Why is the County developing the North County Plan? What is the goal of the North County Plan?

    In 1997, the County, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) (collectively referred to as the Wildlife Agencies) and 11 other jurisdictions, developed the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). The County of San Diego envisioned it would be the largest urban preserve in the country. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior at the time called it a “model for the country… that truly demonstrates that the preservation of ecosystems and the unique plants and wildlife they support is compatible with growth and development.” 

    The MSCP is a long-term, regional Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP/NCCP) focused on balancing two unique aspects of San Diego County: high biological diversity and urban growth. Under this program, large blocks of interconnected habitat are voluntarily conserved through acquisition of land by willing private and public entities and mitigation from development.  

    As part of the MSCP, the County and Wildlife Agencies established the MSCP South County Subarea Plan in 1997 to provide wildlife corridors and connections for 85 native plants and animals – many of them threatened and endangered species. While protecting species and habitat, the South County Subarea Plan also allows for passive recreational/trail opportunities in select areas. Visitors learn about the vital role of conservation through a variety of environmental education activities that foster connections with nature.   

    The goal of the North County Plan is to create a streamlined and consistent permitting process by developing a planning document that meets both federal and state requirements for a regional conservation plan. Once approved, the County assumes permit-issuing authority from the Wildlife Agencies to cover public and private projects under its jurisdiction.  

    What are the benefits of the North County Plan?

    • Simplifies Federal and State compliance for projects by localizing decision-making  

    • Simplifies biological mitigation for single-family homes and agricultural clearing 

    • Preserves a balance of scenic landscapes, natural features, and built environment 

    • Reduces project mitigation costs, survey costs, and processing and approval timelines  

    • Provides fair compensation to willing landowners for permanent protection of resources on their land 

    • Provides reasonable and well managed access to open spaces 

    • Protects large blocks of species’ habitat 

    • Protects landscape linkages and wildlife corridors 

    • Comprehensive and consistent long-term management and monitoring 

    Which communities are included in the North County Plan?

    The MSCP is comprised of three separate planning areas covering unincorporated regions of San Diego in the South County, North County, and East County.  

    The North County Plan Area encompasses approximately 680,000 acres in and around the unincorporated communities of Bonsall, Central Mountain, Cuyamaca, De Luz, Fallbrook, Harmony Grove, Julian, San Dieguito, North Mountain, Pala, Palomar Mountain, Pauma Valley, Rainbow, Ramona, Rincon Springs, Twin Oaks Valley, and Valley Center within the County's jurisdiction. 

    What is the status of the North County Plan? What has the County accomplished to date?

    Development of the North County Plan began in 2000 as a long-term, regional habitat conservation program focused on balancing habitat protection, recreation, development, and agricultural activities. The North County Plan contributes to the conservation of sensitive species and habitats while providing a streamlined permitting process for landowners, agricultural operators, businesses, and residents in the unincorporated regions of northwestern San Diego County.   

    On October 28, 2020 (6), the County Board of Supervisors directed staff to continue development of the North County Plan as a joint HCP/NCCP, to achieve many of the same environmental and economic benefits realized through the adopted South County Subarea Plan. A memorandum to the Board was submitted on September 19, 2023 to provide an update on the North County Plan, you can read it here.

    Below is the current timeline to develop the North County Plan:

    Why is the County engaging with the community and stakeholders on the North County Plan?

    A great deal of collaborative work has gone into development of the North County Plan. The input received from members of the Stakeholder Working Group, community groups, and other interested parties has been invaluable to the North County Plan to ensure we are able to deliver the intended benefits of the Plan.

    It’s important to us to ensure we are reaching all of the communities included in the Plan Area. We are offering presentations to community groups, residents, business owners, employees, and other stakeholders in the unincorporated county who would like to learn about the development of the North County Plan and provide feedback. Email us at mscp@sdcounty.ca.gov to connect with us. 

    All feedback received is thoughtfully considered and will be incorporated into the planning process as we continue to develop the North County Plan.

More About the MSCP

    What is the difference between the Multiple Species Conservation Program and the Multiple Species Conservation Plan(s)?

    The MSCP Plan balances protection of habitat and species with recreation, development, and agricultural activities. Enacted by the County in 1997 with 11 other jurisdictions, USFWS, CDFW, and various community stakeholders, this 50-year agreement preserves native vegetation and wildlife across San Diego. The final MSCP Plan establishes the planning framework for the Multiple Species Conservation Program and guides the preparation of individual subarea plans for each jurisdiction within the MSCP Planning Area. 

    Local jurisdictions and special districts implement their respective portions of the MSCP Plan through subarea plans, which describe specific implementing mechanisms for the MSCP. The MSCP subarea plans contribute collectively to the conservation of vegetation communities and species in the MSCP Plan. 

    What other areas of the unincorporated county have an MSCP?

    The MSCP Plan for the southwestern portion of San Diego County was approved in 1998 and covers 85 species. The City of San Diego, portions of the unincorporated County, and ten additional city jurisdictions make up the San Diego MSCP Plan Area. The County Subarea Plan (South County Plan) was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in October 1997 as is currently the only subarea plan in the unincorporated areas. 

    The goal of the South County Plan is to acquire or permanently protect 98,379 acres in the unincorporated area. Since 1998, thousands of acres of land have been added to the MSCP by local, State, and Federal agencies.

    Who is the County collaborating with on the development of the North County Plan?

    There are many collaborators in the North County Plan.  An active Stakeholder Working Group, Tribal Nations, various community groups, environmental groups, recreational groups, development industry, and local residents have all been instrumental partners in developing our tactics for researching, monitoring, and managing the land that is part of the Plan Area, and for identifying new acreage to help our team accomplish its goals. 

About Your Land & the MSCP

    How does the permitting process differ in MSCP areas?

    The County's granting of third-party beneficiary status means that developers do not need to obtain individual permits from the USFWS or CDFW for species covered under MSCP plans, which can substantially reduce the time and cost for a project. Through implementation of MSCP plans, biological resources are protected, guidelines are provided for development, and programs for land acquisition are established. MSCP plans set forth specific preserve design considerations, limitations to impacts, and minimum mitigation requirements for all development projects.  

    Mitigation requirements are built into the permit process, making it possible to approve development projects at a programmatic level versus on a project-by-project basis.  These permits also include regulatory assurances from the Wildlife Agencies that the terms of the HCP/NCCP will not change. In addition to streamlining the permitting process without compromising the health and longevity of our native wildlands, the focus on smart development protects parkland in perpetuity while facilitating economic growth in San Diego County.  


    If my land is included within the MSCP Plan Area, will I be still able to develop it?

    MSCP plans do not prevent development; however, all development projects must be in conformance with the MSCP plan. How a project conforms varies depending on the type of development proposed. 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. 

    Can I sell my land to the MSCP?

    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. 

    Will the government condemn my land for the MSCP?

    No land will be condemned to achieve the goals of the MSCP. The County will only purchase land from willing sellers. Federal and state agencies involved with land acquisition have stated similar restrictions on condemnation. 

    Can I clear vegetation for fire safety within the MSCP?

    The County Fire Chief's Association, USFWS, and CDFW signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 1997 that 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.