Claremont, California

Claremont, population 36,337 (2004), is located at the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The City instituted a TDR program to encourage the preservation of land in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Please refer to Beyond Takings and Givings for the background of this City’s TDR program. In February 2005, Belle Newman, Principal Planner, corrected and updated the status portion of the profile as follows.

Claremont’s general plan prohibits the subdivision of hillside land found to be unsuitable for development. This restriction provides the owners of these hillside donor sites with a strong incentive to transfer their development credits. In addition, Claremont actively encourages the use of TDC. However, Claremont does not offer a bonus in its transfer ratio and developers must face the uncertainty of a discretionary CUP approval process to transfer the TDCs. In addition, former Community Development Director Sharon Wood reported that affected property owners were reluctant to use the process initially because it was untested and because a value has not been established for TDCs. Consequently, for its first decade, Claremont’s TDC program remained unused.

The program has also been complicated by the fact that much of the hillside land in question is outside the Claremont city limits in Los Angeles County. The County has held the position that Claremont should annex the hillsides if it wants to control land use. However annexation has been stymied because owners of vacant hillside land often prefer the County’s development standards and many owners of developed hillside land have been fearful that annexation would mean higher taxes. During the past two decades, three or four applications have been filed with the County for subdivisions which are not consistent with Claremont’s hillside standards. However, it is Claremont’s policy not to provide sewer service to property outside the City. This policy, in combination with economic conditions, has kept these subdivisions from being built or approved.

In 1990, the City initiated a project designed to preserve a major portion of the hillsides and demonstrate the feasibility of TDC. At that time, the City entered into an option to buy 1,345 acres of hillside property within the City’s planning sphere but outside the city limits; this 1,345-acre area represents 40 percent of the land regulated by the hillside ordinance and a majority of the land within Claremont’s planning sphere. One year later, the City began annexing the portion of the purchase site which was outside the city limits as well as additional hillside land in the county.

In 1992, the City adopted a specific plan for a 125-acre portion that would implement the general plan by clustering all development in this 125-acre area while leaving the remaining 1,220 acres of open space undisturbed and in City ownership. A total of 139 development credits were assigned to the entire 1,345-acre area. According to the specific plan, 71 development credits were transferred from the 1,220-acre open space area and added to the 52 credits assigned to the 125-acre receiving area to create a 123-lot subdivision in the 125-acre receiving site located on the north side of Mt. Baldy Road. The remaining 14 credits are available for transfer to a future receiving area.

In the early 1990s, a developer was sought to purchase the receiving site and build the 125-lot subdivision. However, the state of the economy made it clear that it would not be easy to find a developer willing to cover the City’s option price on the land. So in 1994, the option agreement was amended so that the seller retains the 125-acre development site while the City retains the remaining 1,220 acres as open space now known as Wilderness Park. As a part of this amendment, the development agreement for the 125-acre cluster area had a ten year time frame.

In this 2005 update, Principal Planner Belle Newman reported that this development is being built as planned. The project demonstrates the feasibility of the transfer of development credits program and the benefit of such a program to both the development community and the general public. The City has also been successful in participating with the Trust for Public Land in acquiring approximately 600 acres of hillside property and associated credits and adding this land to the City’s Wilderness Park.