Elements of a General Plan


How do the elements work together?

All elements have legal status so no element has legal supremacy over another. State law requires the elements of a general plan to be internally consistent, meaning the goals, policies, and implementation measures cannot conflict with one another, and they must be consistent. For example, if the Land Use Element identifies an increase in development potential, then the Circulation Element (roadway capacity) must also address this anticipated change. Optional elements may also be added that the City and residents identify as specific needs of their City.

State law provides jurisdictions the flexibility to determine the structure of their General Plans. For instance, a city or county may combine one or more elements or structure the General Plan by issue. What is important is that the General Plan and its elements satisfy the minimum requirements as to content, format, and procedure.

Elements of a General Plan

Land Use:
The land use element describes goals, policies, and programs in both narrative and graphic terms and establishes development criteria and standards, including building intensity and population density. Land use categories are used to depict the general distribution, location, and extent of public and private uses of land.

Includes the identification, location, and design of existing and proposed major thoroughfares, transportation routes, pedestrian connections, bicycle facilities, public transit options, trails, and local public utilities and facilities. It serves as an infrastructure plan and must be correlated with the land use element.

Analyzes housing needs for all income groups and demonstrates how to meet those needs. State law requires that this element be updated, at a minimum, every five years.

Addresses the identification, conservation, development, and use of resources including energy and natural gas, water and natural landforms.

Open Space:
Intends to provide a plan for the long-term preservation of open space. It must specify plans and measures for preserving open space for natural resources, for managing the production of resources, for outdoor recreation, and for public health and safety.

Identifies and analyzes projected noise conditions in the community and must include measures to abate or mitigate potential noise levels.

Identifies seismic, geologic, flood, and wildfire hazards, evacuation routes, and establishes policies to protect the community from them.

Optional Elements:
In addition to the elements required by state law, a city or county may adopt other elements that relate to its growth over time. Common themes for optional elements include: recreation, air quality, preservation, community design, and economic development. Optional elements have the same force and effect as the required elements.

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