Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Santa Clara Amending the County General Plan to Add a Section to the Growth & Development Chapter for Rural Uunincorporated Area Issues and Policies, Part 3 of Book B of the General Plan, Entitled "Strategy #3: Ensure Environmentally-Safe and Aesthetic Hillside Development," as Part of the Countywide Viewshed Protection Study



(File No.8630-00-00-06GP)

WHEREAS,the Board of Supervisors authorized the Viewshed Protection Study as part

ofthe County Planning Office work plan, to evaluate and provide recommendations regarding

the environmental and visual impacts of hillside development; and

WHEREAS,the County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance recognize the value and

importance ofthe scenic resources of the County to the overall quality of life of its citizens,
including the hillsides surrounding the urbanized areas, and the General Plan’s goals and policies
encourage the protection ofsuch natural resources for both environmental and scenic qualities, to
preserve the generally natural appearance ofthe hillsides and reduce the adverse visual impacts
of subdivision and development; and

WHEREAS,on April 9,2005, the County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing
and received a report and preliminary recommendations for additional viewshed protection
measures, and voted to hold workshop to further consider and evaluate the viewshed study
recommendations; and

WHEREAS,on August 31,2005,the Board of Supervisors held a land use workshop to
consider the preliminary recommendations, receive public testimony, and provide further
direction to staff, and the Board voted at that workshop to accept the preliminary
recommendations, request quarterly status reports on the progress ofthe study, and directed that a
schedule be prepared for the conclusion ofthe Viewshed Protection Study in 2006, with
appropriate opportunities for public outreach and participation; and
WHEREAS,staff conducted a series of stakdiolder participation meetings in January
and February of 2006,followed by three community meetings in March of2006, during which

there were presentations and significant opportunity for public comment, which informed and
helped shape the project proposals; and

WHEREAS,the Planning Commission held duly noticed public hearings on July 6,2006
and August 3, 2006 to consider staffrecommendations, receive public testimony, and deliberate
regarding its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, and the Planning Commission voted
unanimously to forward a recommendation to the Board to approve the proposed General Plan
text amendment, attached hereto as Exhibit 1, with the following specific recommendations:
Resolution of the Board of Supervisors

Amending the General Plan to Add Provisions
Related to Viewshed Protection

Attacbmewt 2
Page 1 of 3

a) that the Board adopt the proposed Ridgeline Development Policies R-GD 30 through 35,
as stated on pp. K-17 to K-18 ofthe proposed text amendment, and
b) that the Board consider the substitution ofthe word ‘shall’ for the word ‘may’ in the text
ofthe proposed policy R-GD 33 regarding ridgeline development on existing lots and the
mitigations that could apply.

Staff has incorporated that wording change recommendation in the proposed text amendment
with further wording clarifications for consistency with overall Planning Commission
recommendations and project proposals.

A. CEOA. The proposed General Plan amendment would not have any new or

substantially more severe significant impacts upon the environment, pursuant to the California
Environmental Quality Act(“CEQA”),Public Resources Code 21000 et seq., that were not

previously addressed in the Environmental Impact Report(“EIR”)prepared and certified for the
County General Plan in 1994. As explained in the staff reports prepared for the Planning
Commission and Board of Supervisors, the project is consistent with and furthers existing goals,

policies, and implementation recommendations ofthe General Plan, is not expected to result in
any new environmental impacts, and any potential impacts which could occur as a result of
implementation ofthe project have been adequately evaluated in the 1994 EIR. Therefore, no
additional environmental review is necessary for the General Plan amendment.

B. Public Participation. Six stakeholder meetings and three community meetings were

held to receive public comment on the preliminary recommendations for the proposed General
Plan amendment, which provided ample opportunity for public involvement in accordance with
Government Code section 65351.

c. Planning Commission Public Hearing and Recommendation. The Planning

Commission held properly noticed public hearings on the proposed General Plan amendment on

July 6, 2006 and August 3, 2006 as required by Government Code section 65353, and based upon

the information provided within the staffreport, voted to forward a favorable written
recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding adoption ofthe proposed General Plan
amendment,in compliance with Government Code section 65354.

D. No Substantial Modifications Requiring Planning Commission Reconsideration. The

Board of Supervisors has not made any substantial modifications to the proposed General Plan
amendment that were not previously considered by the Planning Commission when the Planning
Conmiission forwarded its written recommendation to the Board.

E. Amendment in Public Interest. Adoption of the proposed General Plan amendment is

in the public interest. The proposed policies and explanatory text will clarify, augment, and
improve existing County policies regarding the use ofDesign Review zoning for viewshed
protection, grading and terrain alteration, development on steep slopes, and ridgeline and hilltop
development, to better ensure environmentally-safe and aesthetic hillside development.
Resolution of the Board of Supervisors

Amending the General Plan to Add Provisions
Related to Viewshed Protection

Page 2 of3

F. No General Plan Inconsistencies. Adoption of the proposed General Plan amendment

would not create any internal General Plan inconsistencies or otherwise cause the General Plan to
be deficient.

G. Information Considered. In taking action on the Project, the Board fully reviewed and
considered the information contained in the staff reports, Planning Commission
recommendations, oral and written testimony received from members of the public and other

public agencies, and additional information contained in reports, correspondence, studies,
proceedings, and other matters of record included or referenced in the administrative record of
these proceedings.

NOW,THEREFORE,BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Supervisors of the County
of Santa Clara, State of California, that the County General Plan is hereby amended as follows:

The “Growth & Development Chapter” for Rural Unincorporated Area Issues and
Policies, Part 3 of Book B the Santa Clara County General Plan, shall include the section
entitled “Strategy #3: Ensure Environmentally-Safe and Aesthetic Hillside
Development pages K-7 through K-18, inclusive, attached hereto as Exhibit 1.
PASSED AND ADOPTED by the Board of Supervisors of the County of Santa Clara,
State of California on

by the following vote:



James T. Beall, Chair
Board of Supervisors

Phyllis A. Perez
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors



Lizanne Reynolds
Deputy County Counsel
Exhibits to this Resolution:

1. “Strategy #3: Ensure Enviromnentally-Safe and Aesthetic Hillside Development,” pp. K-7
tlrrough K-18 inclusive.

Resolution of the Board of Supei’visors

Amending the General Plan to Add Provisions
Related to Viewshed Protection

Page 3 of 3

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

Strategy #3:
Ensure Environmentally-Safe and Aesthetic Hillside Development

The vast majority of lands in County jurisdiction outside cities are hillside lands with
slopes varying between approximately 10-75%. The Diablo Range and its eastern
foothills flank the Santa Clara Valley on the east, and the Santa Cruz Mountains and

foothills flank the valley lands on the western side of the County. Within these areas,

development through subdivision and through single-site approvals has occurred over
time under evolving land use controls. Each development is evaluated with regard to
the particular geologic and seismic hazards that may exist, fire hazards, slope
constraints and access issues, and septic system suitability, among other development

The policies, regulations, and ordinance provisions that govern aspects of private
development have evolved over time to address issues raised by various development
projects, both individually and collectively. The Grading Ordinance,for example, was
instituted in 1964, with modifications in 1972 to address emerging environmental and

land use-related issues, with subsequent revisions again in 1978 and 2002. Regulations

for single building sites as part of the County Ordinance Code were also amended in
1990 to address issues discussed in the General Plan relating to development of land
over 30% average slopes.

This sub-section of the Growth & Development Chapter for Rural Unincorporated Area

Issues and Policies is intended to provide context, explanation, and clarification of

County policies for rural hillside development concerrung grading and terrain
alteration issues, development proposed on steep slopes over 30%, ridgeline
development issues, and related matters. It serves as an overview of some of the more
generally encountered hillside development issues and as a basis for development
regulations, particularly, the use of Design Review zoning districts. Grading Approvals,
Single Building Site Approvals, Site Approvals on slopes exceeding 30%, and
subdivision approvals. Each type of process plays a role in ensuring safe,
environmentally sensitive, and aesthetic development.

In recent years, the amount of rural hillside development has been relatively stable.
Building activity varies with economic cycles. Since 1995, total rural35area
new homes
permit activity for new homes has ranged between approximately
per year. The average for the last ten years has been approximately 60-65 per year.
Given the visibility, site characteristics, location, and sensitivity of hillside development
issues, a

moderate number of new homes or structures can have a disproportionate

aesthetic effect, depending on size, design, and visual impacts.

parcels in the rural
Single-family residences remain the most commonOrdinance
use of existing
allowable use
and hillside areas. They are defined in the Zoning
permitted as a matter of right on most existing legal lots. Subdivision regulations,
single building site approvals, geologic review, and grading permit requirements are
necessary prerequisites of safe and properly-designed land development. Design


Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

Review complements other forms of land use approvals, provides flexibility, and allows
for a level of discretionary review and approval of conditions to mitigate visual and
other impacts of development.

Design Review has been a procedure employed by many cities for some time, either for
architectural review of new development in urban residential neighborhoods, or to
address hillside development. Santa Clara County established Design Review zoning
in the late 1980s, specifically to provide a form of discretionary approval to encourage
excellence of development, secure the purposes of the zoning ordinance and general
plan, and to ensure all reasonable steps were taken to mitigate adverse impacts of
development, including visual impacts.

Initial application of "-d. Design Review Zoning Districts" was limited to certain areas
of development, such as along the Santa Teresa Ridge or Los Gatos hills, or as a specific
condition of subdivision approval. It has also been required for development within 100
feet of named scenic roads, which previously was subject to Architecture & Site

In 1994, the County adopted the current General Plan, and addressed a number of

general environmental and scenic resource protection goals for hillside areas. The
revised General Plan included an implementation recommendation to identify areas of

greatest sensitivity to visual impacts of development and the application of design
review requirements, including but not limited to hillsides, ridgelines, scenic
transportation corridors, and other areas.

In the mid-1990s, the Gounty revised the Design Review regulations of the Zoning
Ordinance to make provision for Design Review combining districts with distinctive
goals, policies, and standards, enumerated with numerical subscripts, such as -dl,-d2,
and so forth. The first such use of the provision was the establishment of the "-dl"
district for the west valley hillsides in 1997. The "-d2" district was established for the
Milpitas hillsides in 1999. Each was an outcome of discussions and collaborative
plarming studies between affected cities and the County, as well as extensive
community input.

With respect to hillside areas, the County General Plan has long emphasized that the
hillsides surrounding the urbanized area should not be subject to urban levels of
development. A related goal is that the generally natural appearance of the hillsides
should be preserved as much as possible through allowance for low density residential
use, acquisition of public parks and open space lands, and mitigating visual impacts of
development. The term "viewshed" has evolved in planning vocabulary to describe the

hillsides that ring the urbanized area of the valley floor. Over time, the focus of General
Plan policies has made it a priority to conserve as much as possible those hillsides
immediately visible from the valley floor, where the vast majority of the urban
population resides.

Consequently, land use regulations such as Design Review have historically been
applied for the most part to the hillsides up to and including the first ridge, such as
along the Santa Teresa Hills, Milpitas hillsides, and similar areas. In the west valley
hills, the "-dl" Design Review district was originally applied to lands visible from

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

certain defined vantage points within the cities of Monte Sereno, Cupertino, Los Gatos,

and Saratoga. It extends slightly further up into the hillsides, but not fully to the Santa
Cruz Mountains summit area bounding Santa Cruz County.

In 2002, the Board established the Viewshed and Greenbelt Study as a legislative

initiative, directing that a more comprehensive application of Design Review for
hillside protection be evaluated, along with a review of the adequacy of existing
standards. Prior to that date, only a small percentage of the hillsides immediately

visible from the valley floor had Design Review zoning. With the completion of the
viewshed planning study. Design Review zoning is proposed to apply to all areas of the
primary viewshed most immediately visible from the valley floor. These lands

generally include areas of highest visibility within approximately 1-2 miles of the valley


Another key aspect of planning and land use controls is to apply reasonable standards
and requirements, afford necessary flexibility for private land use and development,
and ensure consideration of private property rights. To address these issues, the
County has proposed for consideration:
(a) expanded small project exemptions,

(b) simplified procedures for moderate sized homes through a tiered review system
(proposed Tier 1 administrative review for primary residences up to 5,000 sq. ft.),
(c) exempting basement floor area from floor area definitions, and
(d)modified regulations and guidelines to provide greater allowance for "design-

friendly" features, such as porches, decks, eaves and other architectural designs that
minimize visual impacts, reduce apparent bulk, and provide articulation and


With regard to the largest and potentially most visible new homes and structures in the
primary viewshed areas, a "Tier 3" level of review is proposed. In addition to review of
siting alternatives that would reduce the visibility of such large structures, this level of
review would include a Planning Commission hearing,instead of administrative, or
staff-level public hearings.
Policies and Implementation
R-GD 15

Goals and policies of the General Plan recognize the development constraints, issues,

and sensitivity of the hillsides of Santa Clara County for new development. The goals
of the General Plan, outlined in the Open Space Action Program, are to prevent further
urban uses and development outside cities, conserve wildlife habitat, avoid natural
hazards, and preserve the generally natural appearance of the hillsides as much as
R-GD 16

Design Review Zoning Districts, including Design Review Guidelines, shall apply to
primary viewshed areas most immediately and directly visible from the valley floor,
lands up to and including the first ridge, or those within approximately one to two
miles distance from the edge of the valley floor.
K -9

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies
R-GD 17

Design Review Zoning Districts may be differentiated to effect distinctive goals,
policies, and standards, as appropriate.
R-GD 18

Application of design review guidelines, landscaping standards, retaining wall design
requirements, and related matters should reasonably relate to the goals of the General
Plan and Zoning Ordinance, address the impacts of a project, and take into account the
size of the structure, and the site-specific characteristics involved.

With nearly every hillside development, there is a certain amount of grading necessary
for creating a building pad, contouring roads or driveways, or excavahon to situate a
residence or structure within a hillside location. Grading policies have evolved from
the basic regulation of engineering aspects to include erosion controls, drainage and
water quality issues, impacts to neighboring properties, environmental impacts, and

Where no other land use approval is required, a Grading Approval functions much as
does building site approval, evaluating the location of a proposed structure, the
amounts and extent of proposed grading, and the interplay of siting other necessary
improvements, such as access roads and septic systems.
County Grading Ordinance regulations are vitally important for a variety of reasons:(a)
to ensure the integrity of structures in graded areas;(b)to minimize potential dangers
to neighboring properties;(c) to minimize or avoid environmental damage, erosion, and
other impacts, with appropriate mitigations; and (d) to enable grading only if consistent
with an approved or allowable land use. Inherent in these and related goals is a
concern that grading outcomes fit with the natural conditions of the land as much as
possible, avoid unnecessary alteration and expense, and complement or improve the
aesthetics of land development.

Where permit requirements are not followed or ignored, unregulated grading can cause
slope and structural failure, major erosion, landslides, detrimental effects on immediate
neighbors, and other environmental impacts. Some of the most egregious examples
have resulted in major loss of vegetation and trees, stream damage, and adverse road

For many years. County grading policies have been articulated only in terms of the
basic findings necessary for approval of a grading permit. These are stated within the
Grading Ordinance, part of the County Ordinance Code, and in the County's Standards
and Policies Manual for Land Development. As grading and terrain alteration issues
have become more critical over time, grading policies and findings need to be
augmented and articulated through the General Plan.

K -10

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

The findings necessary for grading approvals are as follows:

(a) proposed grading must be related to a presently permissible land use on the

(b) the proposed grading is necessary for establishment and conduct of the use; and,
(c) the design, scope, and location of the grading is appropriate for the use and causes
minimum disturbance to the terrain and natural features of the land.

The thrust of these findings is that orrly the minimum grading and terrain alteration
should be approved to enable reasonable use and development of a property. Excessive

grading is both unnecessarily expensive to perform and maintain, and increases the

potential impacts to the environment, necessitating more significant mitigation efforts.
Where grading is involved, experience has shown that the principles of avoidance and
prevention of impacts is less costly to the public and private property owners.
Policies and Implementation
R- GD 19

Grading and terrain alteration to conduct lawful activities and use of property should
conserve the natural landscape and resources, minimize erosion impacts, protect scenic
resources, habitat, and water resources. Grading should not exacerbate existing natural
hazards, particularly geologic hazards.
R-GD 20

For grading, terrain alteration, or other work that is subject to a grading permit, the
grading approval shall be required concurrently with any other required land use

authorization or discretionary, conditional permit review process. Grading approval

shall not precede other requisite land use or development approvals, including building
permit issuance.
R-GD 21

The amount, design, location, and the nature of any proposed grading may be
approved only if determined to be:
(a) appropriate, justifiable, and reasonably necessary for the establishment of a
allowable use;,

(b) the minimum necessary given the various site characteristics,constraints, and
potential environmental impacts that may be involved, and,
(c) that which causes minimum disturbance to the natural environment, slopes, and
other natural features of the land.
R-GD 22

Proposals to balance cut and fill amounts where such grading would exceed that which

is deemed nuramally necessary and reasonable for the site may be considered based on
environmental impacts, the ability of the site to accommodate the additional fill without
causing additional adverse impacts, the remoteness of the site, the overall amount of
material that would otherwise need to be removed from the site, and the impacts of any
truck traffic that could be involved,including travel distances, local road impacts,
safety, noise, dust, and similar issues.


Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies
R-GD 23

Where an existing parcel contains multiple possible building or development sites, and
where one or more possible site requires less grading, with less overall environmental
and visual impacts, greater economy of access roads or other site improvements, and
better achieves matters of public health and safety, grading approval may be granted
only for the alternative which minimizes grading amounts and is deemed otherwise
suitable with respect to other development issues, regulations, and conditions of
reviewing agencies. Buildings should also be designed to respect and conform with
existing topography of site as much as possible, using stepped designs and multiple
levels rather than an expansive single story floor plan on only one level.
R-GD 24

Grading associated with roads, bridges, retaining walls, or similar improvements
related to access requirements should not create a significant visual scar or impact to the

(a) Grading proposals for driveways and roads should generally follow natural terrain
and contours to maximum extent feasible. Requirements and conditions for erosion
control, landscaping or plantings, retaining wall design, and other design features
may be imposed where necessary to ensure that completed work blends as
harmoniously as possible with the natural environment and landscape,
(b) Use of native and drought tolerant species for the above purposes should be
employed for at least 50% or more of the design.
R-GD 25

Where proposed grading is associated with a potential subdivision or single building
site approval in hillside areas, that which is deemed excessive, non-essential grading is
strongly discouraged and shall not be generally permitted, unless exceptional
circumstances warrant further consideration. Examples may include, but are not
limited to excessive grading to create the largest possible building pads, envelopes, or
yards; to remove hilltops and/or flatten steep ridges; to create multiple driveways
serving individual parcels, or wider than necessary driveways; and similar proposals.
R-GD 26

Grading and excavation to situate a residence or other structure within a hillside to

reduce visual impacts is encouraged, in accordance with due consideration of geologic
issues, structural integrity, and other pertinent design features and lot characteristics.

Development experience and County policy have long addressed issues related to
development proposed on steep slopes. Much of the Ihllsides of Santa Clara County
evidence significant slopes, ranging in many areas from 30% to over 70%. Due to the
geology, soil composition, faults, natural springs, and drainage within many of these
areas, hillsides can be relatively fragile landscape, despite appearances.

A 30% slope is approximately a 1:3 ratio of rise over run (height change over vertical
distance). Although such slopes may seem to pose minimal difficulties for
development, for certain aspects of land development, such as septic system drainfields.
K -12

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

Storm drainage, or roads or driveways, such slopes present additional challenges for
location and design of land development. Septic system design standards and area
must be increased to account for steeper slopes, and road design and grading for

emergency vehicle access becomes more problematic, particularly for long driveways.
Over the recent decades, owners and developers have selected and developed those lots

that were less problematic or less expensive to develop. Increasingly over time, the
development proposed and evaluated for conformance with County goals, policies, and
development regulations is on more challenging parcels. In some instances, these
constraints can be overcome, with proper engineering and additional costs. In some
cases not. Not all sites have the ability to accommodate a septic system, and some are

to meet
steep and rugged that access is difficult or nearly impossible to designor
road standards for emergency vehicles. The more challenging constrained
the site, often there is greater disturbance to the natural landscape and resulting visual




The Building Site Approval process and regulations are contained in Chapter II of
Section C12 of the Ordinance Code for Subdivisions and Land Development. Building
Site Approval and Grading Approvals are the most common prerequisites for a new

home or secondary dwelling construction in the rural hillside areas. Simply stated, site

approval is the process of evaluating whether, and under what specific conditions, a lot
may be improved for residential use. Its purpose is to address development of lots that
not created by a typical modern subdivision process, whereby issues of access and
other improvements would have already been determined and approved through the

subdivision application.

In 1990, the County modified its single site approval regulations to address applications

approval through
for development on slopes exceeding 30%. It required evaluationItand
increased the
the Architecture & Site Approval Committee(ASA Committee).
application submittal requirements necessary for such site approvals, and subjects each
such development application to an environmental assessment under the provisions of
the California Environmental Quality Act(CEQA). The purpose was to address and

on slopes of
plement policies of the General Plan that discouraged development
more than 30% unless conformance with applicable standards
demonstrated. Regulations state that development approval on slopes of more than
30% may not be granted unless an exception is approved by the ASA Committee and


certain requirements are met.

The County Ordinance Code applies these regulations only within certain Zoning

Districts, RIE, RHS,and HS base zoning districts. Also, the criteria or findings on

concerns of a particular site
which approvals are granted simply state that all relevant
concerns of all
must be integrated within the design solution, and
neighboring property owners be addressed. The noticing requirement includes all
property within 500 feet of the parcel boundary, which exceeds the ordinary
requirement of noticing owners of all property within 300 feet of the subject property.
At a minimum, building site approval on slopes exceeding 30% should be based on
such criteria as the following;

K -13

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

(a) demonstrated conformance to all applicable standards and conditions of referral
agencies, such as the Fire Marshal, County Geologist, Land Development

Engineering, Department of Environmental Health, and other affected agencies,
such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District;

(b) an appropriate design which successfully integrates and addresses the various
requirements and conditions of development;
(c) an evaluahon of whether the development proposal and related improvements

cannot be located on portions of the lot with less average slope and/or greater
development suitability; and
(d)that the overall site design,including but not limited to access road, retaining walls,

architectural quality, landscaping, grading and erosion control, are in harmony with
the natural landscape, vegetation, and topography, and reasonably mitigate visual
impacts of development.

Lastly, because existing provisions of site approval involving slopes exceeding 30%
have only been applied in certain zoning districts, the County should also consider
whether it is logical and appropriate to apply these requirements to the other districts
where average slopes generally range from 30% and higher. For example, the "RR,
Rural Residential" Zorung District applies in a number of hillside areas, not just the

valley lands of San Martin, but the regulations and procedures described in this section
have not been applied to date. The County should periodically evaluate its procedures
and regulations to determine appropriate application to similarly situated parcels.
Policies and implementation
R-GD 27

Due to the prevalence of steeply sloping land, geologic, seismic, and other natural
hazards, soil characteristics, and other development issues, including the need for

adequate access and on-site wastewater treatment, the County shall thoroughly
evaluate development proposals on slopes exceeding 30% to secure the public health,
safety, and welfare.
R-GD 28

Single building site approval on slopes exceeding 30% shall be evaluated and approved,
conditionally approved, or denied by the Architecture & Site Approval Committee. A

public hearing shall be required, and notice provided to owners of all property within
500 feet of the subject property.
R-GD 29

In considering Building Site Approval applications for development on slopes
exceeding 30%, the ASA Committee shall base its decisions on the following criteria and

(a) demonstrated conformance with all applicable standards and conditions of
reviewing or responsible agencies;

(b) successful integration of design solutions satisfying the requirements of responsible
agencies and reviewers;


Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

(c) consideration and determination that the proposed use, structures, and related

improvements cannot be located on portions of the lot with less average slope
and /or generally better development suitability;
(d)an overall site design,including but not limited to access road, retaining walls,
architectural quality, landscaping, grading and erosion control, that is in harmony
with the natural landscape, vegetation, and topography, and reasonably mitigates
visual impacts of development.
Implementation Recommendations

Evaluate and consider expanding the applicability of Building Site Approval

regulations pertaining to development on slopes exceeding 30% slope to those other
base zoning districts where average slopes exceeding 30% are prevalent.

Evaluate the expanded use of pre-application meetings for single building sites, grading
permits, and design review, as appropriate, to identify development issues, discuss
potential conditions and mitigations, and provide earlier notice to property owners
regarding County requirements and procedures.

The issues of ridgeline and hilltop development are integrally related to policies and
standards governing grading, terrain alteration, and development on steep slopes.
County policy over time has evolved to generally discourage ridgeline development
where subdivision and lot creation are concerned, because approval of new lots through
subdivision affords a degree of choice in terms of lot configuration and possible
building envelope locations. With existing lots, depending on size and location, lot
characteristics, and access, the choice of building locations can be more limited.

However, grading policies and requirements of the County do not permit maximum
grading and terrain alteration to enable residential or other land uses on an existing lot
where clear and suitable alternatives exist that reduce or minimize grading.

Ridge and hilltop locations are often considered more valuable for the views they

afford. Marketing and perceptions of lot value are correlated with whether the highest

elevations on a given lot are suitable or possible building sites. In many locales, a

hillside or ridgeline location is considered prestigious. It should also be noted that for
some parcels, a ridge building site can prove to be the most or only suitable place for a
structure or home.

There is a significant amount of variability in topography and ridgelines within the
County. Along the eastern Diablo Range, prominent ridges run generally parallel to the

Santa Clara Valley floor, from northwest-to-southeast. In the Santa Cruz Mountain
Range, there is the dominant ridge (the Summit Road area) that divides Santa Clara
County from San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. However, there are also intervening
lower ridge areas that have other ridges or hillsides as their backdrop, and these can be
oriented in many directions.


Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

There are also other topographical variables. Ridgelines may be narrow and steep, or in
some cases relatively broad and flat. Topographically, ridges delineating drainage areas

can be mapped with a fair degree of precision, but what is perceived to be a ridge or
Crestline area by the human eye depends to an extent on the vantage point, distance or
proximity, and perspective.

With regard to new subdivision proposals. County policy has been that land should be
subdivided such that building sites are not located on ridgelines, if possible. This policy
reflects the need to consider other site-specific constraints, such as geologic or landslide

steep slopes, oak woodlands and other sensitive habitat areas, and streams that
may pose substantial limitations on where parcels and building sites may be located. If


no other more suitable locations than a ridge area are as feasible, ridge or hilltop
locations may be proposed and evaluated through the subdivision process, including
environmental review pursuant to requirements of the California Environmental
Quality Act.

Where alternatives are limited, ridgeline building sites proposed through a subdivision
often be mitigated such that they do not create a major negative visual impact from
the valley floor. Specific, careful location choices, building heights, facade lengths,
landscaping, and facade materials and color choices can significantly mitigate visual

impacts. Distance from the valley floor also needs to be taken into consideration. The

remote the subdivision from the valley floor, the greater the mitigating effects of

distance and perspective. Design Review zoning, delineation of building envelopes, and
other more specific subdivision conditions of approval may be used to mitigate visual

With regard to existing legal lots of record. County policies have stated that structures
on ridgelines must be designed,landscaped, situated, or otherwise mitigated so that
they do not create a major negative visual impact when viewed from the valley floor.
This policy statement originates with the 1980 General Plan, and implicitly, provides a
certain allowance for a ridgeline or hilltop location, provided all necessary land
development standards and requirements are met, such as for access, and the visual
impact is not significant.

Alternatively, some jurisdictions prohibit new development on ridges or hilltops if
there are feasible options, with some establishing actual prohibitions on development
within certain vertical distances of the elevation of a defined ridgeline. The larger the

lot, typically the more options for building sites. Conversely, for small lots, in the range
of 0.5 acres to approximately 2 acres, siting options may not exist.

Consequently, whatever degree of policy restrictiveness is adopted with regard to
ridgeline development on existing legal lots, there is a need to take into account
whether reasonable, suitable alternatives exist other than at or near a ridge. The County
must also evaluate consistency with other land development requirements for access
suitable for emergency vehicles, septic system functionality, habitat or stream

protection, and similar factors. In some instances, grading policies and permit findings
may determine that a ridgeline location is appropriate, and in other instances, current
grading policies and findings would not allow a ridgeline or hilltop location, if

Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

alternatives would demonstrably reduce grading and better comply with the General
Plan an Grading Ordinance requirements.

Lastly, a significant number of residences and other structures have been legally
constructed and located on ridges or ridge areas over time. Property owners' concerns

regarding the ability to rebuild in the event of a fire, earthquake, or other natural
disaster or casualty should be taken into account. Similar policies and regulations have
been established as part of the Single Building Site regulations, and as part of the "-dl"
Zoning District.
Policies and Implementation
R-GD 30

Ridgelines and ridge areas have special significance for both public policy and private
interests. Ridgeline and hillside development that creates a major negative visual
impact from the valley floor should be avoided or mitigated, particularly for those areas
most immediately visible from the valley floor. Ridgeline development policy should
also take into account the need to allow reasonable use and development of private
R-GD 31

For subdivision proposals, land should be subdivided in such a way that building sites
are not located on ridgelines, if possible, taking into consideration other development
constraints and issues. Where ridgeline locations are proposed, alternatives shall be
evaluated to determine relative development suitability. If ridgeline or hilltop locations

prove to be more suitable and less visually obtrusive than alternatives, reasonable
mitigations for significant, adverse visual impacts may include, but are not limited to:

(a) careful locations of building sites;

(b) tree and vegetation retention, and use of additional landscaping, as appropriate;
(c) building height,fagade length, and similar dimensional limitations; and,
(d)use of natural materials, colors, and design features that blend with the natural
surroundings and reduce apparent bulk.
R-GD 32

For existing legal lots, the County encourages the consideration of alternatives to

ridgeline or hilltop locations. Where grading policies and permit findings are involved,
building sites may only be approved where consistent with the grading policies of the
General Plan and the permit requirements and findings of the Grading Ordinance.

R-GD 33

For existing legal lots, if a ridgeline or hilltop location is a potentially suitable location
for development, dovolopmont of which is consistent with grading or other land
development policies and regulations, due to the particular geologic circumstances,
access needs, or other suitability characteristics of the lot the following conditions or

mitigations to visual impacts of development shall be considered and applied through
applicable land use and development approvals, as necessary and appropriate impeseti

through Design Review or other discretionary approval-may include, but are net
limited to:


Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

(a) tho uso of Design Review as a condition of approval (if not in a Design-Roviow
(afe) landscaping and vegetation retention, as appropriate,
(be) color and material choices that blend with the natural surroundings, and

(c4) any other similar requirements or mitigations that reasonably relate to the degree
of visual impact.[Note: Where Design Review zoning applies or is required by
condition of subdivision or other approval such requirements will be addressed

through the applicable Design Review procedure].
R-GD 34

In applying and implementing Design Review requirements, the Coimty shall also take
into account such factors as distance from the valley floor, existing vegetation,

intervening slopes and hillsides, and other factors that tend to mitigate visual impact of
hillside development.
R-GD 35

Legally constructed homes and other buildings located on a ridgeline or hilltop that are
destroyed by casualty, such as fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster, may be rebuilt
in their existing location. Applicable provisions of the County's single building site
approval regulations regarding exemptions from site approval shall apply.

[For related policies, see also the Scenic Resources Section of the Resource Conservation
Chapter, Book B].


Growth & Development
Rural Unincorporated Area Issues & Policies

/iilsU fe■'h cht

Note: the Board of Supervisors has requested corrsideration of alternatives for ridgeline
development policies. The following draft policies would be a more restrictive
alternative to current policies and those found on p. K-18, R-GD 31 through 33. If the
Board elects to approve the draft policies below, R-GD 30 on p. K-18 would be retained
and R-GD 31a through 33a would be adopted instead of R-GD 32 - 35.
R-GD 31a

New ridgeline and hilltop development shall be prohibited, with the following
ception. For any existing parcel or new lot proposed by subdivision that would be
located on a ridgeline or hilltop, land use approvals or building permits shall not be
granted unless it can be demonstrated that:

(a) no other suitable or feasible site location exists that would also have less visual
impact, and

(b) the prohibition on new ridgeline development would preclude reasonable use and
development of a property.
R-GD 32a

In applying and implementing Design Review requirements, the County shall also take
into account such factors as distance from the valley floor, existing vegetation,

intervening slopes and hillsides, and other factors that tend to mitigate visual impact of
hillside development.
R-GD 33a

Rebuilding an existing and lawfully constructed home or structure that is located on a

ridgeline or hilltop and which is destroyed by fire, earthquake, or other natural hazard
casualty may be rebuilt with adequate basis on which to verify its size and other

characteristics, notwithstanding the general policy prohibiting new development in
ridgelines and hilltops.
Implementation Recommendations

Explanatory Note: If the more restrictive ridgeline development policy intending to generally
prohibit new ridgeline or hilltop development is adopted, the County will need to also adopt the
following implementation recommendation:
R-GD(i) 7

Develop Zoning Ordinance or other Ordinance Code amendments that would

implement development policy prohibiting new development on ridgelines or hilltops

to regulate placement of new structures not otherwise subject to a form of discretionary
land use approval. Where a discretionary approval is required, ridgeline development
policy may be implemented through the discretionary approval process].



Board of Supervisors viewshed resolution.


James T. Beall, Jr.

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District 4


Jim Beall, Chair, Board of Supervisors




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