What is a General Plan?

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California state law requires each city and county to adopt a general plan "for the physical development of the county or city, and any land outside its boundaries which ... bears relation to its planning." The role of a community's general plan is to act as a "constitution;" a basis for rational decisions regarding a city's or county's long-term physical development. The general plan expresses the community's development goals and embodies public policy relative to the distribution of future land uses, both public and private.

The policies of the general plan are intended to underlie most land use decisions. Pursuant to state law, subdivisions, capital improvements, development agreements, and many other land use actions must be consistent with the adopted general plan. In counties and general law cities, zoning and specific plans are also required to conform to the general plan.

Preparing, adopting, implementing, and maintaining a general plan serves to:

  • Identify the community's land use, circulation, environmental, economic, and social goals and policies as they relate to land use and development.
  • Provide a basis for local government decision making, including decisions on development approvals and exactions.
  • Provide citizens with opportunities to participate in the planning and decision making processes of their community.
  • Inform citizens, developers, decision makers, and other cities and counties of the ground rules that guide development within the community.
  • The general plan bridges the gap between community values, visions and objectives, and physical decisions such as subdivisions and public works projects.

    "State of California General Plan Guidelines", Governor's Office of Planning and Research, November 1998, page 10