Section 21670 of the California State Aeronautics Act requires that every county in which there is an airport that is served by a scheduled airline establish an Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) “to protect public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring the orderly expansion of airports and the adoption of land use measures that minimize the public’s exposure to excessive noise and safety hazards within areas around public airports to the extent that these areas are not already devoted to incompatible uses.” One of the duties of the ALUC is to adopt an Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUCP). In formulating an ALUCP, an ALUC has the power to develop height restrictions on buildings, specify use of land and determine building standards within the Airport Influence Area (AIA) designated by the ALUC.
Each local agency that has a General Plan that includes areas covered by the ALUCP must submit its General Plan to the ALUC for review and a determination that the General Plan is consistent with the ALUCP. If the two are consistent, the local agency may approve development permit applications for land use without referring project applications to the ALUC. However, if the two are inconsistent, the local agency must submit all development permit applications to the ALUC for review. If the ALUC determines that the proposed project is consistent with the ALUCP, the local agency may approve the project. If a proposed project is inconsistent with the ALUCP, the local agency may not approve the project unless it overrules the ALUC by a two-thirds vote of its governing body. To overrule the ALUC, the local agency must make specific findings that the proposed project is consistent with the purpose of Section 21670.
Thus, ALUCPs place limitations on development in the vicinity of airports. They impact land use, planning and zoning near airports, often imposing restrictions that are different from or exceed existing land use restrictions put in place by local land use jurisdictions. Moreover, ALUCPs are continually undergoing updates and revisions, based on changes in Airport Master Planning and Airport Layout Plans, and may have a profound affect on proposed development projects, including those for which necessary permits have already been issued. As the California Supreme Court stated in Muzzy Ranch v. Solo County Airport Land Use Commission, 41 Cal. 4th 372 (2007), “an airport land use compatibility plan can operate like a multijurisdictional general plan to trump the land use planning authority that affected jurisdictions might otherwise exercise through general and specific plans or zoning.”
Land owners and developers who are planning a development project near a California airport should determine early in the planning process whether the property is within the jurisdiction of the ALUC. If it is, they should check the ALUCP to determine in what Airport Safety Zone(s) the property is located, what uses and kinds of structures are allowed, and what, if any, density/intensity restrictions apply. By doing that, owners and developers can avoid the cost of revising proposed project plans to make them compatible with the ALUCP and delays in having the project approved. Owners and developers of property located near airports outside California should check with the local permitting authority to determine if any development restrictions apply.