AVIATION NOISE LAW
Airport Land Use Commissions in California


Airport Land Use Commissions in California

[Updated January 24, 2012]


In the 1960s the California legislature created a system of county commissions to regulate land planning in the vicinity of airports. Public Utilities Code sections 21670 - 21679.5 contain the statutes creating the Airport Land Use Commissions.

Each county in California that includes an airport served by a scheduled airline or operated for the benefit of the general public must establish an airport land use commission. (California Public Utilities Code section 21670). The state legislature's purpose in requiring these commissions was to "protect public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring the orderly expansion of airports and the adoption of land use measures that minimize the public's exposure to the extent that these areas are not already devoted to incompatible uses."

The commission's chief business is to prepare and enforce a land use plan for the area surrounding each airport in its jurisdiction.

To get information on the airport land use commission in your county, contact the county secretary of boards and commissions. Ask for a roster of commission members (with dates of appointments). Also ask who is designated to serve as staff for the commission (typically this is someone in the planning or public works department). This person should have a copy of airport land use plans adopted by the commission.

The following information summarizes the statutory requirements for the commission as they apply to a typical county (Alameda County). Other counties may be differently affected by statutory provisions.


Appointment of Commission

The commission in every county is appointed as follows (there are some exceptions where airports straddle county boundaries):

Proxies: Each member of the commission shall appoint a single proxy to represent him and to vote when the member is absent. Proxies serves at the pleasure of the appointing member of the commission. Proxy must be in writing and filed at the commission office.

Term of office: Four years. Any member can be removed at any time and without cause by the appointing body. (Cal. Publ. Util. Code s. 21671.5(a))


Conflict of Interest

The commission must adopt rules for temporary disqualification of its members from participating in review or adoption of a proposal because of a conflict of interest and appointment of a substitute member. (Cal. Publ. Util. Code s. 21672)


Meetings, Quorum, Action

The commission meets at the call of the chairperson or at the request of a majority of commission members. A majority of members is a quorum for the transaction of business. No action can be taken except by recorded vote of a majority of the full membership. (Cal. Publ. Util Code s. 21671.5(e))


Powers and Duties

Public Utilities Code section 21674:

"(a) To assist local agencies in ensuring compatible land uses in the vicinity of all new airports and in the vicinity of existing airports to the extent that the land in the vicinity of those airports is not already devoted to incompatible uses.

"(b) To coordinate planning at the state, regional, and local levels so as to provide for the orderly development of air transportation, while at the same time protecting the public health, safety, and welfare.

"(c) To prepare and adopt an airport land use plan pursuant to section 21675.

[Section 21675(a): "The commission plan shall include and shall be based on a long-range master plan or an airport layout plan, as determined by the Division of Aeronautics of the Department of Transportation, that reflects the anticipated growth of the airport during at least the next 20 years." The plan must be guided by the Airport Land Use Planning Handbook published by the Division of Aeronautics, Department of Transportation. (s. 21674.7).]
"(d) To review the plans, regulations, and other actions of local agencies and airport operators pursuant to section 21676.

[Section 21676 provides that local agencies whose general plan includes areas covered by an ALUC plan must submit its general plan, or any specific plans, zoning ordinances, or building regulations that affect the area covered by the ALUC plan, to the commission. See "Relations with Local Planning Agencies" below.]
"(e) The powers of the commission shall in no way be construed to give the commission jurisdiction over the operation of any airport.

"(f) In order to carry out its responsibilities, the commission may adopt rules and regulations consistent with this article."


Jurisdiction

The vicinity of an airport can include land in another county; however, according to an opinion of the state attorney general, a commission's jurisdiction does not extend beyond its own county. (See AG opinion 90-914.)


Relations with Local Planning Agencies

The most important, and controversial, task of the ALUC is to review the land-use plans and zoning ordinances of cities and other local agencies (such as school districts) that affect the area within an airport planning boundary established by the ALUC. Section 21676 provides that local agencies whose general plan includes areas covered by an ALUC plan must submit a copy of its plan or specific plans to the commission. Before amending a general or specific plan or adopting a zoning ordinance that overlaps with the commission's plan boundaries, the local agency must first refer the proposed action to the commission. According to an opinion of the state attorney general, an ALUC may not exempt a specific plan adopted by a city or county from review by ALUC. (See AG opinion 03-805.)

In addition, any public agency owning an airport within the commission's plan boundaries must submit to the commission any proposed modification of its airport master plan.

If the commission determines that any of the preceding proposed actions are inconsistent with the ALUC plan, the local agency may, after a public hearing, overrule the commission by a two-thirds vote of its governing body if it makes specific findings that the proposed action is consistent with the purposes stated in Public Utilities Code section 21670. Thereafter the proposed action is not subject to review by the commission. (The question of what constitutes "specific findings" was the subject of a Court of Appeal decision in California Aviation Council v. City of Ceres (1992), in which the findings supporting a city's decision to overrule the local ALUC were challenged by local pilots.)

In 2003 the legislature limited the ability of local agencies to overrule the ALUC (AB 332). A local agency that proposes to overrule the ALUC must first provide the ALUC and the State Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics, with the proposed decision at least 45 days prior to the decision. Any comments by the ALUC or Division of Aeronautics must be included in the final record of the local agency's final decision to overrule the ALUC.


Cases Concerning ALUCs


Attorney General Opinions