La Quinta, California

Bighorn in Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. From

The TDR ordinance for La Quinta, California was discovered after the publication of Beyond Takings and Givings. La Quinta, population 30,000 (2003), is located 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs at the western edge of the Coachella Valley. The city is famous for its golf resorts, including La Quinta and PGA West. But most of the 35 square miles within the city boundaries are not developed. Approximately half the City’s land is within the foothills and steep terrain of the Santa Rosa Mountains. These mountains form a spectacular backdrop for the valley to the east and shelter more than 500 plant and animal species including the federally-listed Peninsular bighorn sheep. 

In October 2000, Congress created the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument encompassing much of the area in and around the City of La Quinta. This designation provides some protection for the land within the boundaries that is owned and/or managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the State of California. However, significant portions of land within the La Quinta boundaries are privately owned. For these lands, the City of La Quinta code is the main safeguard against inappropriate development. 

According to the City’s zoning code, La Quinta’s TDR program is designed to preserve open space and other resources identified in zones “enabled” to serve as sending areas, which in this ordinance are called “donor parcels”. The TDR provisions specifically reference the Hillside Conservation or HC regulations. The HC applies to from 10 to 20 square miles of land designated in the general plan as open space and zoned HC. This includes land above the “toe of the slope” which can be identified by any of four criteria. In some cases, the toe can be identified by slope (greater than 20 percent), changes in slope or where alluvium collects to a depth of one foot or more. However, land can also be considered “above the toe” if it is above a flood control structure and intercepts runoff. 

Land exceeding 20 percent slope in the HC can only be used for access roads and hiking/biking/equestrian trails. Single-family residential is allowed on alluvium fans zoned HC with less than 20 percent slope along with golf courses, parks, public facilities, and accessory uses. All development in the HC requires a conditional use permit, allowing the City to review each project for compliance with six objectives including preservation of natural vegetation, avoidance of excessive changes in natural landforms, encouragement of imaginative grading and maximum retention of natural topography and scenic vistas. In addition to the usual engineering reports, developers wanting to develop in the HC must submit studies that identify and recommend mitigation for impacts to biology, (including identification of Bighorn Sheep migratory routes), archeology, hillsides and scenic views. Various development standards also apply in the HC. For example, no structure can be visible above a ridgeline. 

In the HC, landowners are allowed a maximum density of one unit per ten acres. The zone allows owners to cluster density below the toe of the slope as long as overall density does not exceed one unit per ten acres. In addition, owners can transfer development rights from these sites at the rate of one unit per ten acres. To use the TDR option, owners must permanently preclude all development potential from sending sites, If sending site owners only want to preserve a portion of their land, a land division must be used to separate the developable from the undevelopable land.

The receiving areas are any parcels in the city zoned residential. TDR can be used to increase density 20 percent of the general plan density. Developers can also achieve a 30-percent density bonus by providing affordable housing and another ten-percent bonus for good design or special amenities. The maximum bonus from all three incentives cannot be more than sixty percent of general plan maximum density. Transfers are approved under the condition that the transfer be recorded on the sending and receiving properties within 90 days of council approval.