November 21, 2018

Public Easement and Street Vacation

WHAT IS A VACATION?

The term “vacation” means the complete or partial abandonment or termination of the public right to use a street, highway, or public service easement. A street or highway is defined as all or part of, or any right in, a state highway or other public highway, road, street, alley, trail, or other public right-of-way or easement. A public service easement is an easement acquired for public use by dedication or otherwise, for sewers, pipelines, electrical or water transmission lines, storm drains, drainage canals, and other limited use public easements other than for street or highway purposes.

Most commonly, applicants request a vacation to allow greater development freedom for their property. If a public service easement traverses a parcel and makes construction difficult or infeasible, vacation of the easement may allow a less complicated building design. The vacation of an unused alley or excess right-of-way can sometimes provide enough extra room to allow additional parking or structures, or to allow conformance with setback standards. Another common vacation request is to convert a public access easement into a private access easement, usually to accommodate gated access to an area.

WHAT ARE THE SUBMITTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR A VACATION?

Applications can be mailed or obtained directly from the Planning Department. Submittal requirements include the payment of filing fees, signature of the applicant, a legal description, and a scaled plot plan. Authorization from the property owner(s) abutting the easement is not required.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS TO VACATE AN EASEMENT?

There are two types of vacations – a summary vacation or a general vacation. A summary vacation is less expensive and somewhat less complicated; a Board of Supervisors hearing date is selected by planning staff, and affected property owners and agencies are notified. After allowing an adequate response time, a staff report and recommendation are prepared. A general vacation requires that the Board of Supervisors select a hearing date, adopt a “Resolution of Intention to Vacate,” advertise the resolution, and post it conspicuously along the line of the proposed vacation. Affected property owners and agencies then are notified of the proposed vacation, and the staff report and recommendation are prepared.

The California Streets and Highways Code lists very specific criteria for a vacation to qualify as summary. If the vacation affects a street or highway, the following circumstances would qualify for a summary vacation:

1. The street or highway has been superseded by relocation, and the vacation would not terminate all access to another person’s property, or terminate a public service easement; OR
2. For a period of five (5) consecutive years, the street or highway has been impassable for vehicular travel, and no public money was expended for maintenance purposes during the same period; OR
3. The street or highway is excess right-of-way and is not required for street or highway purposes; OR
4. The portion of a street or highway to be vacated lies within property under one (1) ownership and does not continue through such ownership, or end touching property of another.

If the vacation would affect a public service easement, the following circumstances would qualify for summary vacation:

1. The easement has not been used for its dedicated purpose for five (5) consecutive years immediately preceding the proposed vacation; OR
2. The date of dedication or acquisition is less than five (5) years, but more than one (1) year, immediately preceding the proposed vacation, and the easement was not used continuously since that date; OR
3. The easement has been superseded by relocation, and there are no public facilities located within the easement.

If the proposed vacation does not meet any of the listed criteria, it must be considered as a general vacation.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PROCESS A VACATION?

A summary vacation requires approximately six (6) to eight (8) weeks processing time, while a general vacation requires approximately ten (10) to twelve (12) weeks processing time.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE VACATION IS APPROVED?

The action of the Board of Supervisors is final and is not subject to appeal. The Board may conditionally approve a vacation, and if that is the case, any conditions must be complied with prior to the vacation becoming effective.

WHAT CONSIDERATIONS AFFECT THE OUTCOME OF A NONSUMMARY VACATION?

Planning staff considers all comments from property owners, agencies, and departments when formulating the report and recommendation. Staff also considers whether the request is consistent with the Circulation Element of the County’s General Plan. The Board of Supervisors also considers all testimony rendered at the public hearing before reaching a decision. The Board must find that the street, highway, or public service easement is unnecessary for present or prospective public use to approve a vacation request.

Staff is available to answer any questions that you may have regarding the vacation process. If further assistance is necessary, feel free to telephone (661) 862-8600 and ask for “zoning information.”

FORM 715 (1/2013)

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