Urban Planning

California Has Plenty of Land for Greenfield Development : urbanplanning

One argument used against Greenfield Development in California is that California is somehow running out of land. This argument is wrong on its face. The total population density of the state is 257 people per square mile and only 5 percent of the state has been developed. California’s land area is also huge at roughly 164,000 square miles or roughly 105 million acres. https://californiapolicycenter.org/fixing-california-part-five-affordable-market-housing/



New Jersey by comparison has 33 percent of its land developed and has over 1000 people per square mile

https://www.njfuture.org/2019/11/11/where-does-impervious-cover-have-the-biggest-impact/ https://worldpopulationreview.com/states/new-jersey-population

One study shows that California has 25 million acres of developable land as of 2000, though some of this land is probably developed by now. Mind you this doesn’t even cover the entirety of the state. From: Raising the Roof: California Housing Development Projections and Constraints, 1997-2020 https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1391n947

“California is a huge state, and except in a few critical locations, has ample land to grow. As of 1996, the 35 metropolitan counties for which land supply data are available included 25 million acres of potentially developable raw land.”

Some people might retort that all of that land is the desert or in undesirable places, but that is not true. The two lowest hanging fruits, the Bay Area and Los Angeles Metro area both have land that could be developed to meet housing needs. Some may point out that Los Angeles is surrounded by mountains, not too far away from Los Angeles, there is Ventura county which, thanks to urban growth boundaries, is walling in Los Angeles. According to exhibit 13, which is no longer included with the Raising the Roof study, but I provided a link, Ventura county has 303,800 acres of developable land, which is roughly 475 square miles. 475 is enough land area to create another Los Angeles. If you developed those 475 square miles at a density of roughly 8,000 people per square mile, a modest density, That could hold roughly 3.8 million people. The amount of people that could be housed in Ventura county using both infill and greenfield is substantial. That same study shows 376,000 undeveloped acres in Los Angeles county, though how much is near the LA Basin is hard to say.

Exhibit 13 here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1z9fPYr4I9c4-KPMKCYpw8IjyhYa0Ysw9/view?usp=share_link

Ventura County’s own zoning map shows large quantities of land designated as open space and agriculture. https://vcrma.org/en/ventura-county-general-plan

Los Angeles county’s zoning map shows land designated as open space and agriculture near Santa Monica and near Santa Clarita. You can even view when riding the Metrolink trains. https://www.propertyshark.com/Real-Estate-Reports/2015/07/07/zoom-in-l-a-county-zoning-map-shows-what-you-can-build-and-where-in-los-angeles/

There is even some land in the San Gabriel valley that is undeveloped. Monrovia has several areas designated as open space or requiring multiple acre lots. Much of this undeveloped land can be seen when riding the LA Metro gold line. https://www.cityofmonrovia.org/home/showpublisheddocument/1378/636960188069700000

Even Orange County has land that is developable. The same raising the roof study gives Orange County, CA 132,000 acres of developable land.

San Juan Capistrano’s Zoning map shows land near LA Novia that is zoned for planned communities, but has yet to be developed. This land is also within the boundaries of San Clemente, but is also undeveloped.


LA Novia has been planned for development, but only limited amounts have been allowed and the project in question has been delayed for years.


Chronology of the Distrito La Novia/San Juan Meadows

A google streetview shows that LA Novia/Avenida LA Plata is mostly undeveloped and hilly grassland


Unincorporated Silvarado, CA has undeveloped land as well.

This map shows several land designated as open space in Orange county on Page 18


The Orange county Zoning map shows several areas designated as open space


The study itself points out that much land is undeveloped due to political reasons.

“The majority of California cities and counties have adopted one or more growth control and/or growth management measures. Growth controls, which include population, housing, and commercial space caps directly restrict the quantity and pace of new development, usually far below private market levels.”


Exhibit 13 of The Raising the Roof study also identifies 524,000 acres of developable land in San Diego county.

According to a stud, “OPENING SAN DIEGO’S DOOR TO LOWER HOUSING COSTS” by the Fermian Business and Economic Institute, San Diego has substantial amounts of land that is suitable for development, but where development cannot take place


“Within this “undevelopable” designation, there is significant acreage that is geographically suitable for development, but which has been designated as open space and/or open space preserve. San Diego County, as a whole enjoys, one of the most robust open space preserve systems in the country. Through the City’s and the County’s “MSCP” multiply species conservation plans (MSCPs) and Habitat management plans (HMPs), tens of thousands of acres have been set aside to preserve open space and wildlife. Much of this acreage is adjacent to developed land and would be suitable for development without this preserve designation.”

To the extent that Greenfield development still happens in Southern California like San Bernadino county, it is often highly regulated subject to lawsuits, open space requirement, solar panel requirements and other ownerous requirements.

The Sierra Club sued the developer of the Tapestry project in Hesparia, CA and reduced the amount of homes included.

Hesperia braces for major housing development

Even if we accept the premise that Socal is all built out, a premise which isn’t true, the Central coast has plenty of land available for development

Here is a google streetview of San Luis Obispo County. Most of the central coast basically looks like this.


The Zoning Map of San Luis Obispo county shows that the majority of it has been zoned exclusively for agriculture use or rural designation.


The Bay area, which people often assert doesn’t have much land for development, actually has quite a lot of land for development. San Francisco is only some 47 square miles, but the entire bay area is roughly 7000 square miles.


San Francisco may be a peninsula surrounded by ocean, but to the North There is Marin County which has a land area of over 828 square miles.


To the extent development has taken place in Marin, it took 50 years to approve a subdivision

County Where It Took 50 Years To Approve New Subdivision Bans New Airbnbs

Marin County recently taxed itself to buy private land to stop development


In fact development was planned in Marin County called Marincello, it would have included high rises, townhomes and single family homes


Further North there is Sonoma County with a land area of over 1500 square miles.


According to the Greenbelt alliance 75 percent of land in the Bay area is off limits to development


Here is a map of lands off limits to development


Santa Clara county, and shown in the greenbelt alliance map, home to San Jose, despite its reputation for sprawl, has had an urban growth boundary since the 1970s


Getting rid of urban growth boundaries is hard to do, but the solution I think is to have the state override local governments; if the state can override single family zoning, it can also override urban growth boundaries. I would abolish the David Williamson act, which creates tax incentives for conservation easements, I would outlaw agriculture and open space zoning, reform or abolish CEQA and I would abolish Local Agency Formation Commissions, which restrict development to incorporated or annexed areas and restrict development on unicorporated lands and take away from counties the power to zone and regulate land use. If counties can’t zone or regulate land then developers can simply step outside of city limits if a local government is being unreasonable, like they do in Texas. I would also require governments to privatize land set aside as open space.

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