The Significant Ecological Area (SEA) Program is a component of the Los Angeles County General Plan Conservation/Open Space Element. SEAs are ecologically important land and water systems that support valuable habitat for plants and animals, often integral to the preservation of rare, threatened or endangered species and the conservation of biological diversity in the County. While SEAs are not preserves, they are areas where the County deems it important to facilitate a balance between development and resource conservation. Development activities in the SEAs are reviewed closely in order to conserve fragile resources such as streams, oak woodlands and threatened or endangered species and their habitat.
The biological resources found in Los Angeles County are some of the most diverse in the United States. Many island, valley, mountain and desert habitats still retain unusual or relatively undisturbed examples of the original plant and animal species indigenous to the County, and in some cases are not found outside Southern California.
The County first began to inventory biotic resources and identify important areas of biological diversity in the 1970s. Today, the primary mechanism used by the County to conserve biological diversity is a planning overlay called Significant Ecological Areas (SEAs) designated in the County’s General Plan. Together the General Plan overlay, and the SEA conditional use permit process, are referred to as the SEA Program.
The intent of the proposed SEA regulations is not to preclude development, but to allow controlled development without jeopardizing the biotic diversity of Los Angeles County. The SEA conditional use permit (SEA CUP) requires development activities be reviewed by the Significant Ecological Area Technical Advisory Committee (SEATAC).
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized the Department of Regional Planning to pursue a multi-year update of the 1980 Countywide General Plan. The draft General Plan includes a Conservation and Open Space Element. The State requires that the Conservation/Open Space Element address;
- “open space for the preservation of natural resources, including, but not limited to: areas required for the preservation of plant and animal life including habitat for fish and wildlife; areas required for ecologic and other scientific study; and rivers, streams, coastal beaches, lake shores, banks of rivers and streams and watersheds.”
The SEA Program will meet the proposed General Plan’s resource preservation guidelines by implementing a majority of the Plan’s policies regarding biological resources.
Each SEA is described in detail on this website and in Appendix E of the draft General Plan. These descriptions include details about the vegetation communities, sensitive species data, and discussion of how these resources meet the SEA criteria.
Proposed SEAs are depicted within cities to show the extent of biological resources within an ecological system. However, the County has no land use jurisdiction within cities, therefore the SEA designations do not apply within city boundaries, nor do County regulations. Cities have their own General Plans and environmental preservation programs unrelated to the County. It is up to each individual city to decide how they will conserve the natural resources within their boundaries. Each of the Proposed SEAs includes details about which cities the SEAs are included in.
Land Use and Zoning
The SEA does not change the land use designation or the zoning of a property; however the SEA CUP is required for development activities within a Significant Ecological Area, unless the activity is exempt from the ordinance.