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)

The California General Plan Glossary

Published by The California Planning Roundtable (2001)

Elements in the Pleasant Hill General Plan

Introduction

The Introduction chapter provides an overview of the General Plan and the process used to develop the 2040 General Plan.  This chapter also includes a Reader’s Guide that provides useful information on how to read and use the goals, policies, and programs presented in each element.

Economic Development Element

The Economic Development Element guides decision-making pertaining to the economic strategy for the City. This Element will include an analysis of the fiscal direction for the City and an overview of market trends in both industrial and retail uses that can affect future budget cycles. This Element will also highlight the City’s exiting strategy on economic development and implement new concepts to further the City’s economic interests over the next 20 years.

Housing Element

The Housing Element ensures that there is adequate land in place to accommodate Pleasant Hills’ fair share of new residents. The City adopted the 2015-2023 Housing Element in 2016 to identify and address housing needs in the city in compliance with State housing law.

Land Use and Community Design Element

The Land Use Element includes three key components that provide a framework to guide and shape the future physical development of Pleasant Hill. First, the Element includes policies establishing land use designations that identify the type and intensity of uses permissible in the Planning Area.  Second, this Element includes a series of goals and policies identifying the City’s philosophy for future change and development.  Third, this Element will include goal and policies related to community design that will govern the physical structure and appearance of the City’s built environment and establish the image and character of the City.  This Element will serve as the primary policy guidance for ensuring that new land uses are logically organized and developed in a way that is sustainable and enhances Pleasant Hills’ unique identity. The new Land Use and Community Design Element will also include the City’s existing goals and policies in the existing Growth Management Ordinance and as well as Environmental Justice goals and policies satisfying State requirements in SB244 and SB1000.

Public Facilities, Services, and Infrastructure Element

The Public Facilities, Services, and Infrastructure Element guides decision-making pertaining to the broad areas of City services and resources.  Through an effective Public Facilities, Services, and Infrastructure Element the City will be better able to assist individuals and families in achieving and maintaining high levels of social well-being, ensuring that facilities, services, and infrastructure are planned for future changes in population and demand.

Mobility Element

The Mobility Element is designed to address all aspect of movement of people and goods.  The Element addresses a more holistic approach to sustainable transportation methods that focus on strategies for reducing vehicle miles traveled, enhancing a multimodal transportation system, and enhancing infrastructure for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders. The Mobility Element also addresses the typical aspects of a transportation network including, roadways, parking, and the movement of goods.

Open Space, Parks, and Open Space Element

The Open Space, Parks, and Recreation Element guides the long-range preservation and conservation of open space as well as parks and recreational facilities.  These assets enhance the character of the City, helping to create a unique and pleasant atmosphere for City residents and visitors.  

Environment Element

Residents of the City of Pleasant Hill are vitally interested in retaining the charm and character of their community, conserving natural resources, and reducing waste.  The Environment Element is concerned with protecting and enhancing each of these important aspects of the city.  The Element promotes resource sustainability to protect the City’s built and natural ecologies for current and future generations.

Hazards and Safety Element

The Hazards and Safety Element evaluates natural and urban safety hazards in Pleasant Hill, both existing and potential.  It establishes policies and actions to avoid and reduce these hazards to protect City residents and visitors. Additionally, this Element guides the City when participating in resolving safety issues that are regional in character, or otherwise beyond the immediate control of the City.

Process

  • Phase 1:

    Initiation

    (Complete)

    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

    (Complete)

    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

    (Complete)

    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

    (Spring 2021 in tandem with the Housing Element)

    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

    (November 2020-December 2021)

    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

    (January 2022-March 2022)

    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

    (April 2022-May 2022)

    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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