On August 2, 2017, the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) released its first update to the General Plan Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) since 2003. The Guidelines provide guidance to cities and counties throughout California on the preparation and content of their General Plans, which govern land uses and zoning within their jurisdictions. The updated Guidelines contain new recommended policies, information resources, and reflect recent legislation regarding General Plans.

Under Government Code section 65300, cities and counties must adopt and periodically update their General Plans. The process can be costly and time consuming, which tends to discourage frequent updates, especially by small municipalities with limited resources. As the Guidelines explain, “As of 2015, more than half of local jurisdictions have general plans that are over 15 years old.” To facilitate more regular General Plan updates, the Guidelines provide both guidance on mandatory elements and recommended policy language in “cut and paste” format, with links to similar examples from existing city and county General Plans.

OPR has provided a summary of major changes between the 2003 and 2017 Guidelines. These include statutory checklists for mandatory elements, a General Plan mapping tool, and new sections on environmental justice, healthy communities, equitable and resilient communities, economic development, and climate change. Guidance and model General Plan policies for promoting renewable energy and infill development and a template for mitigation of agricultural land conversion are also provided. Legislation establishing new requirements for Environmental Justice elements or policies (SB 1000 (2016)) and discussion of climate adaptation and resiliency strategies in the mandatory Safety element (SB 379 (2015)) is addressed in respective sections on those elements.

OPR plans to conduct workshops around the state over the next year to update communities on the new Guidelines, in particular regarding the Environmental Justice requirements under SB 1000. OPR will update the Guidelines text and links on an ongoing basis as more information becomes available, and will announce any changes on its website or via email list serve.

Project developers should be aware of the updated Guidelines, which will help shape General Plans across the state. Moreover, the resulting General Plan changes will be considered in project environmental reviews, where inconsistency with a General Plan can constitute a significant land use impact under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”); see CEQA Guidelines Appendix G, Section X(b).