Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs)

Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) are locations designated for the protection of natural habitats and the preservation of open space for future generations. This includes farming, ranching, recreational and resource lands.

Karl Nielsen

Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) are a modern expression of the Bay Area’s century-long concern for, and protection of, parks, farmland, open spaces and ecosystems.

Like Priority Development Areas (PDAs), PCAs are nominated by local jurisdictions (such as open space districts, cities’ and counties’ parks and recreation departments and other local entities) and adopted by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). More than 180 existing PCAs have been adopted by ABAG.

Sign up for the PCA Mailing List at the bottom of this page.

Four Types of PCAs

PCAs are categorized by four designations that recognize the vitality of the Bay Area’s natural systems, rural economy and the health of all residents:

  • Natural landscapes
  • Agricultural lands
  • Urban greening
  • Regional recreation

Nomination Cycles

MTC and ABAG have worked to study the strengths and weaknesses of the existing PCA framework that was developed in 2007. A recommended set of reforms will improve the useability of PCA geographies and broaden the set of policy considerations. Learn more about the PCA Program Refresh in the section below.

The next iteration of the long-range regional Plan, Plan Bay Area 2050+, will include the opportunity to nominate new PCAs.

Frequently Asked Questions

When can I nominate a new PCA?

The next opportunity to nominate new PCAs will occur as part of the next iteration of Plan Bay Area, no later than 2025.

What types of agencies/organizations are eligible to apply for PCAs?

Cities, counties and park/open space districts are eligible to apply to ABAG for PCA designation. Federal and state agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, are not eligible to apply, but may work with local jurisdictions or park/open space districts to encourage a PCA application to ABAG. The application period for new PCAs is currently closed.

Is a PCA a land use designation? Does it change the local zoning requirements or restrict development rights?

No. A PCA designation does not in any way change the land use status for a piece of property. The local jurisdiction maintains planning and permitting authority over the property and private property owners maintain their development rights.

Can PCAs be designated on private property?

Yes. Designation of a PCA on private property does not change the local land use designation, zoning or the ability for the property to be developed in the future.

Is the PCA designation process also a grant program?

No. The PCA designation process creates a list of areas that have the potential for conservation, restoration and public access. Specific projects within these designated PCAs may be eligible for future funding.

PCA Program Refresh

MTC and ABAG were awarded a grant from the Sustainable Agricultural Lands and Conservation (SALC) Program managed by the California Department of Conservation to support a refresh of the PCA planning framework. The refresh effort kicked off in June 2022. It identifies recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the region’s conservation planning framework, and incorporates a wider range of policy concerns, such as equity and resilience to climate hazards.

Priority Conservation Area Refresh Draft Final Report 

A Draft Final Report outlines a recommended suite of reforms to the PCA planning framework for regional policymakers to consider. The Draft Final Report is open for public review through March 31, 2024 before it will be considered by the ABAG Executive Board later this spring. You can email feedback on the Draft Final Report to mgermeraad@bayareametro.gov.

Priority Conservation Area Refresh Interim Memo 

In July 2023, an interim memo explored the strengths and weaknesses of the existing PCA framework and outlined a draft vision, goals and objectives for the Refresh:

Staff Contact

For questions about the PCA Refresh, please contact:

Michael Germeraad, Regional Planning Program
Email: mgermeraad@bayareametro.gov

Priority Conservation Area Grants

MTC and ABAG, working with the State Coastal Conservancy, have a PCA grants program. Learn more about Priority Conservation Area Grants.

Staff Contact

For questions about PCA Grants, please contact:

Ben Botkin, San Francisco Estuary Partnership
Email: bbotkin@bayareametro.gov

Regional Planning

PCAs are a key element of Plan Bay Area 2050+, the region’s long-term transportation and land use plan.

Visit PlanBayArea.org.
Plan Bay Area 2050+ logo.
PCA Maps

Visit the Plan Bay Area website to view the Statutorily Required Plan Maps to see all of the approved PCAs in the Bay Area.

View the maps.
Statutorily Required Plan Maps, October 2021.

Sign up for the PCA Mailing List

Sign up for the Priority Conservation Areas mailing list to receive updates on PCA grants, application deadlines and more.

Priority Conservation Area