San Bernardino County, California

San Bernardino County, population 2,035,210 (2010), is one of the largest counties in the United States, extending from the City of San Bernardino to the borders of Arizona and Nevada; major portions of the County are public lands, including the San Bernardino National Forest, the Mojave National Monument and numerous military installations. In 1982, the County adopted a specific plan for Chino Hills, a 40 square-mile area with interesting terrain and substantial rural character. In 1991, the area was incorporated as the City of Chino Hills and the Specific Plan became inoperative. Consequently, this profile remains unchanged from the version that appeared in Beyond Takings and Givings in 2003.

The Chino Hills Specific Plan created five development categories based on environmental sensitivity using such criteria as topography, slope stability, ecology, fire hazard and visual resources. The five development categories were Village Cores, Preferred Development Envelopes, Development Envelopes, Mixed Use Areas and Development Sensitive Areas. Development Sensitive Areas contained land with steep slopes and significant visual land forms, geologic hazards or environmentally-sensitive areas. The Plan allowed low-density single-family residential development in Development Sensitive Areas but also encouraged the transfer of permitted density from Development Sensitive Areas to areas designated as Preferred Development Envelopes or Development Envelopes in order to preserve open space and significant environmental features.


Development Sensitive Areas included the most rural portions of the specific plan area. They often included significant visual landforms, geologic hazards, sensitive environmental areas and slopes in excess of 30 percent; these areas were considered difficult to develop and were assigned the lowest permitted densities in the specific plan area. The Plan found these areas most suitable for the Planned Unit Development (PUD), Small Agricultural (AS), Rural Living (RL) and Single Residential (RS) Land Use Districts. These districts allowed low-density, single-family uses. But, to preserve open space and sensitive environmental features, the Plan encouraged transfers of permitted densities to the Preferred Development and Development Envelopes.

The Chino Hills Specific Plan used transfer of development rights to achieve five different purposes.

  • Dwelling units could be transferred out of Development Sensitive Areas into Development Envelopes and Preferred Development Envelopes. Development could also be transferred from Development Envelopes to Preferred Development Envelopes to achieve the goal of moving development from less intensive areas to more intensive areas.
  • Density could be transferred between planning units with the same classi-fication if the infrastructure in the receiving area could accommodate the added development.
  • Development could be transferred in cases where areas approved for homes were subsequently impacted by the alignment of major infrastructure such as roads and drainage channels.
  • Development could also be transferred from park and school sites unless the sites were purchased for those uses.
  • And, density could be transferred between villages if the sending site was in a less intensive category than the receiving site.

In the Chino Hills Plan, development could be transferred from approved sending sites as long as the project area maintained its assigned minimum number of dwelling units. Conversely, units could be transferred into receiving sites in Preferred Development Envelopes and Development Envelopes as long as the total number of dwelling units assigned to the project area was not exceeded. The number of units transferred from the sending site equaled the number of additional units allowed on the receiving site.

Program Status

By permitting only low-density, single-family residential development in the Development Sensitive Areas, San Bernardino County motivated the owners of potential sending sites to transfer development rights rather than use them on site. In addition, the developers of receiving sites were encouraged to use TDR by the ability to achieve density bonuses in their projects.

According to Tina Twing of the San Bernardino Planning Department, developers transferred development rights under the Chino Hills Specific Plan and these transfers resulted in the preservation of all of the most prominent ridgelines in the planning area.

As mentioned above, the planning area was incorporated as the City of Chino Hills in 1991. However, San Bernardino’s General Plan still states that TDR can be used to preserve environmentally-sensitive land.