California Attorney General Addresses Airport Land Use Commission’s Exemption Of A City Or County’s Specific Plan From Complying With Compatibility Standards


The California Attorney General recently addressed the issue of the authority of an airport land use commission to exempt a city or county’s specific plan from compliance with compatibility standards. (Cal. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 03-805, July 22, 2004)

Relevant Law

The State Aeronautics Act (Pub. Util. Code §§ 21001 through 21707) provides for the orderly development of public use airports and their surrounding areas. The Aeronautics Act establishes airport land use commissions in each county to formulate a compatibility plan that addresses land use issues as well as noise and safety issues (the plan is referred to as a “land use compatibility plan”). The commissions also review plans, regulations, and other actions of local agencies and airport operators.

Cities and counties must prepare a general plan for the physical development of the city or county. Additionally, the city or county may prepare specific plans for implementing the general plan.

When a conflict exists between an airport land use compatibility plan and a city or county’s specific plan, the Aeronautics Act provides a detailed procedure for resolving the conflict. The Act also sets out specific steps to take if a city or county does not follow directives requiring it to submit general and specific plans to the airport land use commission. These specific steps may include requiring the city or county to submit “all subsequent actions” to the commission.

Attorney General Decision

The Attorney General was asked to decide whether an airport land use commission may exempt a city or county’s specific plan from complying with the more stringent compatibility standards for land use, development density, and development intensity in the vicinity of a public use airport. The Attorney General answered in the negative. “In light of the elaborate procedures set forth in [the Aeronautics Act] for identifying and resolving inconsistencies between a specific plan and an airport land use compatibility plan, it is apparent that the Legislature did not intend to authorize a commission to grant ‘exemptions’ for a specific plan with less stringent standards than a compatibility plan.” Moreover, there is nothing in the Act giving a commission authority to exempt a specific plan. To allow exemptions would not promote the legislative goals of “orderly development” and discouraging incompatible land uses near existing airports.

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