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General Plan Basics

What is a General Plan?

Every city and county in California is required to have a general plan, which is the jurisdiction’s long-term blueprint for future growth and development. The general plan represents the community’s vision of its future and expresses the community development goals over the next 20-30 years. The general plan guides land use decisions made by the City Council, Planning Commission, and City staff.

The general plan is made up of a collection of “elements,” or topic categories. The State currently requires jurisdictions to address the following elements: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, safety, and environmental justice. In addition to these elements, cities and counties can choose to include other elements that address issues of local concern, such as economic development or urban design. Elements in a general plan can be organized in any way, so long as the required topic categories are addressed.

A general plan has three defining features.


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


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.


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.

How do General Plans Differ from Zoning?

A general plan is not to be confused with a development code or zoning. Although both a general plan and development code designate how land may be developed, they do so in different ways. A general plan has a broad, long-term outlook. It identifies the general types of development allowed, the spatial relationships among land uses, and the overall pattern of future development. On the other hand, a development code (also commonly referred to as a “zoning code” or “zoning ordinance”) contains a host of regulations which dictate various land use decisions at a parcel level. These regulations are referred to as “zoning” regulations. A development code along with its zoning regulations is the tool used to implement the vision and general land use guidance provided in a general plan. Development codes and zoning regulations achieve this by regulating development through specific standards such as lot size, building setbacks, height, and allowable uses. Development must not only meet the specific requirements established in a jurisdiction’s zoning regulations but also the broader policies set forth in the general plan. As part of the overall General Plan Update project, the Project Team will initiate a comprehensive update to the Development Code to ensure consistency with the updated General Plan and State law.

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:

The Process
Phase 1: Project Initiation
(Summer 2023)

This phase lays the foundation for the General Plan and Development Code update, including developing tools to be used throughout the project, meeting with City planning staff, the Planning Commission, and the City Council, and initiating the community engagement program.
Phase 2: Public Outreach Strategy
(Summer 2023)

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 General Plan Team will conduct community outreach and engagement, which will include in-person and virtual community workshops, newsletters, meetings with key stakeholders and City Council members, and more! As part of Phase 2, the Project Team will develop a project logo, create a General Plan website, and release online engagement activities.
Phase 3: Gather and Analyze Data

(Summer - Winter 2023)

During this phase, the Project 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 related to land use, population, employment, housing, circulation and transportation, biological resources, cultural resources, economics, public facilities, services, infrastructure, noise, air quality, climate change, hazards and safety (including geology), hydrology and water quality, and social and environmental justice. The existing conditions outlined in the Workbook will influence the development of the General Plan Update, the Project Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), and the future of the community.

Phase 4: Vision and Guiding Principles

(Winter 2023 - Spring 2024)

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 that the City will use to guide General Plan goals, policies, and implementation measures.

Phase 5: Alternatives Choices
(Spring - Summer 2024)

Using the results of the Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook, community engagement, and the vision and guiding principles, the Project Team will develop land use alternatives that reflect community priorities for future growth and change. These land use alternatives will identify potential issues for each alternative and specific policies to address those issues. As a part of this phase, the Project Team will host a workshop and working sessions to get feedback from the community, Planning Commission, and City Council about the land use alternatives.
Phase 6: General Plan

(Summer 2024 - Spring 2025)

Based on the Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook and visioning from previous phases, the Project Team will prepare the updated General Plan elements. The General Plan document will be attractive, contemporary, and user‐friendly, using extensive photos, illustrations, and maps. As a part of this phase, the Project Team will host a series of workshops to get feedback from the community, Planning Commission, and City Council about the General Plan Elements as they are updated.

Phase 7: Project Environmental Impact Report (PEIR)

(Spring 2025 - Winter 2026)

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. Once complete, the General Plan Project Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) will be released for community review and comment.

Phase 8: Public Review and Adoption

(Winter - Spring 2026)

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.

Phase 9: Comprehensive Development Code Update

(Spring 2025 - Summer 2026)

Once the updated General Plan is adopted by City Council, the Project Team will prepare a comprehensive update of the City’s Development Code to ensure it is consistent with the newly adopted General Plan and State law. This phase includes a thorough review of the existing Development Code, stakeholder interviews, and discussions with decision-makers and City planning Staff.

Phase 10: Economic Development Studies
(Ongoing Throughout Project)

During this phase the Project Team will prepare a retail market opportunities analysis that reflects the recent/ongoing changes in the retail industry, including the growing influence of ecommerce and recent shifts in shopping patterns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This phase will also include market demand studies for several land use categories (residential, professional office space, industrial/R&D/tech space, hotel/motel facilities) that quantify development demand for these land uses.
Phase 11: Climate Action Plan Update

(Winter 2025 - Summer 2026)

The Project Team will prepare a Climate Action Plan Update. This process will include a communitywide greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory of emissions, a GHG emissions forecast based on current activities and projected growth and change, GHG emission reduction targets, and the development of specific actions to reach those targets. To support future data collection and analysis, the Project Team will also provide the City with an inventory tool and dashboard to track emissions and implementation progress over time.

Join the
Your input and participation throughout this process is important!

Provide your email address to stay up to date on upcoming meetings and key project milestones. The Project Team will send out emails throughout the project about upcoming events, workshops, community surveys, meetings, and project documents.

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