Land use

Zoning and planning permission

Which authorities regulate real estate zoning in your state and what is the extent of their powers?

Cities and counties (local municipalities) control zoning regulations. However, there are state agencies that may also have jurisdiction, such as if construction is within the coastal zone, which is subject to regulation by the California Coastal Commission. Certain sensitive environmental parcels, such as wetlands and lands located in or adjacent to state or national parks, could also be subject to regulation by the applicable environmental authorities. All discretionary approvals are subject to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations. In general, these agencies and the individual municipality planning commissions exercise broad powers over what can be built or redeveloped. There have been thus far unsuccessful attempts in the legislature to remove municipalities’ ability to exercise discretionary review over projects near transit facilities that are authorized by the underlying zone, thereby eliminating CEQA requirements and fast-tracking development to ease California’s housing crisis.

What are the eligibility, procedural and documentary requirements to obtain planning permission?

The procedures for obtaining entitlements will vary depending on the size of the project, its location, the applicable municipality, and whether more than one government agency is involved. If discretionary approvals are necessary, there will be public hearings where third parties have the right to participate and object to a project.

What is the appeal procedure for planning decisions?

Decisions by city planning commissions are typically appealed to the respective city council. County planning commission decisions are appealed to the county Board of Supervisors. With discretionary decisions, opponents may also be able to file suit under CEQA to challenge the project in court. It is relatively easy to challenge projects on environmental grounds and tie up development for years. It often makes financial sense to settle CEQA claims in some manner, before litigation is filed, rather than to fight CEQA claims.

What are the consequences of failure to comply with planning decisions or regulations?

Cities and counties can exercise their police powers and obtain injunctive relief against offending projects. Most California entities take zoning violations extremely seriously. 

Historical and cultural preservation

What state and local regimes govern the protection and development of historic and cultural buildings?

Historical review and preservation of designated resources involves overlapping spheres of influence at the national, state and local levels. Cities maintain their own lists of designated historical resources, in addition to the California Register of Historical Resources and the National Register of Historic Places. While local criteria may vary, properties generally earn recognition for an association with events or people important to local, California or national history, or information important to prehistory. Properties can also be recognized owing to their distinctive characteristics representing a type, period, region or method of construction, the work of a master architect or builder, or even high artistry. Evaluating these characteristics will often require immense amounts of background research to understand and describe the biography of a property.


Buildings, sites or districts receiving designation may trigger additional environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as design review and other protections pursuant to local ordinances. Designated properties may also be eligible for review under the State Historical Building Code, as well as property tax reductions under the Mills Act (Government Code §§ 50280-50290).

State and local government expropriation

What laws and regulations govern the expropriation of property by state and local authorities?

In California, expropriation of property is called condemnation or eminent domain. The primary law governing eminent domain is the Eminent Domain Law, California Code of Civil Procedure sections 1230.010 et seq, and it applies to both state entities and local entities. Additionally, the Relocation Assistance Law, California Government Code, sections 7262 et seq, establishes requirements for property appraisals and for negotiations that a government entity must complete before the entity can condemn.

What is the required notice period for expropriation and how is compensation calculated?

Under California law, there are a number of steps in the process of any condemnation that require separate notices. Examples include a notice of intent to appraise (California Government Code, section 7267.1) and a notice of a hearing on a resolution of necessity (California Code of Civil Procedure, section 1245.235). Other notices are required in connection with an eminent domain lawsuit, which must be pursued to condemn. Typically, an owner receives the first notice of a step toward condemnation at least a year before the entity is able to possess the property.


Just compensation is determined by the fair market value of the property being take, per California Code of Civil Procedure section 1263.320. This is defined as the ‘highest price’ that would be agreed to by a willing seller and willing buyer.

Law stated date

Correct as of

Please state the date of which the law stated here is accurate.

December 20, 2019