General Plan Basics

What is a General Plan?

Every city, town, and county in California must have a general plan, which is the local government’s long-term framework or “constitution” for future growth and development.  The general plan represents the community’s view of its future and expresses the community development goals.  The general plan contains the goals and polices upon which the City Council and Planning Commission will base their land use decisions.  Typically, a general plan is designed to address the issues facing the City for the next 20 years.

The general plan is made up of a collection of “elements,” or topic categories.  The State currently lists nine elements as mandatory: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, safety, environmental justice, and air quality.  Communities may include other elements that address issues of local concern, such as economic development, community character, or urban design.  Communities can also organize their general plan anyway they choose, as long as the required topic categories are addressed.

A general plan has three defining features.

General.  A general plan provides general policy guidance that will be relied on to guide future land use and resource decisions.

Comprehensive.  A general plan is comprehensive in nature, covering a range of topics, such as land use, housing, economic development, infrastructure, public safety, recreation, natural resources, and much more.

Long-Range.  A general plan provides guidance on reaching a future envisioned 20 or more years in the future.  To achieve the vision, a comprehensive plan includes goals, policies, and actions that address both immediate and long-term needs.

A general plan is not to be confused with zoning.  Although both the general plan and the zoning ordinance designate how land may be developed, they do so in different ways.  A general plan has a broad, long-term outlook.  It identifies the types of development that will be allowed, the spatial relationships among land uses, and the general pattern of future development.  A zoning ordinance regulates development through specific standards such as lot size, building setbacks, height, and allowable uses.  However, the land uses shown on the general plan diagrams will typically be reflected in the local zoning maps as well and changes to the zoning map are required to be consistent with the adopted general plan map.  Development must not only meet the specific requirements of the zoning ordinance but also the broader policies set forth in the general plan.

For more information on the structure and legal requirements of a general plan, or to see a list of planning-related terms and acronyms, the following publications are recommended:

General Plan Guidelines

Published by The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (2017)

A Citizen’s Guide to Planning

Published by The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (2005)

The California General Plan Glossary

Published by The California Planning Roundtable (2001)

Process

  • Phase 1:

    Initiation

    (March 2019)

    This lays the foundation for the General Plan Update, including developing tools to be used throughout the update, meeting with the City Council General Plan Subcommittee, the Planning Commission, and City Council, and initiating the community engagement program.

  • Phase 2:

    Community Engagement

    (Throughout Project)

    Community involvement in the development of the General Plan Update is critical to its success.  At each phase in the Update process, there will be opportunities for the community to engage.  We will be looking for your ideas and comments as the Update is developed.  Check the "Participate" menu for updates on engagement opportunities.

    Community outreach and engagement is an essential component of an effective General Plan that embodies the community’s shared values and goals for the future.  Throughout the project, the consulting team will conduct community outreach and engagement, which will include City Council and Planning Commission meetings, Community Workshops, newsletters, pop-up booths at festivals and events, and more! As part of Phase 2 the City, in collaboration with the consulting team, will initiate the community engagement program by developing a project logo, General Plan website, and online engagement activities.

  • Phase 3:

    Existing Conditions and Trends

    (March 2019 - July 2019)

    During this phase, the City and consulting team will compile information on existing conditions within the city and Planning Area organized by the topics to be covered in the General Plan Update.  The Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook will focus on identifying and evaluating existing conditions and future trends and present them in a highly graphical format. The existing conditions outlined in the Workbook will influence the development of the General Plan Update, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and the future of the community.

  • Phase 4:

    Choices

    (August 2019 - October 2019)

    This phase involves working with the community to prepare, evaluate, and ultimately define a preferred policy and land use alternative that will be the basis of the updated General Plan.  This phase involves developing alternative scenarios for specific vacant sites and redevelopment areas within the City and evaluating the implications of each alternative. As part of this process, the City and consulting team will host a multi-day planning charrette to develop, refine, and evaluate growth and policy options.

  • Phase 5:

    Preparing the Plan

    (Late 2019 - Spring 2020)

    Based on the Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook, visioning, and alternatives planning in previous phases, the City and consulting team will prepare the General Plan. The General Plan document will be attractive, contemporary, and user‐friendly, using extensive photos, illustrations, and maps.

  • Phase 6:

    Assessment

    (Late 2019 - Fall 2020)

    A General Plan is considered a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), so the city must analyze the potential environmental impacts of carrying out the General Plan.  The General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR), will be released simultaneously with the Public Review Draft General Plan, with opportunities for community review and comment.

  • Phase 7:

    Digital Plan

    (Late 2020 - Spring 2021)

    The General Plan will go to the Planning Commission and the City Council for public hearings. The City Council has the final authority to adopt the General Plan.  The community will have opportunities to provide comments to the Planning Commission and City Council during the final public hearings. After adoption, the General Plan Team will reformat the General Plan into a full searchable and highly-graphical online General Plan.

     

Phase 1: Initiation

(March 2019)

This lays the foundation for the General Plan Update, including developing tools to be used throughout the update, meeting with the City Council General Plan Subcommittee, the Planning Commission, and City Council, and initiating the community engagement program.

Phase 2: Community Engagement 

(Throughout the project)

Community involvement in the development of the General Plan Update is critical to its success.  At each phase in the Update process, there will be opportunities for the community to engage.  We will be looking for your ideas and comments as the Update is developed.  Check the "Participate" menu for updates on engagement opportunities.

Community outreach and engagement is an essential component of an effective General Plan that embodies the community’s shared values and goals for the future.  Throughout the project, the consulting team will conduct community outreach and engagement, which will include City Council and Planning Commission meetings, Community Workshops, newsletters, pop-up booths at festivals and events, and more! As part of Phase 2 the City, in collaboration with the consulting team, will initiate the community engagement program by developing a project logo, General Plan website, and online engagement activities.

Phase 3: Existing Conditions and Trends

(March 2019 - July 2019)

During this phase, the City and consulting team will compile information on existing conditions within the city and Planning Area organized by the topics to be covered in the General Plan Update.  The Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook will focus on identifying and evaluating existing conditions and future trends and present them in a highly graphical format. The existing conditions outlined in the Workbook will influence the development of the General Plan Update, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and the future of the community.

Also, as part of this phase, we will help facilitate the development of a vision statement and guiding principles which will guide the preparation of the General Plan Update.  The General Plan vision statement and guiding principles are intended to reflect what community members value most about their community and the shared aspirations of what they envision their community being in the future.  The vision statement should be inspirational and set the key values and aspirations for the General Plan’s guiding principles, goals, policies, and implementation measures.  The guiding principles should provide more specific guidance that provides the fundamental rules or doctrine that the City will use to guide General Plan goals, policies, and implementation measures.

Phase 4: Choices

(August 2019 - October 2019)

This phase involves working with the community to prepare, evaluate, and ultimately define a preferred policy and land use alternative that will be the basis of the updated General Plan.  This phase involves developing alternative scenarios for specific vacant sites and redevelopment areas within the City and evaluating the implications of each alternative. As part of this process, the City and consulting team will host a multi-day planning charrette to develop, refine, and evaluate growth and policy options.

Phase 5: Preparing the Plan

(Late 2019 - Spring 2020)

Based on the Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook, visioning, and alternatives planning in previous phases, the City and consulting team will prepare the General Plan. The General Plan document will be attractive, contemporary, and user‐friendly, using extensive photos, illustrations, and maps.

Phase 6: Assessment

(Late 2019 - Fall 2020)

A General Plan is considered a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), so the city must analyze the potential environmental impacts of carrying out the General Plan.  The General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR), will be released simultaneously with the Public Review Draft General Plan, with opportunities for community review and comment.

Phase 7: Digital Plan

(Late 2020 - Spring 2021)

The General Plan will go to the Planning Commission and the City Council for public hearings. The City Council has the final authority to adopt the General Plan.  The community will have opportunities to provide comments to the Planning Commission and City Council during the final public hearings. After adoption, the General Plan Team will reformat the General Plan into a full searchable and highly-graphical online General Plan.

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