This article will introduce several topics of interest to those buying California coastal property for development as a home site. Topics covered include zoning, California Coastal Commission (CCC), water, septic and utilities. Some of the specifics herein relate to Mendocino County but in general the information is likely to apply anywhere on the northern California coast. The reader may find the hurdles of coastal development daunting at first. However, the restrictions imposed by the various counties and the CCC provide great benefit in terms of keeping these portions of the California coastline sparsely populated highly scenic. I hope that you will find this information useful.

Jeff Frankel – April 2011



Zoning and the Coastal Zone

Mendocino County adopted its zoning current plan in 1991. Here you can find the complete indexed text of the Mendocino County Zoning Plan

There are 3 major divisions of the zoning plan. I’ll concentrate on Division II that covers properties in the Coastal Zone.

When you think about buying coastal property – especially if you plan to build a home or otherwise develop the site. Be sure to find understand it's zoning and read up the particular provisions tits zoning classification. This is especially important when buying undeveloped land in the Coastal Zone as zoning waivers are rarely if ever granted.

The foregoing is just a summary of major provisions, so please, before purchasing any property in the coastal zone, read all the applicable zoning provisions and, if you don’t comfortably understand its contents, see a competent real estate attorney.



Public Views

In addition to the basic restrictions of Coastal zone RL Zoning, any development need to meets the requirements of both Mendocino county planning (building inspection) and the California Coastal Commission. Many of the requirements will have to do with the visual impact of any planned construction on the Public’s view. So when thinking about development of any Coastal Zone property, be sure that it provides a home site that affords you the views that you desire without unduly disrupting the public’s view. When you submit plans, you will be required to put up corner posts that outline the location and height of any planned structure. These will be used by County Planning and the California Coastal Commission to determine the appropriateness on any contemplated structure. There is a public comment period on any planned development in the Coastal Zone.



Other Requirements


Does the land include any Native American burial or other features of archaeological interest? Their presence could be an impediment to development plans.


In the same manner that archeological significance must be taken into consideration before building in the Coastal Zone, a botanical study must be undertaken to ensure that a potential home site does not harbor any endangered plant species.


Before one can build a dwelling adequate water supplies must be proven. The county generally requires at least 0.5 gallons per minute water proven during the dry season.

Soils and Septic

In this rural area, there are no city sewer hook-ups. So a septic system must be employed. By extension, there must be a location on the property that meets county requirements in terms of soil permeability, setbacks from the property lines and distance from the water source for a septic system.

Public Access Easements

The American public owns all U.S. ocean-front property up to 6 feet above the mean high-tide line. The courts has affirmed the right of the public to gain reasonable access to the ocean – often across private lands. When evaluating coastal properties, keep the potential for lateral easements in mind.

Electric Utilities

Access to electrical power is a key consideration when developing rural lands. The land owner is generally responsible for running electricity to a potential site from the nearest utility transmission line.


I've touched on some of the areas that should be of concern to a prospective buyer of California coastal land. However, none of this should be relied upon as authoritative, exhaustive or as legal advice. Always consult competent professionals before making any investment decision.


How does 11 Acres by the sea Measure up?

In the paragraphs below, I'll try to sum up how 11 Acres stacks up in the various areas discussed.


11 Acres by the Sea, while only 11 acres is zoned Rangeland (RL) as is much of the surrounding property. The general provisions of RL zoning include:

One housing unit (plus barns outbuildings, shops, etc.) per one hundred sixty (160) acres except as where a smaller parcel has been grandfathered-in. (such as in the case of Acres by the Sea)

50 ft setbacks are required (in the case of home sites on Coastal Zone properties, you may not be allowed to build right over the cliff face.)

Height limits of 28 feet above natural grade for non-Highly Scenic Areas 18 feet for Highly Scenic Areas west of Highway One unless an increase in height would not affect public views to the ocean or be out of character with surrounding structures.

Because the surrounding properties are also zoned RL (with the 160-acre rule) there is not likely to be significant density of development in the future. The map below shows the current distribution of parcels around 11 Acres and their Zoning classifications. ( I have to put a disclaimer here that the foregoing is not a legal opinion so get some expert advice when evaluating this statement.)

Archaeological & Botanical

We have studies on file showing no areas of interest.


11 Acres has a a deep well that has amply served the adjacent property (house and 2500 square foot garden) for the last 10 years. We have developed a new well for the adjacent parcel where our house is. So the 11 Acres well will be for the the exclusive use of the purchaser.

Please note that while there is not an official production study on file for this well (you as potential buyer may want to have one performed), the well has produced in excess of 4 gallons per minute average over 24 hour periods when we have had needed to completely refill our 5,000 gallon tank on the adjacent parcel.



Soils and Septic

We have a soils study on file indicating that a suitable location for a septic system has been identified.

Public Access Easements

John and Peg Frankel (parents of the current owner) granted an easement to the people of California for the construction of a pedestrian path along Highway 1 on the eastern edge of the property. The trail has been developed and is maintained by the Mendocino Land trust. The trail runs inside of the rustic fence along the eastern side of the property with a 5' fence to prevent pedestrians from crossing over onto the private portion of the land. It is important to note that County Planning has determined that no lateral easement for public access to the ocean will be required as the entire western edge of the property is a sheer cliff face and therefore not suitable for public coastal access.



Electric Utility Access

Pacific Gas and Electric company runs a 12KV distribution line along the entire eastern edge of the property paralleling Highway 1. A transformer and underground wiring would need to be run to a potential home site but this is a relatively short distance as these things go.


Links that may of interest to those buying in the Coastal Zone

Mendocino County Planning (Zoning, Building)
Mendocino Land Trust
Land use consultants - Bud Kamb & Assoc (707) 964-4814
Soils/Septic Consultant - Carl Rittiman & Assoc (707) 937-0804
Archaeological and Botanical Studies

All information concerning the sale of this property is from sources deemed reliable,
however preparer, Scott Roat Realty, and seller cannot be responsible for errors or omissions.
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