Malibu, California

Malibu, California, population 12,620 (2019), is an affluent coastal city located 15 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. Before its incorporation in 1991, what is now the City of Malibu served as the primary receiving area for a TDR program established by the California Coastal Commission in 1981 to conserve significant environmental areas, reduce human exposure to wildfires, floods, and landslides, and reduce the development potential possible on thousands of substandard lots within antiquated subdivisions located in the steep terrain of the Santa Monica Mountains. For details on the precursor to Malibu’s TDC program, see the profile on Los Angeles County. 

By the time the City of Malibu incorporated in 1991, the Los Angeles County TDR program had protected an estimated 800 acres of sending area land in antiquated subdivisions and retired roughly 924 vacant lots. By 2003, the Mountains Restoration Trust had retired the development rights on 260 acres of land within the Cold Creek watershed, representing 22 TDCs. In addition, the Trust had collected in lieu fees equivalent to 39 additional TDCs, resulting in a grand total of 544 TDCs at that time (Wiechec). 

When Malibu’s incorporation became effective in 1991, the city imposed a building moratorium and demand for TDCs fell. The California Coastal Commission prepared and adopted a Local Coastal Plan (LCP) for Malibu in 2002 with a TDR program based on the program that existed when Malibu was part of unincorporated Los Angeles County. The City sued the state over this action but lost in court. In 2004, the City adopted its own LCP which included a TDR program that closely adheres to the Coastal Commission’s program.

In Chapter 7 of the City of Malibu’s LCP Local Implementation Plan, the goals of the TDC program stress the aim of reducing risks to life and property due to high geologic, flood and fire hazards and the increased amount of erosion that would result from roads, utilities, and building pads needed for new development as well as mitigating the impact on environmentally sensitive habitat, scenic and visual resources, natural landforms, and potential recreational uses. 

The Malibu Local Implementation Plan identifies six types of sending areas: 1) existing lots within seven named small lot subdivisions; 2) existing lots within four other small lot subdivisions that have environmentally-sensitive habitat and are contiguous to each other or to other retired lots; 3) parcels consisting primarily of environmentally-sensitive habitat; 4) parcels located within eight significant watersheds; 5) parcels adjacent to existing parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains where development cannot be located due to encroachment of fire abatement requirements onto parks; and 6) parcels in wildlife corridors in the Santa Monica Mountains Coastal Zone.  

Within each of these sending areas, the TDC allocation formula requires: 1) all land included in the calculation of credit area must be in legal lots; 2) the number of credits allocated is the square footage of the sending lot times the product of 50 minus the average slope of the lot; 3) in the four small lot subdivisions, at least three lots must be retired, the lots must be contiguous to each other or other retired lots, and all the lots must contain significant habitat.      

These credits can be transferred to any part of the City of Malibu where new lots can be created via subdivision or where multi-family residential units are permitted. In single-family subdivisions and larger multiple-family residential projects, one TDC is needed for each new lot or additional dwelling unit created. Affordable housing units are exempted. 

As of 2009, Malibu reported that two TDCs had been transferred allowing two existing parcels to be split into four lots. Three transfers were pending as of December 2009 requiring eight more TDCs. One reason given for the low level of activity was attributed to Malibu’s goal of remaining a community with low density development (Walls & McConnell 2007). In a more nuanced explanation, a Principal Planner with Malibu reported in 2010 that the city does not receive many subdivision applications because there are few parcels with zoning designations that would allow subdivision. Malibu’s larger parcels are zoned for minimum lot sizes of 20 or 40 acres due to rezonings adopted by the city when it incorporated in 1991 and by the Coastal Commission when it adopted the Local Coastal Program in 2002. There are some five-acre parcels zoned for one-acre minimum lot size but the findings for a subdivision are difficult due to prohibitions against the disruption of Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas and the subdivision of any beachfront property that would require a seawall, bulkhead, or some other form of shoreline protection. Because there is little subdivision potential, the demand for TDCs is low (Edmondson 2010).  


Edmondson, Stefanie. 2010. E-mail correspondence with the author of July 13, 2010.

Wall, Margaret and Virginia McConnell. 2007. Transfer of Development Rights in US Communities. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future.  

Wiechec, Elizabeth. Transfer of Development in the Malibu Coastal Zone. Unpublished paper prepared for Mountains Restoration Trust by former Executive Director.