City of Marina, California Urban Growth Boundary Initiative

Executive Summary

In November 2000, the City of Marina approved an update to add an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to its city General Plan and Local Coastal Program (LCP) to prevent urban sprawl and to preserve undeveloped land near the coast. City residents voted on and supported this amendment - called the Marina UGB or UGB Initiative - to protect open space uses and natural resources in the city for a period of 20 years. The main purpose of the UGB Initiative is to restrict land within the UGB to park and open space uses until at least December 31, 2020 (when the current initiative expires, unless it is extended by the city). Low-density zones that were mapped along the coast provide the guidance and land-use controls for these areas. While the UGB and low-density zones were not established for the explicit purpose of managed retreat, they can serve as an example of land-use and zoning tools other municipalities could consider to conserve coasts, natural resources, and other open spaces in the face of sea-level rise and erosion. UGB and low-density zones can protect people, structures, and infrastructure, in addition to enabling natural resources, like wetlands, to better adapt to sea-level rise and land loss by proactively precluding the siting and development of barriers to their inland migration. In addition, UGBs can assist local governments in protecting important public assets, like beaches, for the benefit and enjoyment of communities. 



The UBG was created to prevent new, sprawling development outside the city at the dismantled military base Fort Ort and Armstrong Ranch, which were incorporated into the city’s General Plan in 2000. In order to preserve the beach and other open spaces in these areas, a citizens’ group known as Marina 2020 proposed the UGB Initiative to amend the General Plan. The UGB Initiative received a lot of support from residents and it was passed and incorporated in the city’s General Plan. 


Managed Retreat Examples

Land Use and Zoning: Urban Growth Boundary

According to the updated City of Marina General Plan, the definition of the UGB is “the area within which the City will concentrate growth and new development, along with required community services until 2020.” As of 2020, there are approximately 1,230 acres designated as UGB Open Space consistent with the implementation of the UGB. Within the UGB, land can only be utilized for the “preservation of natural resources, scientific study and research, managed production of resources, and outdoor recreation.” In addition, the UGB Initiative prohibits any land-use plan amendment to the General Plan, such as for rezoning, the initiation of any specific plan or subdivision map, or the issuance of any conditional use permit that would be inconsistent with the UGB. However, to balance potential housing needs, the UGB Initiative also includes an exception that it can be amended by the city or through a public vote to allow for the development of affordable housing for low-, very low-, or moderate-income persons on a maximum of 10 acres of land within the UGB per year. The UGB Initiative also established an open space buffer that requires that “[n]ew development on presently undeveloped lands [i.e., as of 2000 when the UGB was passed] within and adjacent to the Urban Growth Boundary shall provide a linear park (greenbelt) or other open space buffer between the new development and existing, adjoining residential neighborhoods.”       


Next Steps 

For the past 20 years, the unincorporated Armstrong Ranch, which is about 1,445.13 acres in size, has remained undeveloped because of the UGB Initiative. Pursuant to the Monterey County (which includes the City of Marina) land-use planning maps, the unincorporated Armstrong Ranch is now designated as permanent grazing land. With the initial expiration date on the UGB Initiative approaching on December 31, 2020, the city is considering potentially renewing the UGB through its city council. 

Simultaneously, Marina is evaluating updates to its LCP, which similarly includes consideration of other complementary managed retreat strategies in the city’s coastal zone that overlap and diverge with the UGB. For example, the city has included managed retreat in its current Vision and Goals Memorandum and Final Existing Conditions and Adaptation Report. The Vision and Goals Memorandum includes a summary of public opinion of people who responded to the city’s Online Questionnaire in 2019. Notably, the questionnaire’s results indicate that some members of the public are willing to consider managed retreat as a potential strategy to address sea-levels rise impacts on publicly owned utilities, publicly owned recreational facilities, and private property.


Considerations and Lessons Learned

Although the city did not establish the UGB and low-density zones for the explicit purpose of managed retreat, Marina's Urban Growth Boundary is one example of a land-use and zoning tool other municipalities could consider to direct new development to less vulnerable areas and protect coasts and open spaces susceptible to sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss. UGB and density regulations can be incorporated into and implemented by both land-use and zoning plans and ordinances and state and local coastal management plans and regulations. UGB can also be designed to supplement or support other objectives for conserving natural resources and maintaining and enhancing opportunities for public beach access, especially in light of shifting coastlines and migrating habitats.


Publication Date: November 2000

Related Organizations:

  • City of Marina, California

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