What is a General Plan?

Who Will Use the General Plan?
How Will the General Plan Be Implemented?

A general plan is the key long-range policy and planning document which guides physical change, conservation, and enhancement of California cities and counties. California law requires each local government to adopt a general plan to represent the jurisdiction’s view of its future. It contains goals, policies and implementation programs that achieve the community’s vision.

What goes into the General Plan?

The general plan is both geographically and topically comprehensive. The general plan covers the territory within the boundaries of the City and areas outside of its boundaries that relate to its planning vision and activities related to community growth and development. The general plan addresses a wide variety of issues that characterize the City, and state law requires all general plans to include a vision statement and the first seven elements listed on this page.

General Plan Vision

The Vision, or a statement of desired future conditions, values and characteristics to be achieved or reinforced by the plan, lays the foundation for the policies and programs developed for each of the general plan elements. The visioning process often provides an opportunity for the public to participate in the preparation of the general plan. Visioning can reveal values and identify needs of the community as well as distinguish the planning issues that are important to its residents and are used to shape the policies and programs of the general plan elements.


One of the key legal requirements concerning General Plans deals with consistency. “Consistency” is one of the factors used in determining the legal adequacy of a General Plan. As stated in the General Plan Guidelines prepared by the California Office of Planning and Research:

“In general terms, an action, program or project is consistent with the General Plan if, considering all its aspects, it will further the objectives and policies of the General Plan and not obstruct their attainment.”

Consistency with Other City Documents and Projects 

The City utilizes several other planning tools such as a zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance, and specific plans, which must be consistent with the provisions of the General Plan.  If they are determined to be inconsistent, they cannot be approved. The General Plan should also be reviewed by other departments to determine whether or not efforts such as public works projects or public land acquisition or sale are consistent with the goals and policies identified in the General Plan.

Who will use the General Plan?

  • City Council and Planning Commission use the goals and policies of the general plan as a basis upon which to make both long-term and short-term decisions, determine long-term objectives, generate and evaluate budgets, plan capital improvements, and prioritize tasks.
  • City staff and all departments will also reference the general plan when considering development applications, capital improvements, service programming, and departmental budgeting.
  • Individual residents, existing and prospective business owners, and the development community can also seek guidance for preserving and enhancing the community through the general plan.
  • Other local and regional agencies will refer to the general plan when projecting future needs and services. The general plan is truly the City’s collective guide to the future.

How Will the General Plan be Implemented? 

General plan implementation consists of shorter-term actions and programs to carry out longer-term general plan goals and policies. This includes one-time initiatives by the City (e.g., zoning code update to reflect changes in a new general plan), decisions on public and private development projects, municipal operational programs, capital improvements and partnerships with other jurisdictions or agencies.


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