SB 244: Focus on Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities in Land Use PlanningMarch 30, 2022
Photo Credit: Erica Gies
Hundreds of thousands of California residents suffer from a lack of basic community infrastructure. These residents often live on the fringes of existing cities in small, low-income, unincorporated communities without water or sewage lines, sidewalks or paved roads, storm drains, street lights, or structural fire protection. Many of these communities have been surrounded by, but not included in, California cities that provide all of these basic services to their residents. In some cases, these communities sit literally within yards of a city water connection or sewer trunk line, yet cannot access those services. Instead, they are left to navigate a confusing array of local service providers: special districts, joint powers authorities, county governments, and other entities that make up California’s complex network of local government. The result is that many of these communities go without basic services.
More than a decade ago, the Legislature recognized the systemic issues in land use planning that have led to these inequities. With the enactment of SB 244 (Wolk, 2011), the Legislature took a first step to address the legal, financial, and political barriers affecting disadvantaged unincorporated communities. This article describes SB 244 requirements on local governments and takes a brief look at implementation progress.
Establishing a Vocabulary
Beyond setting forth new land use planning requirements for local governments, SB 244 established formal definitions used to identify low-income communities on the urban fringe. The Legislature also made findings acknowledging the “distinct lack of public and private investment” in these communities and expressed its intent to encourage investment in them.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of SB 244’s foundational definitions and findings. Prior to 2011, California had no formal definition for “disadvantaged unincorporated community” (“DUC”). SB 244 thus took the first step to identify and name the problem so that this and future legislation could address it.
To that end, SB 244 set forth the following definitions:
- “Community” means an inhabited area within a city or county that is comprised of no less than 10 dwellings adjacent or in close proximity to one another.
- “Fringe community” means any inhabited and unincorporated territory that is within a city’s sphere of influence.
- “Island community” means any inhabited and unincorporated territory that is surrounded or substantially surrounded by one or more cities or by one or more cities and a county boundary or the Pacific Ocean.
- “Legacy community” means a geographically isolated community that is inhabited and has existed for at least 50 years.
- “Disadvantaged unincorporated community” means a fringe, island, or legacy community in which the median household income is 80 percent or less than the statewide median household income.
The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research released a technical advisory for SB 244 that contains a useful picture showing the relationships between island, fringe, and legacy communities.
Source: Office of Planning & Research, Senate Bill 244 Technical Advisory (Feb. 15, 2013)
New Land Use Planning Requirements
SB 244 tried to address the historical land use inequities faced by DUCs in three ways. First, it required local governments to document the location and characteristics of DUCs. Second, it restricted certain annexation practices that had historically excluded DUCs. Third, it required local governments to identify DUC infrastructure needs and funding mechanisms that could help DUCs secure financing to make extension of services to these communities financially feasible. Some of these requirements applied to Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCos), while others pertained to cities and counties.
SB 244 Requirements for Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCos)
Identifying and Characterizing DUCs
Existing law required that LAFCos develop and determine the sphere of influence for each city and special district in the county. Prior to preparing or updating spheres of influence, the LAFCo was required to conduct a service review of municipal services provided in the county. This service review contained findings on growth and population projections, the present and planned capacity of public services, infrastructure needs and deficiencies, the financial ability of agencies to provide services, and various other data used in land use planning.
SB 244 amended existing law to require LAFCos, as part of their municipal service reviews, to identify the location and characteristics of DUCs within or contiguous to spheres of influence. SB 244 also required the municipal service review, and subsequent updates to spheres of influence, to identify and consider infrastructure needs or deficiencies related to sewers, municipal and industrial water, and structural fire protection for any identified DUC.
Restrictions on Annexation
SB 244 placed new restrictions on annexation practices that historically created DUC island communities. Under SB 244, LAFCos can no longer approve annexations greater than 10 acres if a DUC is contiguous to the proposed annexation, unless an application to annex the DUC has also been filed. This requirement is subject to exception, however, if a prior annexation application for the same DUC has been made in the preceding five years or if the LAFCo makes written findings that a majority of registered voters within the affected territory are opposed to annexation.
SB 244 Requirements for Cities and Counties
Identifying and Characterizing DUCs
Just as LAFCos must identify and characterize DUCs within spheres of influence, so too are cities and counties required to update the land use element of their general plans to identify, describe, and map any DUC island, fringe, or legacy communities inside or near their boundaries. Cities and counties were required to complete this identification on or before the due date for the adoption of their next housing element.
Identifying DUC Infrastructure Needs and Possible Funding Sources
SB 244 also required cities and counties to update their land use elements to identify the water, wastewater, stormwater drainage, and structural fire protection needs or deficiencies of any of the identified DUCs. Finally, cities and counties must include in their land use elements an analysis of benefit assessment districts or other financing alternatives that could make the extension of services to the identified DUCs financially feasible.
Numerous potential funding sources exist that could facilitate extension of needed services, including but not limited to the following:
- The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund
- The Clean Water State Revolving Fund
- The Integrated Regional Water Management (IWRM) Grant Program
- S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and Environmental Programs
- S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds
SB 244 Implementation
A review of LAFCo municipal service reviews and local government general plan updates reveals that SB 244 has achieved mixed success and partial implementation. Some LAFCos have published DUC databases and maps, for example, that identify DUCs in the county and document the services available in these communities, while others have not. Similarly, some municipal service reviews satisfy all SB 244 requirements: mapping and describing DUCs as well as describing their needs and service deficiencies. Others fall short of describing the specific service needs and deficiencies for each DUC. Similarly, some general plan updates identify DUCs, document their needs and deficiencies, and identify potential funding mechanisms for addressing those needs. Other general plans have yet to include all of the required information.
For more information on SB 244, the Office of Planning and Research has provided a “Senate Bill 244: Land Use, General Plans, and Disadvantaged Communities Technical Advisory” available here.
Contact Matthew McKerley for more information about how your city and county can comply with the requirements of SB 244.