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Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is the MSCP?

The Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is a regional conservation planning program that develops and implements conservation plans intended to ensure the long-term survival of sensitive plant and animal species and protect the native vegetation communities found throughout San Diego County. During plan development, the MSCP addresses the potential impacts of urban growth, natural habitat loss, and species endangerment and creates a plan to mitigate for the potential loss of sensitive species and their habitats. The South County Subarea Plan, adopted by the Board of Supervisors on October 22, 1997, covers 252,132 acres of unincorporated land.  The County is currently working on the North County Plan, which will cover the northern part of the unincorporated area, and East County Plan, which will cover the land in the eastern part of the unincorporated area.  In addition, the County is working on amending the South County Subarea Plan to include the Quino checkerspot butterfly as a covered species.

2. What is the Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) and how is it related to the MSCP?

The Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) provides the regulatory basis for implementing MSCP plans. The BMO outlines the sensitive resources of concern and sets forth the criteria that all private and public projects must follow. The BMO includes specific project design criteria that must be incorporated into each project, such as protecting wildlife movement corridors and avoiding resources considered to be significant. The BMO also limits the amount of impacts that may occur to certain sensitive, rare, or endangered species and sets the minimum amount of mitigation that must be provided.

3. If my land is included within a MSCP plan area, will I be still able to develop it?

Yes. MSCP plans do not place a moratorium on development. However, all development projects must be found to be in conformance with the MSCP plan. How a project conforms varies depending on the type of development . Some projects meet certain exemption criteria and do not require any modification, while others require revisions and mitigation in order for the project to conform. County staff will review each project and determine what is necessary for conformance with the MSCP plan.

4. Will the government condemn my land for the MSCP?

No. No land will be condemned to achieve the goals of the MSCP. In fact, the Board of Supervisors included that statement in a list of deal points prior to approval of the first MSCP plan. The County will only purchase land from willing sellers. Federal and state agencies involved with land acquisition have stated similar restrictions on condemnation.

5. Can I sell my land to the MSCP?

Maybe. The County has an obligation to acquire land for preserve within areas covered by MSCP plans. Since the inception of the MSCP, the County has negotiated and purchased several properties from willing sellers. The County will consider purchasing land that meets certain criteria, including whether the property is important in completing the planned preserve system for the region. If you are interested in potentially selling land to the County contact the Real Estate Services Division of the Department of General Services at (858) 694-2291.

6. Do MSCP plans allow developers to avoid the federal and state endangered species acts?

No. While developers do benefit from the permit streamlining that MSCP plans provide, the regional preservation of important biological resources is the main goal of the program. MSCP plans are created to provide protection for sensitive plant and animal species, as well as sensitive habitat types. Through implementation of  MSCP plans, biological resources are protected, guidelines are provided for development, and programs for land acquisition are established. MSCP plans and the BMO set forth specific preserve design considerations, limitations to impacts, and minimum mitigation requirements for all development projects. The County has a section 10(a) permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that allows Incidental Take of threatened and/or endangered species that are covered by MSCP plans. Take Authority under the County's 10(a) permit may be transferred to individual projects, providing third party beneficiary status. This third party beneficiary status is transferred after specific findings are made on issues such as preserve design, avoidance of sensitive resources, and preservation of wildlife movement corridors. The County's granting of third party beneficiary status means that developers do not need to obtain individual permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or California Department of Fish & Wildlife for species covered under MSCP plans, which can substantially reduce the time and cost for a project.

7. How will being in an MSCP area affect the processing of my subdivision or permit?

County staff will incorporate the evaluation of MSCP plan conformance into the environmental review required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The time and cost involved in the environmental review of your project should not be significantly impacted due to the MSCP. In the absence of MSCP plans, individual projects would need to obtain permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or California Department of Fish & Wildlife. In addition, there are already a number of factors that may affect development, including critical habitat designations and listings of species as rare, threatened, and endangered. Your project may require revisions depending on its location within the MSCP plan area and biological resources present. You may also be required to mitigate for impacts your project might have on sensitive resources. However, projects outside of a MSCP plan area are subject to similar constraints due to CEQA requirements. Therefore, review of the project will not be significantly different due to the MSCP.

8. What is mitigation?

Mitigation is a provision that helps lessen the severity of a project's impact on the environment. Mitigation measures are usually required as conditions of approval that must be satisfied during the course of the project, often prior to project approval. The mitigation that is required for each project varies depending on potential impacts. Some examples of mitigation for impacts to biological resources include preserving habitat in an open space easement. Mitigation may also include purchasing habitat credit in a "mitigation bank," such as a preserve owned and managed by a conservancy group. For land not identified as high habitat value, it may be more appropriate for mitigation to occur offsite. The BMO defines the minimum mitigation required for projects within a MSCP plan area. Additional mitigation beyond that specifically listed in the BMO may be warranted based on potential impacts of proposed development.

9. What part of the County is covered by the MSCP?

The South County Subarea Plan covers land that is served by the City of San Diego Metro Wastewater sewer system. These boundaries extend from the southern portion of Ramona and the San Diequito River, east to Poway, Lakeside and Alpine and south to the border with Mexico. The plan for that area was approved on October 22, 1997. The County is currently working on a plans for the northern and eastern parts of the unincorporated area. The northern area contains areas around the incorporated cities of Oceanside, Encinitas, San Marcos, Vista, and Escondido east to the Cleveland National Forest and north to the County line. The eastern area will involve all of the land not included within the first two phases and will cover the area from approximately the Cleveland National Forest to the eastern county line.

10. Was I notified that my property was inside a MSCP plan area?

All landowners of property within a MSCP plan area are notified by mail of hearing dates and times prior to the public hearings held by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors during which MSCP plans are discussed and adopted. Public workshops are also held to elicit the public's opinion. Workshops are noticed to the public through both the mail and newspapers.

11. How do I find out if my property is within a MSCP plan area?

You may contact the Department of Planning and Land Use at (858) 565-5981 to inquire about your property.  You can also locate your property and MSCP status using the interactive mapping application, in the left hand navigation bar, click on 'Online Services' and then 'Find Maps (GIS)' to load the application.

12. Can I clear vegetation for fire safety within the MSCP?

Yes. County Fire Marshals require the clearing of hazardous vegetation close to houses and buildings in the unincorporated area. However, concerns are raised by citizens as to whether these activities would be in violation of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts. The County Fire Chief's Association and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 1997. This MOU exempts the incidental take of endangered species by landowners complying with a Fire Marshal's Order, which is generally 100 feet of clearing from a residential structure.

Clearing in areas beyond that required by the Fire Marshal's Order may require permits issued by federal, state, and/or County of San Diego authorities. For more information, please contact the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS), Zoning Information Counter, at (858) 565-5981 or (888)-267-8770; CDFG at (858) 467-4201; and USFWS at (760) 431-9440.

13. How do I find out more about the MSCP?

Various MSCP materials are available to the public. If you would like to view or purchase a map of the South County Subarea Plan, you may do so through the SANGIS website at www.sangis.org.  The County Subarea Plan and associated documents can also be downloaded from South County MSCP page or copies of the South County Subarea Plan and BMO may be purchased from the PDS cashier at 5510 Overland Avenue.

For questions relating to the adopted San Diego MSCP Plan or about processing of private or public projects in the South County Subarea, please contact Maggie Loy at (858) 694-3736.  For questions regarding the preparation of the draft North County Plan or the draft East County Plan, please contact Bobbie Stephenson at (858) 694-3680.