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What is a General Plan?

Every city, town, and county in California must have a general plan, which is the local government’s long-term framework or “constitution” for future growth and development. The general plan represents the community’s aspiration for its future and intentions for community development. The general plan also contains the goals and policies upon which the City Council and Planning Commission will base their land use decisions. Typically, a general plan is designed to address the issues facing the city for the next 20 years.

The general plan is made up of a collection of “elements,” or topical categories. There are currently nine mandatory elements: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, safety, environmental justice, and air quality. Communities can include other elements that address issues of local concern, such as economic development, community character, or urban design. Communities can also organize their general plans any way they choose, as long as they address each of the required topical categories.

A general plan has three defining features:

General. A general plan provides general policy guidance that the local government will use to guide future land use and natural resource decisions.

Comprehensive. A general plan is comprehensive, covering a range of topics, such as land use, housing, economic development, infrastructure, public safety, recreation, natural resources, and much more.

Long-Range. A general plan provides guidance for reaching a future envisioned 20 or more years in the future. To achieve the vision, a comprehensive plan includes goals, policies, and actions that address both immediate and long-term needs.

A general plan is distinct from zoning. Although both the general plan and the zoning ordinance designate how land may be developed, they do so in different ways. A general plan has a broad, long-term outlook that identifies the types of development that will be allowed, the spatial relationships among land uses, and the general pattern of future development. Whereas a zoning ordinance regulates development through specific standards such as lot size, building setbacks, height, and allowable uses. While the land uses shown on the general plan diagram are typically similar to the zoning map, upon adoption of the updated General Plan, the City must amend the zoning ordinance to ensure consistency with the adopted General Plan.

For more information on the structure and legal requirements of a general plan, or to see a list of planning-related terms and acronyms, review the following publications:

Cover of 2017 General Plan Guidelines

General Plan Guidelines

Published by The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (2017)

Cover image of General Plan Glossary

The California General Plan Glossary

Published by The California Planning Roundtable (2001)

The Ukiah General Plan Process

  • Phase 1:

    Initiation

    (May 2019 to June 2019)

    This lays the foundation for the General Plan Update, including developing tools to be used throughout the update, meeting with the Planning Commission and City Council, and initiating the community engagement program.

  • Phase 2:

    Existing Conditions and Trends

    (May 2019 to September 2019)

    During this phase, the City and its advanced planning specialists will compile information on existing conditions within the city and Planning Area organized by the topics to be covered in the General Plan Update. The Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook will focus on identifying and evaluating existing conditions and future trends and present them in a highly graphical format. The existing conditions outlined in the Workbook will influence the development of the General Plan Update, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and the future of the community.

    Also, as part of this phase, the City and its advanced planning specialists will help facilitate the development of a vision statement and guiding principles, which will guide the preparation of the General Plan Update. The General Plan vision statement and guiding principles are intended to reflect what community members value most about Ukiah and the shared aspirations of what they envision their community being in the future. The vision statement should be inspirational and establish key values for the General Plan’s guiding principles, goals, policies, and implementation measures. The guiding principles should provide more specific direction such as fundamental rules or doctrine that the City will use to inform General Plan goals, policies, and implementation measures.

  • Phase 3:

    Alternative Choices

    (September 2019 to December 2019)

    This phase focuses on working with the community to prepare, evaluate, and ultimately define a preferred policy and land use alternative that will be the basis of the updated General Plan. This phase involves developing alternative scenarios for specific vacant sites and redevelopment areas within the city and evaluating the implications of each alternative. As part of this process, the City and its advanced planning specialists will host a community workshop to develop, refine, and evaluate growth and policy options.

  • Phase 4:

    Preparing the General Plan

    (January 2020 to October 2020)

    Based on the Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook, visioning, and alternatives planning in previous phases, the City and its advanced planning consultants will prepare the draft General Plan. The General Plan document will be attractive, contemporary, and user‐friendly, using extensive photos, illustrations, and maps.

  • Phase 5:

    Environmental Review

    (April 2020 to February 2021)

    A General Plan is considered a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), so the City must analyze the potential environmental impacts of carrying out the General Plan. The General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be released simultaneously with the Public Review Draft General Plan to provide the community with an opportunity to review and comment.

  • Phase 6:

    Certification of the Final Program EIR and Adoption of the General Plan

    (March 2021 to May 2021)

    During this phase, the City and its advanced planning specialists will conduct the necessary consultation requirements required by State law and prepare for meetings with the Planning Commission and City Council to review the Draft General Plan, culminating with City Council certification of the Final Program EIR and adoption of the updated General Plan.

Phase 1: Initiation

(May 2019 to June 2019)

This lays the foundation for the General Plan Update, including developing tools to be used throughout the update, meeting with the Planning Commission and City Council, and initiating the community engagement program.

Phase 2: Existing Conditions and Trends

(May 2019 to September 2019)

During this phase, the City and its advanced planning specialists will compile information on existing conditions within the city and Planning Area organized by the topics to be covered in the General Plan Update. The Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook will focus on identifying and evaluating existing conditions and future trends and present them in a highly graphical format. The existing conditions outlined in the Workbook will influence the development of the General Plan Update, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and the future of the community.

Also, as part of this phase, the City and its advanced planning specialists will help facilitate the development of a vision statement and guiding principles, which will guide the preparation of the General Plan Update. The General Plan vision statement and guiding principles are intended to reflect what community members value most about Ukiah and the shared aspirations of what they envision their community being in the future. The vision statement should be inspirational and establish key values for the General Plan’s guiding principles, goals, policies, and implementation measures. The guiding principles should provide more specific direction such as fundamental rules or doctrine that the City will use to inform General Plan goals, policies, and implementation measures.

Phase 3: Alternative Choices

(September 2019 to December 2019)

This phase focuses on working with the community to prepare, evaluate, and ultimately define a preferred policy and land use alternative that will be the basis of the updated General Plan. This phase involves developing alternative scenarios for specific vacant sites and redevelopment areas within the city and evaluating the implications of each alternative. As part of this process, the City and its advanced planning specialists will host a community workshop to develop, refine, and evaluate growth and policy options.

Phase 4: Preparing the General Plan

(January 2020 to October 2020)

Based on the Existing Conditions and Trends Workbook, visioning, and alternatives planning in previous phases, the City and its advanced planning specialists will prepare the draft General Plan. The General Plan document will be attractive, contemporary, and user‐friendly, using extensive photos, illustrations, and maps.

Phase 5: Environmental Review

(April 2020 to February 2021)

A General Plan is considered a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), so the City must analyze the potential environmental impacts of carrying out the General Plan. The General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be released simultaneously with the Public Review Draft General Plan to provide the community with an opportunity to review and comment.

Phase 6: Certification of the Final Program EIR and Adoption of the General Plan

(March 2021 to May 2021)

During this phase, the City and its advanced planning specialists will conduct the necessary consultation requirements required by State law and prepare for meetings with the Planning Commission and City Council to review the Draft General Plan, culminating with City Council certification of the Final Program EIR and adoption of the updated General Plan.

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