Santa Clara County Viewshed Analysis and Report

Santa Clara County

Viewshed Analysis
and Report

April 5, 2005

A Report to Board of Supervisors on the
''Viewshed/ Greenbelt Areas"
Work Plan Item #10-19,

Board Meeting of April 19, 2005

County of Santa Clara Planning Office
County Government Center

y'*" Floor - East Wing
70 W. Hedding St.

San Jose, CA 95110
(408) 299-5770

Santa Clara County Planning Office Project Staff:

Michael M. Lopez,Interim Director

Bill Shoe, Principal Planner/Zoning Administrator, Project Manager
Carolyn Walsh, Principal Planner

Jim Reilly, Planner/Deputy Zoning Administrator
Carmela Campbell, Planner/ASA Secretary
Rob Eastwood, Planner

Angelica Olivera, Planner

Steve Borgstrom, CIS Technician
Swathi Boredi, Intern

Viewshed Analysis and Report


Santa Clara County Viewshed Analysis and Report
Table of Contents




Work Plan Item Description



Organization of Report
Definition of Key Terms and Fundamentals
Viewshed Terminology


Part 1.




Viewsheds Important for Quality of Life/Sense of Place
County Goals/Policies Strive to Maintain Natural Appearance of




All Development or Visual Impacts


Context of Other Protection Strategies


Viewshed / Open Space Planning Mitigates, but Does Not Prevent

Regulation of Viewshed Development a Focus of this Report, In

Historical Context and Policy Background



Historical Planning Context



The 1987"Open Space Preservation 2020" Task Force and Report
The County General Plan "Open Space Action Program


Part 2.


Part 3.


Viewshed Mapping, Analysis, and Evaluation




GIS Viewshed Mapping Process



Observations from Mapping Analysis
Trends in Rural Viewshed Development



3.3.1. Subdivision Gontrols Have Evolved to Limit New Lot Creation


3.3.2. Development Has Stabilized in Viewshed Since 1980 General Plan....13
3.3.3 Single-site Development Will Gontinue to be Primary Form of

Rural Development


Part 4.

3.3.4 Most Easily Developed Lots Have Already Been Developed


Trends and Limits in Public Acquisition and Open Space Preservation


General Report Findings and Recommendations


Strategy #1: Continue Countywide Growth Management Policies and

"Joint Urban Development Policies

Viewshed Analy.sis and Report




Strategy #2: Regulate Allowable Uses and Densities of Development
[rural areas]



4.2.1. Regulation of Rural Land Uses

4.2.2. Regulation of Allowable Densities and Minimum Lot Sizes


4.2.3 Regulation of Single Site Residential Development in the Viewshed ..18

19 Development Factors Affecting Visual Impact
20 Existing County Development Review Procedures Preliminary Recommendations for Single-Site Development

in Viewshed Areas

Strategy #3: Provide economic incentives to private landowners

Strategy #4: Acquire open space for parks, wildlife refuges, other open
space uses


Strategy #5: Conduct special studies, area plans, and project review
under CEQA

Part 5.


Implementation Process, Timeline Estimates, Staffing






Process for Implementation



Timeline Projections



Staffing Implications




Part 6.

Viewshed Analysis and Report


Part 1. Introduction


Work Plan Item Description

This report to the Board of Supervisors presents the work of the Planning Office in
response to the Work Plan Item #10-19,"Viewsheds & Greenbelt Areas." It contains

preliminary recommendations and options for the Board's consideration for furthering
the goals of the General Plan regarding viewshed protection.

The text of work plan item #10-19 is as follows:
"Viewsheds and Greenbelt Areas: Review appropriate means of

furthering Gounty policies to protect viewsheds, hillsides, ridgelines, and
greenbelts from impacts of development. Includes (a) priority-setting
studies,(b) measures focused specifically on ridgeline and hillsides
protection, and (c) possible greenbelt studies with Morgan Hill and others
cities] concerning land use preservation methods.

Description: Scenic resource protection and related goals and policies of the
current General Plan define this general subject to be a significajit component of
maintaining the quality of life of the County, both for natural resource
conservation and viewshed protection. Additional studies are necessary before
priorities and recommendations can be made concerning the needfor additional
policy andjor regulations and the extent of their applicability. Morgan Hill has
requested assistance with a "greenbelt study"for lands surrounding that city.

Staff recommends that the Morgan Hill greenbelt study be the priorityforfurther
interjurisdictional efforts. Additional preliminary studies should be conducted
focusing on GIS mapping and data analysisfor identifying other priorities and

areas offocus.(Note: Coyote Greenbelt implementation is already an ongoing part
of the Planning Office work plan and therefore is not repeated here. See work plan
item 9-04.)"

This report also responds to the referral of February 10, 2005, considered at the Board's
March 1, 2005 meeting, which required that a report be prepared and presented to the
Board at its April 19, 2005 meeting date. That referral also states a need for stronger and
uniform regulations and clear development standards regarding visual impacts of
development to provide guidance to developers, decision-makers, staff, and the public.

Work done to date on this work plan item by the Planning Office includes significant

participation in the Morgan Hill Urban Limit Line/Greenbelt study (the Morgan Hill

"pilot project"). It has also included coordination with the Gity of San Jose's Coyote
Valley Specific Plan. During the latter part of 2004, staff has concentrated on preparing
the countywide viewshed analysis, pursuant to developing a set of countywide
recommendations and options for the Board's consideration.

Viewshed Analysis and Report


Several status reports have been prepared and presented to the Housing, Land Use,
Environment, and Transportation Committee(HLUET)of the Board, most recently in

May of 2004, and October of 2003. These were based in part on numerous reports and

presentations made to the Morgan Hill advisory committee.

Organization of Report

This report includes the following major components:

historical context of open space/ viewshed planning and preservation efforts in

Santa Clara County;

discussion of applicable General Plan goals and policies;

a countywide viewshed mapping analysis using the Planning Office CIS, based on
the Morgan Hill mapping analysis;

recommendations for furthering countywide viewshed protection, based partly on
the Morgan Hill "pilot" study and an assessment of current County development

procedures, such as building site approval, grading permit, design review, and

building permit processes as applied in hillside areas;
survey of best practices and model ordinances of other jurisdictions, and
a discussion of fiscal implications, staff resource impacts, and related

implementation issues.

The report also contains an appendix summarizing staff research on the ordinances,

policies, and programs of other jurisdictions regarding viewshed protection, within

Santa Clara County and other jurisdictions.


Definition of Key Terms and Fundamental Issues

1.3.1. Viewshed Terminology

The term "viewshed" typically refers to the hillside and mountainous lands generally

visible from a populated area. Historically, Santa Clara County has defined viewshed
the hillsides visible from the main Santa Clara valley floors, for both the north
valley and south valley areas. [Note: The divide between north and south Santa Clara
valleys is generally defined as the Coyote narrows, adjacent the Tulare Hill, at the
northern end of Coyote Valley]. A viewshed area can also be divided into primary (first
ridge) and secondary areas of visibility, depending on the distance from the valley
floor, and for purposes of implementing land use controls. Santa Clara County has
areas as

employed this distinction in this past.

1.3.2 Viewsheds Are Important for Quality of Life/Sense of Place

The viewshed lands provide a dramatic natural setting or backdrop for the urbanized
areas of the County, both north and south. In recognizing and protecting its viewsheds
and scenic resources, Santa Clara County is not alone among metropolitan areas of the
western United States. Many other cities and counties in the Bay Area, the state, and
the western U.S. share a similar appreciation for the value of their scenic natural


Viewshed Analysis and Report


Viewsheds are important for the overall quality of life and sense of place they provide.

The conservation of viewshed lands also lelps achieve other related goals:

• conservation of open lands not intended for urbanization by cities (outside Urban
Service Areas, and long term or permanent Urban Growth Boundaries,

• conservation of natural resources and habitats, including threatened and
endangered species,

• limiting public exposure to natural and geologic hazards to development,
• parks and recreational opportunities close to the urban areas,
• heritage resource preservation, and,
• protection of water quality.

1.3.3. County Goals/Policies Strive to Maintain Natural Appearance of Hillsides

are contained in the
The goals of the General Plan related to scenic resource protection
in rural areas that will

Vision of the Plan. They address the need for development
maintain rural character and preserve the natural beauty of the environment(Goal 5.1a,
p. A-10). The strategies and policies of the General Plan seek to minimize visual

impacts of development within the viewshed, and to maintain as much as possible the
natural appearance of the hillsides.

The policies of the Scenic Resources section of the General Plan's Resource
Conservation Chapter provide the most specific direction regarding viewshed and
hillside development, including subdivisions. These are contained in pages 0-49 to O-

51 of the General Plan, and are further discussed in Part 4 of this report.

1.3.4 Viewshed/Open Space Planning Can Mitigate, but Does Not Prevent
Development or All Visual Impacts

The County's goals and policies take into account the fact that some form of land use
and development may occur on rural parcels, particularly residential use. For many
parcels within the viewshed, eliminating visual impacts of development is not possible.
New homes, accessory buildings, roads, driveways, water tanks, and fences will be
built and are allowed on each separate legal lot, subject to complying with all applicable
ordinances and standards. Some parcels offer options for siting or placement that can
minimize visibility, and some do not, but each will have site-specific issues.

There are also important area differences. The lands of the Diablo Range typically have
much less natural vegetative cover and far fewer stands of trees than much of the Santa
Cruz Mountains. For that reason, development in the hillsides of the Diablo Range can

often appear to be in much starker contrast to the natural hillsides. Whatever the
specific characteristics of the area or a particular parcel. County policy stipulates that

rural development should not take place in such as way as to create major or lasting
visible scars on the landscape or a major negative visual impact from the Valley floor.
1.3.5 Regulation of Viewshed Development a Focus of this Report,In Context of
Other Protection Strategies

The regulation of rural development visible from the valley floor for visual and
environmental impacts is a particular focus of this report on viewshed protection, but it
Viewshed Analysis and Report


is not the only focus. The County achieves viewshed protection and open space

preservation on a countywide basis through a variety of important strategies, with
multiple implementers, and the coordinated efforts of many jurisdictions. Part 2 of this
report will provide additional explanation of the historical context of open space
planning in Santa Clara County, and an overview of the comprehensive strategies for

open space and viewshed protection outlined in the General Plan.
Part 2. Historical Context and Policy Background
Historical Planning Context


Open space preservation has been an important consideration of long range planning in

Santa Clara County for many decades. One of the earliest General Plan land use maps
of record, from 1960, envision the county's future urban development confined to the

valley floor, agricultural lands as urban buffers. The hillsides framing the valley and the

remote mountainous lands are designated for low density, open space uses.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the cities and Gormty engaged in extensive joint planning

to grapple with the issue of rapid growth and urban sprawl. From these efforts,
including the Planning Policy Gornmittee and Intergovernmental Gouncil, emerged a
landmark planning policy agreement. The "Urban Development/Open Space Plan" or
UD/OS,of 1973, was the County's first open space action plan, and culminated years of
cooperative planning to adopt a "city-centered" or infill urban development policy for
Santa Clara County. Henceforth, urban development would only be allowed within
cities. Rural lands outside cities would be conserved for natural resource protection.

By the mid-1970s, the Local Agency Formation Commission(LAFCO)had established
formally adopted Urban Service Areas(USAs)for all the 15 cities. By 1980, the County
had adopted a comprehensive General Plan, which had as its fundamental growth

agement policy the stipulation that urban forms and densities of development must
urban development,
vvithin city USAs. USAs should not include lands unsuited tolands
outside USAs
including hillsides and mountainous lands. Rural unincorporated
would be reserved for resource conservation, agricultural uses, and very low density
the cornerstone of
development. This joint policy with the cities and LAFGO remains
for rural land
urban growth management policy for Santa Glara Gounty.
use designations, zoning, and for urban island annexation and development policies, as



Santa Glara County park planning efforts also evolved during this time period from the
1970s to establish a vision of County-maintained regional parks surrounding the
growing metropolitan areas. The metaphor was a "necklace of regional parks," referring
to an image of a string of major parks and public open space lands ringing the north
valley floor from Palo Alto south to San Jose and back northwards to Milpitas and the
Alameda County boundary. The same basic concept has been applied to hillside lands
of South County. The County's current Regional Parks Plan map of the General Plan

retains the necklace of parks concept and builds upon it. The ongoing acquisition
Viewshed Analysis and Report


efforts of the County Parks Department and other agencies has been and will continue
to be an important component of viewshed preservation and recreation planning.

The 1987"Open Space Preservation 2020" Task Force and Report

In the mid-1980s, the County and cities sponsored an open space planning study that

the first of its kind for Santa Clara County. I’he resulting "Preservation 2020"

report was the first comprehensive open space planning study of its kind conducted by
the cities and County. It divided the county into some 40 planning study areas and
preservation, habitat
prioritized thc:)se areas in order of importance for viewshedand
other factors.
conservation, recreational value, agriculture and grazing,

The most important recommendation of the 1987 "Preservation 2020" report was that
Santa Clara County should form and fund an open space acquisition agency similar to
the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District(MROSD). Ihe study's other
recommendations built upon the major goals and policies of the 1980 County General
Plan, but most importantly, it focused significant attention on the importance of

permanent preservation of open space through acquisition. As a result of that study,

the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority became a reality in 1993, and it now
owns 10,936 acres of open space lands,including conservation easements.

This Planning Office work plan report represents the first major evaluation of viewshed
preservation efforts conducted by the County of Santa Clara since the publication of the

1987 Preservation 2020 Report. The County updated and revised its General Plan in

December 1994 (the 1995 General Plan), including revised policies and many

implementation recommendations on the subject of open space planning and scenic
resources preservation. Many of those implementation recommendations have been
carried out, while others efforts are just now underway, such as a regional habitat
conservation plan, or HCP. To provide a structure for the report's evaluation and
recommendations, the next section summarizes the Open Space Action Program.

The County General Plan "Open Space Action Program"

State law requires that each general plan include an "Open Space Action Program" to
indicate how a jurisdiction will implement its open space element goals and policies.
Within the 1995 Santa Glara County General Plan, the "Action Program" is Appendix
#4. Its most important function is as an overview of the strategies, policies, and
implementing actions of the County General Plan for open space preservation
generally, as well as for viewshed protection.
The five main strategies of the "Action Program" are the hierarchical framework and
building blocks of future preservation efforts. The strategies are as follows:

Strategy #1: Continue countywide urban growth management and Joint
Urban Development Policies.

Strategy #2: Regulate allowable uses and densities of development (for rural

Viewshed Analysis and Report


Strategy #3: Provide economic incentives to private landowners.

Strategy #4: Acquire open space for parks, wildlife refuges (habitat), and
other open space uses.

Strategy #5; Conduct special studies, area planning, and assessment of
projects under CEQA.

Under these strategies are a great many individual means of implementation. However,

the significance of these strategies lies not so much in the many detailed ways the
County implements them in daily functions of the Planning Department, and other
agencies, but in their overall significance,

'the three most important and noteworthy aspects of the County's "Open Space Action
Program" and strategies are that:

the County General Plan is not lacking a comprehensive,long range set of
strategies for open space preservation and viewshed preservation, with each
strategy building hierarchically upon the foundation of the urban growth

anagement policies of the cities. County, and LAFCO;

the County's plan is truly a regional plan, with multiple implementers, and
significant roles for many entities and agencies to play; and,

the goals, strategies, and policies of the General Plan for open space and viewshed
and provide a
preservation have a long history, enjoy broad public support,
to build.
platform or basis on which the County may continue

The five strategies also provide the organization for the recommendations of this report.
Part 3. Viewshed Mapping,Analysis,and Evaluation

GIS Viewshed Mapping Process

The centerpiece of this countywide viewshed report is a mapping analysis made

possible through the Planning Office's Geographic Information System (GIS). Previous

studies and evaluations of viewshed and scenic corridors, including mapping efforts,

have had to rely on basic topographic contour information and some guesswork to
generally estimate the extent of areas visible from the valley floor. Through GIS,
ewshed mapping and analysis is not only more accurate, but it also provides the
County with an indication of the relative degree of visibility of hillsides. It also allows

the overlay analysis of data on public and incorporated lands.

The countywide viewshed mapping presented in this report builds upon the work done
for the Morgan Hill Urban Limit Line/Greenbelt Study ("pilot project"), a planning
study initiated by the City in which the County has participated. In this project, the
County Planning Office developed a methodology for mapping the Morgan Hill
Viewshed Analysis and Report


viewshed that divided the study area into sub-areas, to allow for more focused

examination of the various hillside areas and parcel patterns surrounding Morgan Hill.

For the countywide mapping analysis, staff divided the entire county into ten (10)

evaluation areas, five on the east, and five on the west of the valley floor. Ten subareas

allows for meaningful map analysis and display, without creating an overwhelming
number of subareas.

The GIS viewshed analysis utilizes digital elevation data of the U.S. Geologic Survey

(USGS). In each subarea, a grid of vantage points was assigned throughout the valley
floor or flat land portions of each subarea, at approximately 0.5 mile intervals. Most

subareas include hundreds of individual vantage pcTnts from which the GIS projects a

-of-sight" into the adjacent hillsides. The GIS then compiles the results of this
analysis for each subarea to show what portions of the surrounding hillsides are visible

from the collection of vantage points selected. Vantage points are established at an
elevation five feet above ground to approximate the average height of an individual.
The relative visibility of these viewshed lands is ranked according the percentage of
total vantage points from which a particular portion of the hillsides can be seen.

Hillside elevations visible from 75% or more of all vantage points are ranked as having

the highest overall visibility, depicted in red. Those visible from 50-75% of all vantage
points are included in the next category of relative visibility, and so on.
County GIS data layers and elevation models do not contain information regarding
man-made land features, such as buildings, overpasses, billboards, and bridges, or

vegetative cover, including trees, 'rherefore, a person standing at any given vantage
point might have their vision of the hillsides obstructed in some directions by structures
and trees, but not in all directions. Likewise, a piece of land within the viewshed may

contain tree cover that will obscure various portions of that parcel from view. Any

methodology has some limitations, but no other tool provides the mapping and analysis

capability for viewshed studies that GIS provides.

For each subarea, staff prepared a series of three maps:
• the first depicts all hillside lands visible from the valley floor;
• the second iteration of each subarea map masks or eliminates those areas in city

jurisdiction, i.e., lands not under the regulatory jurisdiction of the County; and,
the third iteration excludes publicly-owned lands of the federal, state, or local
governments, such as MROSD,County Parks, State parks, and others, on which

some minimal development may occur, such as recreational facilities or trails, but
not private development.

Through this process of elimination, the resulting maps show the privately-owned,
unincorporated lands that are the subject of County land use and regulatory authority.
The analysis also allows for an estimation of the percentage of each subarea that has
been acquired for permanent open space preservation, among other types of analysis
using existing data.

Within certain zones of analysis, some hillside lands are shown as being visible from the
valley floor on the basis of elevation, such as Stanford University hillside lands, that are
Viewshed Analysis and Report


not the subject of this study. Stanford lands are addressed under the Stanford
Community Plan, and more specifically, the viewshed-related provisions of the Open
Space/Field Research Zoning District. The Los Altos and Los Altos Hills urban
unincorporated areas are also not the subject of this report.
[Note: The subject of this work plan item, viewshed protection, and the mapping

analysis provided, focuses on the traditional definition of viewsheds, hillsides generally
visible from the urbanized areas of the valley floor. There are other subjects related to
viewshed analysis, such as scenic highway corridor studies, to which the same
methodology can be applied, but which were not the primary subject of this study.
Viewshed analyses of individual road corridors would generally be conducted in the
context of scenic highway designation studies, which are not within the scope of this
work effort. However, the methodology is easily applied to corridor studies using a

series of vantage points along a line segment].

Observations from Mapping Analysis

The subareas of the north and central Santa Cruz Mountains contain the highest

percentages of publicly-owned lands, due to the longer history of acquisition efforts by
both public and private entities. In fact, within Subareas 1, 2, and 3 the North, Central
and South Central Santa Cruz Mountains, a significant percentage of the viewshed area
is within city limits or under public ownership. In Subarea 3, a substantial amount of
acreage within the viewshed is under San Jose jurisdiction. The subareas with the
greatest percentage of private, unincorporated lands are Subarea 7, the San Jose East
Hills, and 10, the East Gilroy Hills.

All areas contain some percentage of highly visible viewshed lands. One of the
challenges of defining what lands constitute the primary viewshed of the valley floor is

the fact that for some subareas, the viewshed can be defined by a readily discernable

ridge or series of ridges. Other areas have more complex topography, with some

isolated hillsides visible beyond the most immediately adjacent hillsides.

Another consideration in determining what viewshed lands to prioritize for protection

measures is that with previous studies, such as the West Valley Hillsides Preservation
Study, only the viewshed areas closest to the valley floor were selected for "-dl"

More remote hillsides near the Santa Cruz Mountains summit were excluded.

the reason being primarily that the more distant the parcels, the less visual impact

development has due to perspective. As part of the follow-up to this initial report on the

work plan item, staff will prepare more detailed maps delineating primary and
secondary viewshed areas for each subarea, including cadastral or parcel information.
In summary, the relative amount of incorporated lands within the viewshed has been
constant over the last 25 to 30 years, subsequent to the establishment of Urban Service

Areas. The most significant trend has been the increase in the amount of land acquired
by public agencies in the last 25 years. Nevertheless, some subareas are lacking
significant publicly-owned lands. Future acquisition efforts by public and private

nonprofit agencies may in time come to focus more upon these areas, depending on the
market availability and cost of such lands. Another prospect involves acquiring
conservation or open space easements for the development rights or a portion thereof
View.shed Analysis and Report


for private property. Land does not have to be publicly owned in fee in order to secure
preservation of open space or viewshed protection.


Trends in Rural Viewshed Development

3.3.1. Subdivision Controls Have Evolved to Limit New Lot Creation

County policies and regulation toward rural land use and development have evolved
over time in response to development trends. For example, as the public and County
leaders observed rural subdivision patterns of the 1960s and 1970s, concerns grew over
the County's low minimum lot sizes for rural hillside and agricultural lands. There
were no policies or land use controls requiring hillside clustering through subdivision,
and the extent of road development in hillsides to serve a relatively few, scattered lots
was often excessive.

I'o counter these trends, the County adopted the 1980 General Plan and its Land Use

permissible uses to those
Plan designations. It increased minimum lot sizes, limited
appropriate to rural areas, and ended small lot hillside
unregulated subdivision and low minimum lot sizes in the decades leading up to the
1980 General Plan resulted in a high number of non-conforming lots throughout the
rural hillside and agricultural areas, i.e., lots smaller than the densities and lot sizes of
the General Plan would currently require.

The hillsides were designated for low density residential development, agriculture, and
natural resource related uses under the Hillside and Ranchlands designations of the

1980 General Plan, with accompanying zoning districts adopted in the early 1980s.

Minimum lot sizes are between 20 to 160 acres in Hillside areas, depending on slope,

and clustering and open space dedication are required for subdivisions of three lots or
With most of the privately owned viewshed lands under the Hillside designation,
the subdivision rate of viewshed lands has been significantly reduced. Some
subdivisions are still proposed, but with Hillside cluster subdivisions, 90% or more of
the land is dedicated as open space. Rural Residential hillside areas are comprised

mostly of parcels too small to be further divided.


Development Has Stabilized in Viewshed Since 1980 General Plan

Under the County's low rural densities and Hillside and Ranchland policies regulating

subdivision, pressures to subdivide viewshed lands during the last two decades have
stabilized. The County regularly receives inquiries regarding subdividing hillside

viewshed lands to create urban density subdivisions, but such proposals conflict with
General Plan densities and the joint policies of cities, Gounty, and LAFGO limiting
urban development to within Urban Service Areas.

The generally undeveloped, natural appearance of much of the viewshed has been
largely maintained since 1980, although there are patches of significant hillside

development in the viewshed on existing lots. Many such homes pre-date any city or
County policy to protect viewsheds. There have also been significant public acquisitions
of land within the viewshed to permanently preclude development of those lands.
Viewshed Analysis and Report


Overall, if one compares the viewshed landscape of today with that of 20-25 years ago,

much remains the same. There remain large expanses of relatively undeveloped lands,

'rhe patches of existing hillside viewshed development have not significantly increased.
The cities have established stronger policies and Urban Growth Boundaries to firmly

convey their intent to not grow further into the hillsides. Land speculation for urban
development in the rural unincorporated areas and viewshed is diminished. As long
the County upholds its obligations under the countywide urban growth management
policies, land use patterns in the rural hillsides and viewshed lands should remain


relatively stable.

3.3.3. Single-site Development Will Continue to be Primary Form of Rural

As population growth continues within the urbanized areas, and with the possibility of
urban expansion into Coyote Valley, pressures to develop existing lots remain high.
Some parcels that were created by subdivisions in the late 1970s, with lots as small as 2
to 3 acres, have only been developed with new homes as recently as the last 5 years. For
example, new homes have been built on lots on Bella Madeira Lane in the east foothills
just the last several years, although the County approved the subdivision over 25
years ago. Many observers think such subdivisions and lots must be of recent origin,

but no new lots less than 20 acres in the Hillside Land Use designation have been

possible since the 1980 General Plan.

3.3.4. Most Easily Developed Lots Have Already Been Developed

By far, most of the private residential development that occurs within rural
unincorporated areas, hillsides included, is single-site development on existing lots.
These range in size from a few acres to hundreds of acres. More importantly, the most
easily developed lots have already been developed with a single-family home,leaving
the ones with more development constraints. These constraints include steep slopes,

higher costs to develop access roads, significant grading amounts, septic limitations,

and geologic and natural hazards. These lots occur in both remote areas and viewshed
lands relatively close to urban areas. The more a buyer pays for such lots, and the more
engineering and design costs are incurred for development, the more property owners
may resist further efforts to mitigate the visual impacts of their developments.
Single-family residential uses are allowed as a matter of right on each legal lot in all
rural zoning districts and General Plan designations. Property owners retain

reasonable economic value from this use potential, without which many lots would

have only agricultural, recreational, or other natural resource value. That does not
necessarily mean that all hillside lots are automatically entitled to be developed, since

development may depend on septic system limitations, geologic constraints, steep

slopes, and other factors.

The long term trend in the overall size of homes in rural areas has been on the gradual
time. Small ranch style homes and farm residences are no longer the
norm. with larger estate or "executive homes" becoming more common. Over the long

increase over

term, as land and development costs rise, and fewer lots remain, it is reasonable to
Viewshed Analysis and Report


expect that the value of existing viewshed lots will increase, and that one of the primary

for protection of viewshed lands will continue to be single-site development.

Just as urban growth management policies have evolved. County and city efforts to
minimize the obtrusiveness and visual impact of hillside homes and single-site

development will continue to evolve. It will involve a balancing private property rights
with the goals of the general plan that reflect the broader public interest—to preserve
much open space as possible and maintain the predominantly natural appearance of


hillsides that form the viewshed of the urbanized areas. In Part 4 of this report, staff

will summarize the County's specific land use controls over single site development in
the viewshed, discuss their general effectiveness, and how they might be made


Trends and Limits in Public Acquisition and Open Space Preservation

Before addressing single-site development issues in more detail, and other areas of
recommendations, it is also important to focus on the trends in public agency land
acquisition and viewshed preservation. Comparing the County's General Plan Land
Use map of 1980 with that of the present shows significantly greater amounts of land in
state and local public ownership. Two land use designations. Regional Parks, and
Other Public Open Lands(not for public recreation use) apply to much more of the
viewshed lands today than 25 years ago.

The MROSD,County Parks Department, the Open Space Authority, and cities have all
made significant acquisitions over the last 25 years. For example, one of the most
significant single, large land acquisitions in recent years that contributes greatly to
viewshed preservation has been the addition of the Harvey Bear Ranch County Park,in

South County. Several thousand acres under one ownership, including most of the
viewshed lands east of San Martin, have been preserved through one strategic
acquisition by County Parks.

There have also been significant efforts in recent years by private entities such as
Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Nature Conservancy to acquire private land for
focused attention on the more
open space preservation. The Nature Conservancy has than
those within the viewshed.
remote Diablo Range areas, where land costs are lower
However, efforts to preserve these interior lands are also an important part of the

gional plan to preserve open space and wildlife habitat, because they augment the


efforts of public agencies, extend tax dollars, and allow those public agencies to better

fulfill their missions and functions within the limited resources available.

Key challenges to open space preservation through acquisition are the limited financial
resources of public agencies, reduced tax revenues to state and local government due to
economic recession, and increasing land costs over time. There will never be enough

public money to preserve all the viewshed lands through purchase by public or private
entities. The number of large land holdings within the viewshed,like the Harvey Bear
Ranch properties, are also limited. The best strategies for public agencies and private
land trusts are to seek improved coordination, remain open to good opportunities for
collaboration when they arise, and to promote viewshed preservation and habitat
conservation as much as possible in their own long term plans and priorities.
Viewshed Analysis and Report


Part 4. General Report Findings and Recommendations
This section of the report will provide an overview of findings and observations

regarding viewshed protection, followed by general recommendations organized
ording to the five major strategies of the Open Space "Action Program" of the

General Plan.


Strategy #1; Continue Countywide Growth Management Policies and "Joint
Urban Development Policies"

Strategy #1 is to continue the County's joint policies on urban development and growth
gement implemented also by the cities and LAFCO. The primary implementing
action listed under this strategy in the 1995 General Plan was to conduct joint studies
and form agreements with cities for establishing long term Urban Growth Boundaries,
or UGBs. The County has been quite successful in this endeavor during the last ten


'Fhe City of Morgan Hill and the County Planning Office conducted the first joint study

that produced the city's UGB in 1996. San Jose and the County collaborated to establish

that city's UGB shortly afterwards. Also in 1997, the County's West Valley Hillsides
Preservation Study resulted in the cities of Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, and

Cuperhno establishing UGBs, or general plan policies to the effect that no further urban
expansion into the hillsides would occur beyond the existing Urban Service Area
boundaries. Milpitas followed in 1998 with a ballot initiative. Measure Z, which
established a 20-year UGB as part of its General Plan, located at the lower elevations of
the foothills. This effort was a result of joint study with the County, which also

produced the County's "-d2" design review zoning district. As part of Measure Z, the

City of Milpitas was also required to apply to LAFCO for a modification of the city's

Urban Service Area to be coterminous with the UGB. That application was submitted

in 1999, but has been delayed in processing to date. The County supported Measure Z

in part to provide greater consistency between jurisdictions and their USA locations,
particularly San Jose, which had established its USA at the base of the east foothills, at
the approximate 15% slope line.

The most important aspect of this strategy for the County is to maintain and enforce its
policies prohibihng urban densities and urban types of land uses on lands outside city
Urban Service Areas. As the origins of the joint urban development policies in the
1970s recede further into history, and the public gradually comes to take for granted
that these cooperative policies will be maintained and upheld, their importance in
everyday decision-maHng and policy enforcement becomes less and less apparent to

However, no other recommendation of this or any other planning study on the subject

of viewshed preservation is more significant than to maintain and strengthen, if
possible, the County's commitment to the countywide urban growth management
policies and their implementation. If these policies limiting urban densities and uses to
Viewshed Analysis and Report


lands within cities are eroded or abrogated in the future, the effectiveness of any other

strategy or means of protecting viewshed lands will be greatly diminished, if not moot.
Recommenda tions:

Maintain the County's commitment to the countywide urban development policies

that require urban densities of development and urban land uses to locate within
cities and USAs, not in rural unincorporated lands outside city USAs.


these policies with
Explore additional means of jointly retaining and reinforcing
the cities and LAFCO,through legal agreements or other


Strategy #2: Regulate Allowable Uses and Densities of Development {rural


The bulk of the issues and recommendations of this report are within the scope of this

second strategy of the Action Program. This section includes a brief evaluation of
County regulatory processes and controls for single-site development in hillside areas.
Most of the implementation recommendations listed under Strategy #2 have been
achieved in the ten years since the General Plan was adopted, including rezonings for
consistency with the General Plan for rural areas, a review of use regulations of the A
Zoning District, agricultural easements programs and viability studies, and riparian
educahonal efforts. Another is the subject of another work plan item, the Riparian

Protection Policy & Ordinance study.

4.2.1. Regulation of Rural Land Uses

Single-site development remains the most common form of rural land development.
Residential development remains a permitted use, subject to obtaining building site
approval, and possibly grading permit, on any legal lot within the rural unincorporated


Staff recommends no additional studies or changes to the allowable uses of the A, AR,

HS, or RR rural base zoning districts as part of the viewshed study. The scope of the
study is sufficiently broad and detailed with regard to development of residential
within the viewshed, and a review of permitted uses in these zoning districts would
ly complicate and potentially frustrate progress in other areas of concena.



4.2.2. Regulation of Allowable Densities and Minimum Lot Sizes (Subdivision)

One of the findings of the Morgan Hill "pilot study" for viewshed protection was that

only a few parcels wifhin that city's viewshed have any subdivision potential. The vast
majority of parcels in the City's viewshed were non-conforming legal lots ranging
between 1 to 20 acres. Most fell between 2.5 to 10 acres, too small to be eligible for


Viewshed Analysis and Report


Within the countywide viewshed area, certainly more lots exist which may have the

potential to be subdivided, through the standard County application processes.

Depending on the average slope, accessibility, and other factors, some additional

subdivision is to be expected over time. However, existing densities of development,

particularly those of the "Hillside" designation, require a minimum land area per lot of
20-160 acres, depending on slope. "Ranchlands" subdivisions are subject to the same
minimum lot sizes. Very few viewshed areas are subject to the County's Rural

Residential designation and zoning, and within those areas, most parcels are too small

to be further subdivided,

rhe effort that would be required to undertake possible changes to the General Plan

and Zoning Ordinance to reduce subdivision potential through reduced densities for

subdivision would be quite large. In contrast, the number of subdivisions occurring
within the four base designations of Hillside, Ranchlands, Rural Residential, and

Agriculture is limited. Staff recommends that no changes of densities and minimum lot

sizes be considered as part of this study.

Maintain current allowable densities of development and minimum lot sizes of the

Hillside, Ranchlands, Rural Residential, and Agriculture Land Use designations

and accompanying HS, AR,RR, and A zoning districts.

Require and implement visual impact analysis through use of the County Planning
Office CIS of any application for subdivision at the pre-application stage, to

evaluate and inform prospective applicants of viewshed issues that may affect the
location of developmenf and approval of a subdivision. For formal subdivision
applications wifhin areas identified as viewshed lands, the County may require

such additional studies, visual simulations, or other submittals necessary to fully

evaluate visual impacts of a tentative map and resulting development, including

possible alternatives to reduce visual impact, or as a basis for potentially reduced
density to avoid or mitigate significant visual impacts.


Revise Scenic Resources policies of the General Plan to include policy statements
incorporating intent of recommendation #2, above.

4.2.3. Regulation of Single Site Residential Development in the Viewshed

Under Strategy 2, the General Plan contains a recommendation to identify areas of

sensitivity to visual impacts of development and apply design review requirements to
development within those areas, i.e., rezone to apply the "-d" combining district.
(Ranchlands areas east of Hwy.101 not subject to building site approval were to be

This implementation recommendation from 1994 reflected the prevailing use of Design
Review to regulate hillside development for visual impacts. Where required. Design
Review procedures may apply in conjunction with applications for single Building Site
Approval, Grading Permit, and/or a building permit for new construction or additions.
Viewshed Analy.sis and Report

18 Development Factors Affecting Visual Impact

To provide context for the recommendations of this report, this section will provide a
brief overview of the primary factors for single-site residential development that can
affect visual impact. It also explains the role of various County procedures and
permitting requirements in addressing each factor.

The proposed location of a house on the lot. If alternative
locations are possible, some locations may mitigate or avoid
a visual impact, while others may exacerbate impacts.

Location is also a factor of access, lot configuration and size,

slope, placement of septic system, geology, and similar



Grading, or the amount of terrain alteration necessary to
build a house pad, access, turnarounds, or other features.
Earthwork and retaining walls can be a primary cause of
adverse visual impacts, or, if well-designed, ameliorate


The overall floor area, or bulk of the house and attached

features. Smaller, well-designed homes with limited

expanses facing the valley floor contrast less with the

landscape than a larger, taller, wider building.

The height of a structure measured from finished grade.


Lower structures tend to mitigate visual impacts, but not
always, depending on design.


The architectural style, features, articulatioia, and

attractiveness of a home. A home with well-articulated

massing, interesting architectural features, ornament, and
proper placement of openings, will appear less obtrusive

than one of the same size with a boxy, monolithic, or plain

Color and brightness of fagade and roofing, or Light
Reflectivity Value (LRV). The lower the LRV,the less a

structure stands out against its landscape and surroundings.
Enforcement over time can be less reliable than changes for

which permits are required, unless adequate means are


Use of trees, shrubs, and other plantings for screening or

blending with natural landscape. Can be limited depending

on area. soils, water availability, slope, and related matters.
However, with adequate guidelines and standards,
including necessary fire breaks or "defensible space.

Viewshed Analysis and Report


landscaping can be a significant mitigation that also
enhances property value. Existing County Development Review Procedures

The three main County permit procedures that typically apply to new single-site

residential development or major additions in viewshed areas, other than the building
permit itself, are:

single building site approval(BSA);
grading permit(G); and/or
design review (DR).

Single Building Site Approval is used to determine whether or not and under what
conditions a parcel of land may be improved for residential use. It typically applies to
lots not created by a subdivision, or lots not granted site approval through previous
subdivision. Through BSA,the County reviews the proposed siting or placement of a

residence, the proposed access, the amount of grading and terrain alteration,

geologic hazards, septic system feasibility, and water supply/storage, among other

factors. If a parcel can support the improvements needed for residential use, BSA is
granted conditionally as a prerequisite to the issuance of a building permit. If a certain
amount of grading is proposed, a concurrent grading permit is required.
BSA has evolved from a somewhat ministerial to a more discretionary land use

approval over time, particularly to address visual impacts of development and the
amount and type of grading involved. Some of the more recent applications that the
County has addressed involved very large homes on prominent hillsides or ridges,

including one recently involving approximately 25,000 square feet of floor area. That
application was not subject to a grading permit or design review, only BSA. BSA was
not originally conceived to address all aspects of hillside development and mitigation of
visual impacts. It was created to provide the necessary review and approval of
unimproved lots that were created by means other than a subdivision parcel or tract

The BSA process was modified slightly in 1990 to provide for more rigorous review of
development proposed on sites with a slope of 30% or more. These BSA applications
reviewed by tie Architecture & Site Approval Committee(ASA). Although
intended to discourage building on slopes of 30% or more, this form of site approval is

presently applicable only to HS,RHS,and RIE base zoning districts. Furthermore, the

ordinance would benefit from better criteria or findings as a basis for ASA granting

approval, imposing specific conditions, or denying approval, per Section C12-350.1
through C12-350.4.

Grading permits and the Grading Ordinance are intended primarily to provide a


of evaluating and controlling earthwork associated with a development, to ensure that
excessive grading is avoided, that grading is only permitted for an authorized land use,
and to avoid adverse environmental impacts. It is also intended to provide adequate
ght of design, construction, and inspection of cuts, fills, and related matters. The
Grading Ordinance was not conceived to address all aspects of residential development

in hillsides or viewshed areas. Grading permits are required where the triggers or
Viewshed Analysis and Report


thresholds are exceeded for any type of project, including a residence, landscaping, a

bridge, a driveway, work within a stream, and other instances.

Design Review was conceived originally as a means of ensuring excellence of design
and development, particularly in hillside and viewshed areas, and primarily with
regard to residential uses. DR procedures and guidelines address many aspects of
building design, color, landscaping, lighting, and similar features, as well as
compatibility with the natural environment, neighborhood and adjacent development.

Over time, it has become more apparent that Design Review Guidelines, Design Review

is limited in its ability to influence siting and house size, among other aspects of

development. Typically, the siting and size of the building area will be proposed by the
applicant through an application for BSA, or a building permit on an approved site,
after significant expenditure of time and money for engineering and architectural
services. Through the current DR process, the County's ability to influence siting,
grading, roads, or retaining walls proposed by the applicant is not as effective as it
might be.

In summary, although Design Review has been thought of as the primary means of

addressing visual impacts of hillside development, its focus has evolved towards the
factors of massing, style, landscaping, and color or LRV, not siting and grading. Over
the last 20+ years, the County has routinely required Design Review as a condition of


subdivisions. However, the subdivision, the location of the lots, and their

configuration often affect the level of visual impact as much as the design of a home,its

size, color, or landscaping.

With the enactment of the "-dl" and "-d2" versions of Design Review zoning m the late

1990s, the County expanded the areas subject to Design Review zoning and instituted
LRV limits of 60 or less. Design Review zoning current applies to only a minority of
lands within the countywide viewshed area. Furthermore, experience has shown that
LRV of 60 or less may still result in a pronounced contrast between a building and its
surroundings. Landscaping can also be used to reduce impact, but may be less effective

than desired, without formal standards. In some cases, landscaping may be ineffective,

depending on lack of maintenance, weather, drought, or neglect. County guidelines
and regulations regarding hillside landscaping could be improved to ensure adequate
planting and assured maintenance.

Lastly, it must be noted that for some lots, as was found in the Morgan Hill study,no

combination of land use controls, conditions, or review procedures will completely

avoid or minimize visual impact. Small lots, with limited or no siting options, fully

visible to the valley floor, and lacking any native vegetation, will result in a home of

even moderate size having a distinct visual impact. That is the legacy of previous

planning and land use decisions that have resulted in a significant number of existing,

sub-standard liillside parcels. Preliminary Recommendations for Single-Site Development in
Viewshed Areas

County staff has formed general recommendations for this report based partly on the
Morgan Hill pilot study, further evaluation of other jurisdictions' models, policies, and
Viewshed Analysis and Report


ordinances, and the existing regulations and procedures of the County for hillside and
viewshed development. A full explanation of staff's research and conclusions

regarding other jurisdictions' approaches and requirements is contained in an appendix
to this report.

Staff also bases its recommendations on the following criteria:
a. Relative effectiveness and feasibility,






Consistency with General Plan goals, policies, and strategies,

The need and preference for simplicity over complexity, wherever possible, and
avoiding the potential proliferation of differing standards, procedures, or
combining zoning districts for sub-areas of the County and/or city SOIs.
The cost versus benefit of enactment and implementation,

Need for some degree of flexibility to address parcel-specific circumstances and
allow development that is reasonably consistent with County requirements,
Use of process incentives as well as regulation to achieve desired outcomes.



Augment the County's General Plan policies for scenic resources protection

specifically with regard to mitigating impacts of single-site development. Develop
policies to express the intent of the Board's directions for single-site procedures
and requirements.


Develop a single-site development review ordinance/process for designated
viewshed areas to address^aspects of development that have potential for
significant visual impacts. The most appropriate mechanism would be an
augmented Design Review process(see Recommendation 9). Such a review
process and its accompanying standards and guidelines would address the


Siting/location: evaluation of feasible alternatives to minimize visibility and


Size, height, mass, and number of stories facing valley floor: used in


development on sites lacking available alternative sites.
Golor or LRV of faqade and roofing: require use of colors and LRV that more
closely approximate natural landscape hues/intensity,


grading/terrain alteration,

conjunction with siting review or to particularly to mitigate impacts of

Landscaping and tree preservation: require where feasible, to lessen contrast
with hillsides, and provide partial screening. Develop better guidelines based
on other jurisdictions' models.


Access road placement, retaining walls, and related subject matter: review

and limit visual and environmental impacts as feasible, per site constraints

(e.g.: landscaping of retaining walls or use of natural materials).

For designated viewshed areas, create a development review process that utilizes
procedural and other incentives to achieve conformity with policies, standards,
and guidelines for reducing visual impact. These incentives would involve use of
a tiered process, with different levels of review, depending on the characteristics of
proposed development:

Viewshed Analysis and Report



Tier 1 Review would apply to development projects for which the placement,
size, and overall design would have minimal levels of visual impact based on

pre-established criteria or thresholds. Tier 1 review would entail the least

time, lowest fees, and administrative level review. Exemptions might
be available for certain projects, such as additions, or proposed siting not



visible from the valley floor,

Tier 2 Review would apply to development projects for which a defined
characteristic, including size of structure, grading amounts, degree of
visibility or prominence, severity of slopes, or other criteria, exceeds pre-

established criteria. It would be similar to the BSA process for development

on slopes of 30% or more,in that it would entail:

i. additional submittal requirements,

environmental assessment under CEQA,depending on criteria,
iii. a minimum, not a fixed application fee, and
iv. administrative level review or higher,




Tier 3 Review would apply to development projects which are determined to
have major, significant unavoidable visual impacts that cannot be mitigated
through changes to the project or conditions, due to extreme size, placement
in the most visually prominent location, or other similar factors. Planning
Commission revieAV would be required. Alternatively, the Board could
consider setting a universal maximum house size or other standards to
address Tier 3 type projects and reduce the number of levels of review.

Develop criteria or thresholds for house size, grading and terrain alteration, slope
factors, height and color, and any other relevant aspect of development, adopted
part of the ordinance, to differentiate what level of review applies. Eor example,

new structures of s certain size, grading amounts, LRV, height, landscaping, or
other factors would qualify for Tier 1 level review, and with proper design and
compliance, exemption from further hearing processes.


Utilize the pre-application process to evaluate prospective development

applications, advise applicants of conformity with ordinances, standards, or
guidelines, and to verify on a site-specific basis the relative visibility of the parcel
and development site. Staff believe this approach is probably most appropriate for

Tier 2 level review.


In non-viewshed areas, augment the existing single Building Site Approval review

process for development on slopes of 30% or more to require that same level of
review for projects based not just on a single factor of slope, but also grading and
terrain alteration, and other possible factors. Establish necessary criteria and
findings for approval and as a basis for conditions or consideration of denial. In
cases where a parcel was created as an approved building site, augment the
Grading Ordinance with criteria and findings which would reduce visual impacts
of development and grading. Eor example, consider better use of natural materials
to blend cuts and fills, design examples to encourage minimal grading, better use
of landscaping and plantings, and similar measures.


Ridgeline/Crestline development issues. Further review and develop optional
of minimizing impacts of development on ridgelines, where they most are

Viewshed Analysi.s and Report


feasible to define, consistent with existing County policy R-RC 102. The intent of
this existing policy is not to absolutely prohibit a ridgeline development location
where there are no feasible alternatives to development. Options could include:
a. Require placement of structures in relation to the perceived ridgeline or
defined elevations such that no portion of a structure protrudes above the



designated ridgeline or elevation (assumes alternative feasible locations tor
development other than the ridge). Similar to County "-d2" zoning district
provisions and those of many other jurisdictions studied,
Require placement of structures in relation to ridgeline or elevation such that
no more than a certain height of the structure is visible, combined with
mitigations such as LRV controls, landscaping, massing,length of building
facing valley. This is a valuable approach if ridgeline placement is the only

siting option or would have the least overall impact.
Allow placement of buildings or building envelopes created by subdivision
on or near ridgelines only if alternatives reviewed during subdivision review

process are deemed inappropriate. Such resulting lots should be subject to


more restrictive limits on height, such as one story, maximum length or
expanse of a building facing fhe valley floor, etc.

For secondary or more remote ridgelines, take into account the mitigating
effect of their greater distance from the valley floor in determining ridgeline


If maximum floor area limits for dwellings are considered, include appropriate

limits on accessory structures to ensure that such uses are subordinate and
ancillary in nature.


To implement a review procedure that will make the Board's desired
improvements in viewshed protection, there are several choices, the (a) the
existing BSA ordinance and Grading Ordinance,including ASA Committee
review,(b) an augmented Design Review process, or (c) a completely new
procedure based on another jurisdiction's approach.
Staff's recommendation is to develop an augmented form of the County's current

Design Review zoning and review procedures, rather than using the existing
Building Site Approval and Grading Permit, or an entirely new form of procedure

and ordinance. This recommendation includes rezoning designated viewshed
lands to include a DR combining district specially for viewshed preservation.
Reasons are provided in the table below:
Review Procedure



Most commonly required

prerequisite process for

new dwellings

Addresses 30%+ slopes
through ASA Committee

Viewshed Analysis and Report

Any already approved sites
would be exempt
Some Ranchlands in

viewshed presently exempt
Would not provide readily
apparent regulations and
intent to protect viewshed

ASA used primarily for

comm'l. uses, urban area

zoning districts, & Stanford
U. projects. Heavy existing
workload, staff demands

Design Review

Historically intended and

Significant amount of lands

areas; w/ many existing

already zoned "-d."

used for hillside/ viewshed

to be added to those

"-d" zones already existing

Least change needed to
expand scope of existing
ordinance; best fit with

purpose of viewshed

Public/property owners

accustomed to DR as a tool

for viewshed protection
Better means of ensuring
public, property owners,

buyers are aware of
County's regulations, goals
for viewshed prc:)tection
than BSA

New Process

Uncertain, depending on
nature of proposal

Would require repeal of all
"-d" zones and replacement
w/ a new zoning district or
process requirement
Uncertain acceptance

Probably largest effort to
conceive, draft new

ordinances, procedures, &
results would likely

emulate proposal for
revamped DR

*ASA Committee is granting authority for BSA on 30% slopes or greater.

10. Review the types of projects eligible for Statutory and Discretionary Exemption
from Design Review, Section 5.50.050 and 5.50.060, to simplify regulations. E.g.:
some discretionary exemptions, like minor additions, might be appropriate as
statutory (full) exemptions.

In conclusion, staff believes there are no "quick fixes" or panaceas for improved

regulation of visual impacts of hillside development and viewshed preservation,
generally. The use of Design Review currently, as it is defined in the existing Zoning
Ordinance, provides a certain measure of discretionary review, but it does not

necessarily assure that the Board's expectations or the General Plan's objectives are fully
met. Establishing criteria or thresholds for impact reduction or avoidance would
represent a significant step in the evolution of land use controls for viewshed
Viewshed Analysis and Report


protection. Some flexibility must also be maintained to account for individual property



Strategy #3; Provide economic incentives to private landowners.

Providing economic incentives to private landowners is a key component of the Action
Program. Thousands of acres of rural lands in Santa Clara County are likely never to be
available or affordable for acquisition by open space agencies or private land trusts.

'I’he primary type of incentive program for most local governments is participation in
the state's Land Conservation Act, or Williamson Act program. The County also

provides for similar property tax reduction for Timberland Reserves, pursuant to

applicable state laws. However,issues relating to Williamson Act policies, ordinances,
and administration are the subject of an entirely distinct work plan item and study, for
which work is in progress. Williamson Act contracts and related issues will not be

further addressed as part of the Viewshed & Greenbelt work plan item.

Other forms of incentives to property owners are the dedication of conservation,

agricultural, or open space easements to trusts, public agencies, and non-profit
organizations, in return for compensation. These function to compensate owners for
development potenhal, while also reducing property tax obligations. They can also be
useful for estate management purposes. Easements will be further addressed under

section 4.4, below.


Strategy #4: Acquire open space for parks, wildlife refuges, other open space

Many consider public and private acquisition to be the foremost choice for open space
and viewshed preservation. Lands purchased by public agencies for parks, wildlife
habitat, open space preserves, or similar open space uses are preserved in perpetuity
from private development, unless disposed of in the future by sale to another entity.
That outcome is extremely rare in cases where land is purchased for a park,for habitat
protection or mitigation, or purchased by a trust or agency whose sole purpose is to
secure open space. However, as previously indicated, fee title acquisition is a limited
option, constrained by the cost of land, availability of land on the market, willingness of
property owners to sell, and the limited financial resources of the federal, state, and
local governments.

The recommendations related to acquisition for open space and viewshed preservation

pertain primarily to funding and coordination among the many agencies and private

entities involved.



Continue Santa Clara County Parks Charter Funding, including funds for

acquisition of strategically important portions of the Regional Parks element of the
General Plan.


Improve coordination among open space preservation agencies, and ensure that
there is adequate data-sharing and mapping of public land, easements, and

Viewshed Analysis and Report


dedication of development rights resulting from land use approvals or mitigation

Strategy #5: Conduct special studies, area plans, and project review under

In the last ten years since the 1995 General Plan was adopted, there have been several
notable examples of the use of special studies or area plans to promote open space and
viewshed preservation.

The 2000 Stanford University Community Plan created special land use designations for

open space lands,implemented through special purpose zoning districts. Viewshed
analysis was made an integral component of evaluating potential uses within the Open

Space/Field Research designation.

The Habitat Conservation Plan presently underway, under the auspices of the County,
Santa Clara Valley Water District, City of San Jose, and the Valley Transportation
Authority, may also have the potential for securing open space for habitat preservation
from San Jose to Morgan Hill,
and mitigation of impacts from the widening of Hwy. 101
have indirect benefits for
among other projects. Implementation of the HCP may
viewshed preservation.

From 1998-99, the County Planning Office conducted a major study to promote the use
of agricultural conservation easements, with a report to the Board of Supervisors

regarding the recommendations of the Agricultural Conservation Easement(ACE)Task
Force. The Land Trust For Santa Clara County now plays an important role in fulfilling

the recommendations of this study, having acquired farmland easements in the Pajaro
Basin for flood control, agricultural preservation, and conservation of natural resources.

This viewshed work plan item is itself an example of a special study to determine how
to better implement the goals of the County General Plan with regard to viewshed and
environmental protection. This report contains no specific recommendations for other
studies, area plans, or related actions under Strategy #5 of the Action Program.

Part 5. Implementation Process,Timeline Estimates,Staffing Implications
The last section of this report addresses a process for implementation, timeline, and
staffing implications.

Process for Implementation

If the Board of Supervisors accepts this report and provides further direction to staff to
commence the more detailed work of preparing revised ordinances, rezonings,
development guidelines, and accompanying General Plan amendments, staff
anticipates the following steps would be included:

Viewshed Analysis and Report


review the approaches and ordinances of other jurisdictions with regard to
detailed criteria, standards, and options for reducing visual impacts of


discuss the effectiveness of other jurisdictions' models with staff of those

jurisdictions, and evaluate what improvements or changes those staff would

draft revised Design Review ordinance and supporting General Plan policies;

draft related improvements to building site approval, and possibly, the grading


draft revised Design Review guidelines, landscaping requirements, and other

related standards;

hold workshops and community meetings to obtain public comments;
refine and present the proposed policies, zoning ordinance amendments,

full Board of Supervisors;
obtain comments and endorsement of proposals from Board;

rezonings, and guidelines to Planning Commission and/or HLUET, and then to
schedule public hearings before Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

The amount of work effort involved is difficult to estimate at present. Depending on

public reaction and the need for meetings to explain the new concepts and procedures,
permit requirements, and detailed standards, the number of public workshops and
meetings could be extensive. Alternatively, if the standards and guidelines can be made
clear enough, the need for outreach and explanation can be reduced somewhat. The
number of telephone and counter inquiries on the subject will also be quite high, as
well, both during the development phase, and as implemented.


Timeline Projections

At this juncture, staff estimates that four to six months of work effort will be needed to
draft the implementing policies, ordinances, and guidelines. Several additional months

could be involved with community meetings, discussions with developers, property

owners, and the public, if typical outreach endeavors are followed. Public hearings

could also take several months, and usually involve a number of continuances to

address questions, clarifications, and new issues raised during the hearing process.

The best estimate staff can provide at this time of the anticipated completion of hearings
and the adoption of revised policies and ordinances would be approximately the second

quarter of 2006. Much depends on the work effort needed to complete other existing
high priority work plan items already in progress, adequate staffing, and public



Staffing Implications

Any new or revised review process for regulating viewshed development impacts has
the potential to require more staff time per application, or additional staff to handle

increased numbers of applications. Pre-application meeting requirements can be quite

valuable, but also add staff work and time. Many jurisdictions consider pre-applications

indispensable to evaluate projects and advise applicants of options before an applicant
makes major expenditures on engineering and architectural design.

Viewshed Analysis and Report


Also, the Board of Supervisors has expressed a desire for a process that could reduce

the number of appeals and the time they consume. That will be one of the County's
objectives, but there can be no guarantee, particularly in the first few years of
implementation, that appeals will be reduced. As with any new or augmented
procedures, appeals may increase temporarily. Developers may use appeals to test the
appeal authority's willingness to enforce standards.

If additional locations are added to those under "-d" Design Review Zoning, to

implement viewshed protection policies, there will also be an increase in the amount of
staff time spent in consultation with property owners, neighbors, and developers,
before, during, and after applications. There will be additional numbers of minor
applications, also, such as for discretionary exemptions for minor additions, a new
garage, or other small projects. Staff has recommends existing exemption provisions of
Design Review be evaluated to determine which smaller projects might be
appropriately exempted or minimally reviewed.

From 1995-2004, the total number of new primary dwellings outside USAs was 644, or

about 64 per year. Staff could not determine for this report the exact number of those

that were within the viewshed, but many were located on the valley floor and m nonviewshed areas. However, new homes and accessory buildings are not the only

development subject to Design Review. Additions to homes, agricultural buildings,
garages, and similar projects also generate significant numbers of applications.

At present, the need for additional planning staff to implement a revised viewshed
protection ordinance and procedures cannot be easily projected. However, with the

increased demands that may be placed on the current planning and zoning
administration staff, the Planning Office believes an additional planner position and a

second CIS Specialist position will be needed to address an increase in t ie workload
related to application review and post-approval monitoring and condition compliance.
Fart 6. Conclusion

The County's last major planning study of open space preservation to address hillside

and viewshed protection, the Open Space 2020 Report, contained many
recommendations, some major, some minor. The primary recommendation, to form an
Open Space Authority to acquire land from willing sellers, was considered a major step
forward in implementing the County's General Plan. It took many years to achieve
from concept to fruition. Most would have considered it a positive recommendation

from most points of view, with minimal potential for controversy, compared to other
possible actions. However, as it turned out, even creating an open space authority was
not without its own share of conflicts and difficulties.

This report contains a comprehensive evaluation of the progress the County and other
implementers have made to date in carrying out the Open Space Action Program of the
1995 General Plan, particularly regarding viewshed preservation. It contains
recommendations on many subjects, with a focus on further minimizing the visual
Viewshed Analysis and Report


impacts of single-site development within the viewshed. Staff believes the
recommendations are comparable to practical solutions developed by similar
jurisdictions, will be feasible to implement, and will provide County decision-makers
with better tools to implement the vision of the General Plan for viewshed protection

r the long term future. Staff expects any set of recommendations to evolve as they
developed and the Board and the public discuss the concepts and details of new



However, no effort to further strengthen and implement the General Plan in regard to
viewshed protection will be without tensions and some degree of controversy.
Whatever combinahon of approaches and standards may ultimately be selected and
implemented, staff encourages an approach that:
• provides necessary site-specific flexibility,
of procedural incentives to achieve County goals and objectives, and

• ensures due process.

Viewshed development review processes must balance the County's interests in

preserving the natural appearance of rural hillsides with reasonable allowance for a
home of moderate size, height, and features, if a lot meets all development
requirements. With design of new homes that is sensitive to viewshed and

environmental protection, competing interests can be generally reconciled for most

projects. There will always be exceptions. However, procedures, standards, and
guidelines must be periodically reviewed for effectiveness and improvement.Improved
procedures benefit the public, property owners, and developers, if there are clear
expectations and objectives, understandable procedures, and incentives for achieving
desired results.

Viewshed Analysis and Report


Santa Clara County Viewshed Analysis and Report to Board of Supervisors.


James T. Beall, Jr.

Content Type


Resource Type





District 4


Michael Lopez, Interim Planning Director




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