10 years
- Capital Improvement Projects or Assessment Projects covering the adjacent frontages within 5 years
- Existing buildings, terrain or other physical constraints would reduce the parkway width to less than 5 feet
- Condition of existing improvements
- Street frontage to be widened is sufficient for suitable transitions on both ends of the widening
- Street trees
- Traffic hazards created by incremental widening
- Any historical features
Certificate of Occupancy: Per Ordinance No. 165,081, the Department of Building and Safety will not issue the Certificate of Occupancy until LGD staff have confirmed all required public improvements have been completed. Per LAMC 91.109.3 - Issuance of Certificates. (Amended by Ord. No. 185,587, Eff. 7/16/18.) When required by LAMC 91.109.1, after the receipt and approval of the final inspection report from each of the divisions of the Department, and after the City Engineer has reported that all required public improvements have been completed, the Superintendent of Building shall issue a Certificate of Occupancy, without charge, to the owner of the building. Duplicates of the certificate may be secured upon the payment of the duplication fee required by ordinance.
Department of City Planning
The Department of City Planning is charged with the responsibility of preparing, maintaining, and implementing a General Plan for the development of the City. The General Plan consists of the Framework Element, which provides overall guidance for the future of the City and various other citywide elements including state-mandated elements like Transportation, Open Space, and the Land Use among others. The Land Use Element is largely made up of community plans that are within an allowable range and intensity of land uses, as well as other matters relating to the use of land unique to each of the City’s many communities. City Planning updates these plans as needed.
City Planning implements the General Plan utilizing a variety of tools, mainly through the application of zoning regulations and the division of land into separate parcels. Traditional zones, specific plans, overlay districts, special use permits, such as conditional uses, and a variety of other instruments all regulate the use of land. The zoning portion of the Municipal Code, specific plans, and other regulatory tools establish development standards applicable to matters such as heights of structures, setbacks, lot coverage, open space, parking, design and the like. Those seeking relief from the strict application of these regulations, apply to City Planning, which can grant relief, when justified, through use of variances or other similar tools tailored for specific purposes. City Planning, in conjunction with other City Agencies, regulates the division of land into separate lots in accordance with the State Subdivision Map Act (For more information please refer to the "Advisory Agency" subsection under the Tentative Subdivision section.). Planning also reports on the acquisition or development of land for public use.
City Planning Commission
Per LA Charter Section 551 - City Planning Commission, the City Planning Commission is a nine-member commission who serve without salary, except for a small attendance fee. The Planning Commission is responsible for giving advice and making recommendations to the Mayor, Council, Director of Planning, and other City departments and agencies with respect to zoning ordinances, amendments to the General Plan and related activities, including legislation. The Commission studies planning policy matter and makes reports and recommendations to other governmental officers or agencies as may be necessary to implement and secure compliance with the General Plan; and performs other functions prescribed by the Charter or ordinance. The Commission holds public hearings to hear evidence that forms the basis of its decisions.
Area Planning Commissions
Per LA Charter Section 552 - Area Planning Commission, the Area Planning Commissions each consist of five members who serve without salary, except for a small attendance fee. These commissions largely serve as appeals boards for actions taken by the Department or the Zoning Administrator on such matters as subdivisions, conditional uses and variances. When authorized to do so by ordinance, the Area Planning Commissions also act as original decision makers on some zoning matters and advise the City Planning Commission and the Department on changes to the General Plan affecting their geographical areas. The Commission holds public hearings to hear evidence that forms the basis of its decisions.
Director of Planning
Per LA Charter Section 553 - Director of Planning, the Director of Planning is the chief administrative officer of the Department and is responsible for the appointment and removal of all employees, annual departmental budget preparation and the expenditure of funds. The Director is assisted by three Deputy Directors who take responsibility for overseeing the various operations of the Planning Department. The Director is responsible for:
- Preparing the General Plan of the City and amendments to the General Plan
- Zoning and other land use regulations and requirements, including maps of all districts and zones
- Investigating and acting on the design and improvement of all subdivisions of land as the advisory agency under the State Subdivision Map Act
- Additional powers and duties as provided by ordinance.
Community Planning Divisions
Per LAMC, Chapter 1 - General Provisions, three (3) Community Planning Divisions, the Valley, West/Coastal and Metro, prepare and revise plans for various sections of the City and recommend changes in zoning, site plan review applications and other matters involving specific plans and other special zoning tools to the Area and City Planning Commissions and the City Council. This organization is subject to change.
Office of Zoning Administration
Per LAMC, Chapter 1 - General Provisions, the Office of Zoning Administrator is responsible for investigating and making determinations on all applications for variances from zoning ordinances, many conditional uses and other special zoning permits. A determination made by a Zoning Administrator is final unless appealed. Another function of the Office of Zoning Administration is performed within the Code Studies Section which is responsible for conducting comprehensive studies resulting in amendments to the Planning and Zoning Code. The Department’s environmental review function for private applications is also located in this division. The division also operates the public counter office located at 201 North Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Investigation and Report
Communication with District Offices
LGD will send a copy of the application to the appropriate BOE District Office for investigation and reporting. The District office should report back to LGD in a timely manner. BOE will only start its investigation and report upon receipt of payment and will work diligently to complete its findings within BOE management's established time frames. Basic engineering recommendations should include the following:
- Street Dedication on all frontages of the subject property
- Improvements required on all streets fronting the property including
- Additional surfacing to provide a half roadway or half alley with center gutter per current Street Standards
- Asphalt paving
- Integral curb and gutter
- Full width concrete sidewalks
- Transitions to existing improvements
- Access ramps at intersections to comply with ADA requirements (BOE staff can contact the ADA Coordinator for any questions about requirements)
- Storm drains
- Street trees
- Street Lighting
- Amount due for Sewerage Facilities Charges and Bonded Sewer Fees
- LADOT Parking and Driveway Plan
- Revocable Permits (as required)
- Excavation and/or Lateral Support
The ZA / CPC / DIR / APC Report format should be used when BOE prepares the report.
Preparation of Report to City Planning
Before the actual writing of the report starts, LGD staff must carefully analyze all available data relating to the Planning Case. This includes reviewing:
- Information received from the District office(s)
- Field notes
- Field meetings
- Meeting notes
- Plans and profiles
- Topographic maps
LGD should review each Planning Case from a "zoomed out" perspective taking into consideration how the case will affect, or be affected by, other uses of land in the City of Los Angeles.
Land Development Information
Other Planning Cases
If more than one Planning Case has been filed for the same property, LGD shall determine if the proposed project is such that the scope has not significantly changed and BOE will have no additional requirements for the development.
Subdivision Map Concurrently Filed
If a subdivision application is being concurrently filed for the same property as a Planning Case, LGD staff shall determine if the subdivision application is consistent with the proposed development and if all of BOE's requirements can be addressed under the subdivision case.
If a vacation application has been filed for any of the streets or alleys adjoining the proposed development, LGD staff shall determine if the vacation is consistent with the proposed development plan.
LGD staff may review the LADOT Memorandum and incorporate its recommendations in the report wherever practical and consistent with the recommendation of the District office.
State Highways (Caltrans Right of Way)
If the Planning Case is adjacent, adjoins, or abuts the Caltrans right of way, determine if the proposed development will impact the existing improvements.
Preparing the Report
When writing the report, LGD should use the "Sample Report" format as a guideline. Most of the suggested wording covering a majority of cases handled is presented in the form. City Planning is the decision maker of Land Use Applications and has the authority to include or exclude any recommendations from BOE as project conditions.
In general, after City Planning has issued a decision on the land use application in the form of a Letter of Determination, no material changes to the Conditions of Approval shall be authorized without prior Planning Department authorization. If BOE initiates any changes, these will be coordinated directly with City Planning for any revisions of project conditions. If the Applicant initiates any changes, BOE must agree to the changes, and:
- If the project requirements are specifically identified and listed in Planning's Letter of Determination, the Applicant shall be advised to initiate official revisions to the project conditions with City Planning. BOE will submit a formal response back to City Planning when the revision is referred to BOE for comment. BOE shall not on its own modify any part of the project conditions during plan check or construction if those conditions are specifically listed and identified in the Letter of Determination.
- If the requirements are not specifically identified and a general condition such as "Dedicate and improve the street satisfactory to the City Engineer" is shown on the Planning Letter of Determination, BOE will prepare a revised report to City Planning to document the revision.
Completion of Planning Cases
Clearance of Conditions
If City Planning imposes public street dedication and improvement conditions in the Letter of Determination, it is the responsibility of the developer to comply with the actions necessary to clear the conditions. Developers normally work with appropriate District Office for plan checking, Survey Division, and the Real Estate Division for street dedication. For more information please refer to the Right of Way Applications subsection under Land Development Technical procedures.
Once a bond is posted to guarantee the improvements and dedication is complete, the BOE District Office and Real Estate Group will send a "District Office Clearance Memo" informing LGD that the appropriate project conditions imposed by City Planning have been complied with and cleared. When all BOE conditions have been complied with, LGD will send a "Land Development Group Clearance Memo" to City Planning clearing the dedication and improvements. City Planning normally does not sign off the Building Permit until clearances on all project conditions from all appropriate City agencies and departments have been obtained.
Certificate of Occupancy
Per Ordinance No. 165,081, LADBS would not issue the Certificate of Occupancy until BOE has reported that all required public improvements have been completed.
Per LAMC 12.25 - Time Limitations, Zoning Administration (ZA) cases have a predetermined time limit, depending on the types of applications. ZA cases not utilized within the required time limits shall become null and void, unless a time extension is approved by City Planning.
City Planning Cases (CPC) with (T) Tentative Classification have a time limit of six (6) years. The property will remain in the (T) Tentative Classification until dedications, payment, and improvements are completed for the area subject to the zone change. If the (T) Tentative classification expires, the zone change request will terminate and the property shall revert to the original zone.
If the project is placed in a (T) Tentative Classification and is also the subject of a Tentative map and costs exceed one $125,000.00 (LAMC 12.32 (G) (1) (i) - Land Use Legislative Actions) to construct, improve, or finance the construction or improvements of public improvements outside the property boundaries of the Tentative Map, excluding improvements of public rights-of-way which abut the boundary of the property to be subdivided and which are reasonably related to the development of that property, then the (T) Tentative Classification shall be extended for the life of the Tentative Map.