Land Use Element
Last updated: 10/27/2020
How we accommodate development and arrange land use is critical to achieving the Countywide Vision. While the county may appear to have a limitless supply of land, the County only has land use authority over approximately 12 percent of unincorporated lands (the balance is primarily under federal control). As the regional service provider and municipal government, the County must plan for uses and development that adds value to its communities and the overall county, in terms of function, design, and fiscal return.
The County can best serve our communities, businesses, institutions, and visitors by focusing new development in and around cities, towns, and communities with access to infrastructure and services, while preserving natural open spaces that define San Bernardino County and our way of life.
The Land Use Element:
- Designates the distribution, location, intensity, and balance of land uses for the unincorporated areas of the county
- Establishes goals for where, when, and how the county grows, which is also guided by policies in other elements.
- Provides direction for new development on community design, land use compatibility, and interagency coordination.
- Provides guidance for orderly expansion of incorporated areas.
- The way land is used and developed will determine our revenue base and costs.
- Development that supports our Countywide Vision will strengthen the county’s economy and quality of life.
- When growth occurs, it should do so in a manner that is fiscally sustainable and context-sensitive.
- New development should be focused in areas where there is potable water, wastewater treatment, roadways, and public services.
- New development should be focused in areas with low risks from natural and man-made hazards, and with fewer impacts on the natural environment.
- Rural and suburban patterns of development in unincorporated areas of the county complement the urban and suburban options found in incorporated cities and towns.
- Supporting our military institutions is critical to the mission of national defense and the military plays an integral role in the county’s economic success.
- Collaboration with local, state, tribal, and federal agencies is essential to effectively manage land and land use in San Bernardino County.
Goals & Policies
Expand each goal to see related policies
Growth and development that builds thriving communities, contributes to our Complete County, and is fiscally sustainable.Policy LU-1.1 Growth
We support growth and development that is fiscally sustainable for the County. We accommodate growth in the unincorporated county when it benefits existing communities, provides a regional housing option for rural lifestyles, or supports the regional economy.Policy LU-1.2 Infill development
We prefer new development to take place on existing vacant and underutilized lots where public services and infrastructure are available.Policy LU-1.3 Fiscal sustainability
When determining fiscal impacts, we consider initial capital investments, long-term operations and maintenance, desired levels of service for public facilities and services, capital reserves for replacement, and impacts to existing uses in incorporated and unincorporated areas.Policy LU-1.4 Funding and financing mechanisms
We require the establishment of community facility districts, lighting and landscaping maintenance districts, and other types of funding and financing mechanisms for new development when the County determines that it may be necessary to maintain fiscal sustainability. We prefer the expansion of existing districts to the establishment of new districts.Policy LU-1.5 Development impact fees
We require payment of development impact fees to ensure that all new development pays its fair share of public infrastructure.Policy LU-1.6 Tax sharing
We may utilize tax sharing as a tool to extend public facilities and services from adjacent municipalities into unincorporated areas as an alternative to the County’s direct provision of public facilities and services when it is fiscally sustainable for the County.
An arrangement of land uses that balances the lifestyle of existing residents, the needs of future generations, opportunities for commercial and industrial development, and the value of the natural environment.Policy LU-2.1 Compatibility with existing uses
We require that new development is located, scaled, buffered, and designed to minimize negative impacts on existing conforming uses and adjacent neighborhoods. We also require that new residential developments are located, scaled, buffered, and designed so as to not hinder the viability and continuity of existing conforming nonresidential development.Policy LU-2.2 Compatibility with planned uses
We require that new residential development is located, scaled, buffered, and designed to minimize negative impacts both on and from adjacent areas designated for nonresidential land uses.Policy LU-2.3 Compatibility with natural environment
We require that new development is located, scaled, buffered, and designed for compatibility with the surrounding natural environment and biodiversity.Policy LU-2.4 Land Use Map consistency
We consider proposed development that is consistent with the Land Use Map (i.e., it does not require a change in Land Use Category), to be generally compatible and consistent with surrounding land uses and a community’s identity. Additional site, building, and landscape design treatment, per other policies in the Policy Plan and development standards in the Development Code, may be required to maximize compatibility with surrounding land uses and community identity.Policy LU-2.5 Hillside preservation
We require that new development in sloping hillside areas preserve the natural character of the surrounding environment and does not further exacerbate natural hazards or erosion.Policy LU-2.6 Coordination with adjacent entities
We require that new and amended development projects notify and coordinate with adjacent local, state, and federal entities to maximize land use compatibility, inform future planning and implementation, and realize mutually beneficial outcomes.Policy LU-2.7 Countywide jobs-housing balance
We prioritize growth that furthers a countywide balance of jobs and housing to reduce vehicle miles traveled, increase job opportunities and household income, and improve quality of life. We also strive for growth that furthers a balance of jobs and housing in the North Desert region and the Valley region.Policy LU-2.8 Rural lifestyle in the Mountain/Desert regions
We intend that new residential development in the unincorporated Mountain and Desert regions offer a lower intensity lifestyle that complements the suburban and urban densities in incorporated cities and towns to provide a range of lifestyle options. Master planned communities in unincorporated Mountain/Desert regions may provide a broader range of lifestyles and densities.Policy LU-2.9 Suburban lifestyles in the Valley region
We intend that new residential development in the unincorporated Valley region offer a suburban lifestyle that is similar to that of adjacent cities.Policy LU-2.10 Unincorporated commercial development
We intend that new commercial development in the unincorporated areas serve unincorporated residential areas, tourists, and/or freeway travelers. We encourage new commercial development to be concentrated to enhance pedestrian circulation and reduce vehicular congestion and vehicle miles traveled, with new development directed into existing centralized areas when possible.Policy LU-2.11 Office and industrial development in the Mountain/Desert regions
We allow new office and industrial uses in unincorporated Mountain/Desert regions in order to meet the service, employment, and support needs of the unincorporated areas.Policy LU-2.12 Office and industrial development in the Valley region
We encourage office and industrial uses in the unincorporated Valley region in order to promote a countywide jobs-housing balance.Policy LU-2.13 Short-term private home rentals
We enforce appropriate operation standards, maintenance standards, and permitting procedures for the establishment and maintenance of short-term private home rentals in the unincorporated areas.Policy LU-2.14 Contiguous land administration
We support the consolidation of disconnected land areas under public ownership or administration to increase financial and environmental value, streamline the management of land and resources, and establish more complete and effective transition areas or buffers. Such consolidation may include transfer of title of property among public entities and the purchase or swapping of private property voluntarily sold when the consolidation is fiscally neutral or beneficial to the County.
Annexations and development in spheres of influence that improve the provision of public services to incorporated and unincorporated residents and businesses.Policy LU-3.1 Annexation of unincorporated areas
We support the annexation of unincorporated areas when it will result in a more effective and efficient provision of public services and a net fiscal benefit to the County.Policy LU-3.2 Annexations with planned incompatible land uses
We oppose annexations when future planned land uses for the proposed annexation area would be incompatible with the remaining adjacent unincorporated lands.Policy LU-3.3 City/town standards in SOIs
Upon negotiation with individual jurisdictions, we may require new development in unincorporated municipal sphere of influence areas to apply the improvement standards for roads and sidewalks of the incorporated jurisdiction.Policy LU-3.4 Development project annexations
When a property owner proposes annexation to facilitate new development adjacent to an unincorporated residential area, we prefer that the annexation includes the adjacent residential area.
Preservation and enhancement of unique community identities and their relationship with the natural environmentPolicy LU-4.1 Context-sensitive design in the Mountain/Desert regions
We require new development to employ site and building design techniques and use building materials that reflect the natural mountain or desert environment and preserve scenic resources.Policy LU-4.2 Fire-adapted communities
We require new development in high or very high fire hazard severity zones to apply fire-resistant design techniques, including fuel modification areas, fire resistant landscaping, and fire-resistant building materials.Policy LU-4.3 Native or drought-tolerant landscaping
We require new development, when outside of high and very high fire hazard severity zones, to install and maintain drought-tolerant landscaping and encourage the use of native species.Policy LU-4.4 Natural topography in the Mountain region
We require new development in the Mountain region to retain natural topography and minimize grading unless it is necessary to reduce exposure to natural hazards.Policy LU-4.5 Community identity
We require that new development be consistent with and reinforce the physical and historical character and identity of our unincorporated communities, as described in Table LU-3 and in the values section of Community Action Guides. In addition, we consider the aspirations section of Community Action Guides in our review of new development.Policy LU-4.6 Adaptive reuse
We encourage the rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, and revitalization of existing structures to preserve and celebrate the unique sense of place, identity, and history of our communities.Policy LU-4.7 Dark skies
We minimize light pollution and glare to preserve views of the night sky, particularly in the Mountain and Desert regions where dark skies are fundamentally connected to community identities and local economies. We also promote the preservation of dark skies to assist the military in testing, training, and operations.Policy LU-4.8 Public gathering spaces
We require the development of safe and attractive public gathering spaces that facilitate social interaction, community events, and physical activity in master planned communities, large residential developments, and large commercial developments.Policy LU-4.9 CPTED
We require public gathering spaces to use CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) principles and ensure sufficient access for public safety services.Policy LU-4.10 Entry monumentation, signage, and public art
We encourage the installation of durable signage, entry monumentation, and/or works of public art in commercial areas of unincorporated Community Planning Areas as a means of reinforcing a community’s character, culture, heritage, or other unique features.Policy LU-4.11 Businesses in Joshua Tree
We prohibit the establishment of franchise businesses in the commercial focus area/franchise-restricted in Joshua Tree to preserve the unique community character and its value as a year-round, world renowned tourist destination.
The federal government maintains and invests in military facilities and operations in the county to further the mission of national defense, thereby generating employment opportunities for residents and commercial opportunities for businesses in the county.Policy LU-5.1 Military land use compatibility
We coordinate with military stakeholders to ensure compatible land uses in areas where military operations on or off installations could affect public health and safety, or where civilian activities could have an impact on current or future military operations. We will coordinate with military stakeholders to resolve existing land use conflicts and protect public safety in the Military Influence Overlay.Policy LU-5.2 Military Influence Overlay
We require conditional use permits for projects within the Military Influence Overlay that could penetrate the defined floor elevation of the military airspace, or that could encroach upon military operations. We consider how development of roads and infrastructure within the Military Influence Overlay will promote growth that might lead to incompatible land use.Policy LU-5.3 Open space for military activity and buffering
We engage with military installations to preserve open space areas to facilitate military training and operations and to buffer civilian areas from military activity.Policy LU-5.4 Ranged activities and projects
We require activities and projects that can exert impacts beyond project boundaries, such as renewable energy facilities, wireless communication systems, and unmanned aircraft systems, to coordinate with military installations in preliminary planning and throughout the project’s construction stages and long-term operation.Policy LU-5.5 Transportation and infrastructure
We consider military needs for operations and training when planning and improving local and regional transportation and infrastructure systems.Policy LU-5.6 Military partnerships
We maintain effective partnerships among military and community stakeholders and pursue joint projects that provide long-term mutual benefits for the military, County, and general public.Policy LU-5.7 Economic development opportunities with the military
We leverage our relationship and increased coordination with the military to expand employment and commercial opportunities with military agencies.
Growth and development in the unincorporated county in a manner that requires few and infrequent amendments to the Policy PlanPolicy LU-6.1 Residential amendments that increase density in the Desert and Mountain regions
We discourage policy plan amendments that would permit new development on lots smaller than 2.5 acres in the Desert regions and lots smaller than one-half acre in the Mountain region. We approve general plan amendments that would increase residential density only if:Policy LU-6.2 Large residential development in the Desert and Mountain regions
• The proposed change is determined to be compatible in accordance with policies
LU-2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and 4.5.
• Adequate infrastructure and services are available concurrently.
• The increase in density would not degrade existing
We require a specific plan or Planned Development process for proposed residential development in the:Policy LU-6.3 Commercial amendments
• North or East Desert regions: when the proposed development would include one or more lots that is 2.5 acres or smaller and the overall development would cover 40 or more acres.
• Mountain region: when the proposed development would include one or more lots that is 1 acre or smaller and the overall development would cover 40 or more acres.
We will only approve Land Use Plan amendments that would introduce new commercial areas in the context of a comprehensive Land Use Plan amendment. We may waive this requirement when the proposed amended area abuts an existing or designated commercial area and the amount of land available for new commercial uses falls below 15 percent of the total commercially-designated land in the area.Policy LU-6.4 Industrial amendments near schools and parks
We approve Land Use Plan amendments for new industrial development only if they are at least one-half mile from an existing or planned public primary or secondary school or public park. We may waive this requirement for obsolete school or park sites or for industrial amendments submitted through a specific plan.