The General Plan
What is a General Plan?
California State law requires cities to adopt a general plan, which is a document that is required to address land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, safety, noise and the general needs of the city. These subject areas are known as "elements". A general plan defines the city’s vision for the quality of life of the average person within the community. Once the community has defined the city’s vision, through the adoption of its General Plan, other documents and tools are created to implement this defined vision.
Can the General Plan change?
A general plan is not intended to be a static document. As a city grows or as technology changes, a city’s needs and vision may change. Therefore, State law recommends that a general plan be updated every five years. Additionally, periodic amendments to the general plan may occur to address timely matters. However, State law limits such amendments to no more than four amendments per element per year.
What is the Housing Element?
Where the general plan is recommended to be updated every five years, the housing element of the general plan is required to be updated every five years. The purpose of the housing element is to set forth goals and objectives to insure that housing for all economic levels are addressed. (The Housing Element was adopted by the City and certified by the State in December 2001.)
Documents Implementing the General Plan
The Zoning Ordinance, Design Guidelines and Specific Plans set forth the development and design standards for our community that will implement the City’s vision, as identified through the General Plan.
What is a Zoning Ordinance?
The City’s Zoning Ordinance is the primary tool to implement the General Plan. The Zoning Ordinance provides detailed standards for development or the use of land. These standards include what types of uses are permitted in particular zone, minimum lot size, height restrictions, building setbacks, parking requirements, wall heights, sign criteria and other standards.
What are Design Guidelines?
The City’s Design Guidelines address the aesthetic image of the City. This document will describe the mass or scale of the building, compatibility with adjacent developments, and landscaping.
What is a Specific Plan?
From time to time, the City or private developer may desire a plan that addresses design/development standards for a specific area of land. The specific plan either replaces the standards of the City’s zoning ordinance and design guidelines, or may provide standards that enhance the City’s existing regulations.
Contacting the Planning Department
When do I need to contact the Planning Department?
As a homeowner, you should contact the Planning or Building Departments if you intend to add a room, or build a wall, shed, pool or patio cover. There may be setback, height or construction requirements that will affect your proposed design. Further, most items require a building permit. It is helpful to contact the City before you finalize any improvement plans. Many homeowner improvements can be reviewed and approved at the public counter of the Building Division at City Hall. Moreover, the homeowner should contact staff to identify any specific requirements, processes or fees.
As a business owner, if you are looking to relocate your business within the City, or if you are new business to the community, contact Planning and Building to determine if the use is permitted and if the site or structure is adequate for your business in accordance with City regulations and Uniform Codes. It is wise to contact the City before you buy or lease a property/building. Older buildings may need to be repainted or additional site landscaping may be required. Dependent upon the type of use, condition of the site, and proposed site/structure enhancements, a review by staff, the Architectural Review Subcommittee, or Planning Commission may be required. A business owner should contact staff to identify any specific requirements, processes or fees.
As a developer, if you are looking to build a new structure or provide a major renovation to an existing site or structure, contact the Planning Department early in your design stages to ensure the site is appropriate for the proposed use, identify design/development standards, and identify the appropriate application process.
The Review Process
Who is involved in the review process?
Dependent on the type of activity, improvement or development proposed, different levels of review are necessary. There are five primary bodies of review:
Planning Department Staff
Development Services Committee
Architectural Review Subcommittee
Planning Department Staff – The Planning Department is headed by the Development Services Manager and is supported by an Associate Planner and Assistant Planner. The Planning staff has the authority to grant minor development approvals; such applications include signs, home occupation permits, and minor site/façade improvements. In all other cases, the Planning staff is responsible for guiding development activities through the City’s review and approval process.
Development Services Committee – The Development Services Committee consists of a staff representative from Planning, Engineering, Redevelopment, Building, Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and Building. This committee will review proposals for compliance with all City codes and regulations. In most cases this is an advisory body. However, the Committee does grant approvals for Special Use Permits (special or temporary events).
Architectural Review Subcommittee – The Architectural Review Subcommittee consists of three members including a licensed architect and landscape architect. The Subcommittee is appointed by the Planning Commission. The Subcommittee will review proposals; along with the recommendations of the Planning Department Staff and the Development Services Committee to evaluate site, building and landscape design. In most cases, this body is advisory to the Planning Commission, however, the Subcommittee does grant approvals for minor commercial/industrial additions and alternations.
Planning Commission – The Planning Commission consists of seven members, five which are residents, interested in the community. The Commission members are appointed by the City Council. The Planning Commission provides the majority of the final decisions on development requests. The Planning Commission serves as an advisory body to the City Council for matters involving Zoning, General Plan and Specific Plan requests.
City Council – The City Council consists of five residents elected at-large by the City residents. The City Council delegates the review of many applications to the aforementioned bodies. However, the City Council takes final actions on zoning, general plan, specific plan and development agreement requests.