When most Californians think of land-use planning or infrastructure, they think of their local city – the new residential neighborhood being built or the condition of their local streets.
Yet few people may realize the role that counties play in these crucial areas. In fact, cities, counties and regions are intricately linked in these arenas. The situation becomes even more complex when you look at how counties must interact with federal, state and regional governments for carrying out many laws and securing revenues associated with housing, land use and transportation.
County board of supervisors regulate land use and provide health, safety and welfare protection for Californians in the state’s unincorporated areas (everything that isn’t in a city). This represents a huge geographic area of the State, but only contains about 18% of the population. Cities dictate land use for the remaining 82% of Californians, but cover less square miles. Counties certainly have a stake in what cities do land wise, since there are dozens of countywide services which do not stop at the city borders. It is also within counties that urban and rural areas of California interface. Many counties also play a vital role of preserving open space, agricultural lands, habitat and natural resource areas.
In addition to land use and housing responsibilities, counties own and operate fairly significant infrastructure systems. For instance, counties are responsible for 38% of California’s roads. Transportation in particular has remained a priority for counties as we struggle to find adequate revenues to simply maintain our vast transportation system. The county road network serves many purposes providing mobility between communities, for recreation and farm to market needs. We are also responsible for flood control, water and other types of infrastructure delivery systems critical to all Californians’ safety and quality of life.
Collaboration between all levels of government remain critical for counties in the areas outlined above, and recent efforts to move toward more sustainable growth in California have provided better coordination and linkage between land use and our transportation systems. But there is still much work to be done. As this work is undertaken, your local county will be playing a vital role.
For more, visit The County Voice, a place where CSAC, county officials and stakeholders can voice their thoughts on governance and issues that impact California’s 58 counties.