Countywide Issues/ Opportunities/ Constraints
- Certain areas of the county continue to experience development pressures; Antelope Valley from the Gardnerville/Carson City area, Chalfant from the Bishop area, and the Long Valley communities from the Mammoth area. Although the countywide growth rate over the next 20 years will probably be close to that projected by the State Department of Finance (between .55% and .80% annually), and the unincorporated area will probably continue to house slightly less than 50% of the total county population (42% in 2010), the population distribution in the unincorporated areas may shift over that time frame.
- Many county residents do not work in the community in which they live. Residents in the Antelope Valley commute to work in Bridgeport and in Gardnerville, Minden, and Carson City in Nevada; residents of the Tri-Valley area commute to work in Bishop; and residents of Long Valley, June Lake, and Benton commute to work in Mammoth Lakes. Bridgeport is the only unincorporated community with a large portion of its residents working in the community. The separation between jobs and housing may continue in the future due to the nature of the county's economy and the limited potential for future economic expansion in many areas of the county.
- The expansion of existing communities or the development of new communities is currently limited by land ownership; acquiring the land necessary for development would require working with the USFS or BLM to designate lands for a land trade or purchase and could be a costly and time-consuming process. Acquiring land from LADWP is limited by the City of Los Angeles' charter, which prohibits the selling of water rights on its land. In effect, this means that any land released by LADWP for community development must be served by an existing community water system.
- Land use within the unincorporated area of Mono County is highly constrained by land ownership. Approximately 94% of the land in the county is publicly owned; 88% is federally owned; and the remainder is owned by the State of California, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, or Native American tribal groups. The majority of private land within the county is concentrated in community areas, with the remainder dispersed throughout the county in isolated parcels. Within existing community boundaries, some communities have limited land available for additional development; expansion of some communities beyond existing boundaries is limited by the public ownership of surrounding lands. Development of new communities throughout the county is limited by the lack of large concentrations of private lands outside existing communities; those parcels of private land that are large enough for development are in many cases agricultural lands and are not available for development.
- Mono LAFCO policies discourage the designation of land for urban expansion before there is a demonstrated need for such expansion; these policies also promote the expansion of existing communities instead of the development of new communities.
- Land use planning in the county is fragmented due to the pattern of land ownership. The federal land management agencies have planning authority on federal lands; the Town has planning authority for the incorporated area; and state agencies have planning authority on state lands. The County has only limited environmental authority on the federally owned lands managed by the USFS and the BLM; i.e., for minerals development, the County is the lead agency for compliance with the requirements of SMARA (Surface Mining and Reclamation Act). The County has planning authority on LADWP lands and any development on those lands must comply with CEQA and the County's environmental review process. Development on LADWP lands is a key issue, since much of the land that LADWP owns is environmentally sensitive; e.g., wetlands and critical wildlife habitat.
- Land use patterns in the county are influenced by land ownership and topography. Residential and commercial uses are generally concentrated in small communities located in the valleys agricultural and recreational uses are dispersed throughout the county. Existing land use patterns countywide could be affected by USFS and BLM policies on land exchanges, by future proposals for land banking or land conservation, and by LAFCO and General Plan policies concerning agricultural preservation and community expansion.
Additional issues that could affect land use patterns within and adjacent to community areas include the potential for redevelopment, the potential for mixed use development, existing land division patterns, and the existing land use designation.
- The availability and cost of infrastructure (water, sewer, fire protection, and roads) influences development patterns throughout the county. Most of the land available for residential development requires septic systems and individual wells. Some areas of the county have small community water systems but still require individual septic systems; other areas have community sewer systems but require individual wells. Only four unincorporated communities, portions of Bridgeport, Lee Vining, June Lake and Crowley Lake, have both community water and sewer systems serving individual parcels. These parcels are typically ready for immediate development without additional infrastructure costs.
- Water quality requirements are affecting both community water and sewer systems and individual homeowners. Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board's water quality regulations have set a maximum of two dwelling units per acre in areas that have community water systems but require individual septic systems. As a result, the minimum lot size in such situations is slightly over 20,000 square feet. The minimum lot size when both individual septic and water systems are required is 40,000 square feet. In some areas in the county where individual lots are 7,500 square feet, these requirements make it necessary to have more than one lot to build a house.
The lack of improved roads throughout the county also affects the potential for development. The main thoroughfares in the county are US 395, US 6, and State Routes 120, 158, 167, 108, and 89. Each of the community areas has a road system; some of these roads are improved, some are not. Some roads in community areas are included in the County road system; some are not. Those that are not are often unimproved. Outside community areas, numerous single-lane and two-lane dirt and gravel roads exist as a result of mining and logging activity. Many of these roads are used by off-road vehicles.
- There is a countywide need for land designated for industrial uses, particularly for those uses that are land intensive, visually obtrusive/offensive, and potentially noisy or dirty; e.g., wood lots, lumber yards and other materials storage areas, waste management facilities, batch plants, areas for heavy equipment storage, etc. Most of these uses will be localized and concentrated in a specific area; the County lacks feasible sites for extensive heavy industrial development due to environmental constraints and distance from population centers and supplies.
- The county Regional Planning Advisory Committees (RPACs) and community planning groups have generally expressed a desire to maintain the rural recreational attributes of the county, to preserve the small-town character of existing communities, and to protect the county's natural resources. The overall attitude is that growth should be contained in and adjacent to existing communities, that agricultural lands should be protected for their open space and economic value, that the protection of scenic resources is a critical concern, and that the use and development of resources should be regulated in a manner that allows for development but protects the resource.
- The presence of significant environmental concerns will have a critical effect on future development and land use in the county. Environmental concerns focus on natural resources, cultural resources and natural hazards. A key issue affecting development in the county is the conservation of a variety of natural resources, including wetlands, special-status species (both plants and animals) and special habitats, wildlife habitat (in some places critical), fisheries and aquatic habitats, visual quality, surface and groundwater resources, cultural resources, and mineral resources. The presence of significant natural hazards also affects development. Natural hazards in the county include fault zones, flood zones, volcanic hazard areas, steep slopes, fire hazard areas, debris-reflow areas, and avalanche-prone areas. Information on the county's environmental resources and natural hazards is contained in the MEA, along with maps showing the location of those resources and hazards.
- Economic concerns focus on the need for development projects to "pay their own way" and on the need to provide for local economic growth. Most of the services and infrastructure in the county are provided either by the County or local Special Districts. All of these agencies have been hard hit by lower property tax revenues and increasing service demands. The County must ensure that development does not adversely impact service agencies.
There is also a need to provide for local economic growth by creating jobs for local residents. Many of the county's residents are unable to work in the community in which they reside, and many of the area's younger residents must leave the area in order to find work. Lack of year-round employment in the tourist and recreation industry – the dominant industry in the county – is the primary cause of employment instability. How to plan for and encourage a diversified economic base in order to provide stability in the job market is a concern, as is the need to maintain a balance between economic growth and environmental concerns.
- Increasing federal and state legislation and guidance governing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions tend to be geared toward urban development patterns, and can be a challenge given the rural nature of Mono County. While the County is not always subject to the legislation, grant opportunities for areas with applicable plans in place appear to be increasing.
- Promoting the health and well-being of residents should be integrated throughout the General Plan. Recognizing the links between built environments and health, particularly the influence that patterns of land use, density, transportation strategies, and street design have on chronic disease and health disparities, is a key opportunity to improve community health.