Clarke Stevenson
CivicSpark AmeriCorps Fellow

Specifically for the Sierra: A Look at the General Plan Guidelines Update

Community planning requires a sensitive balance between what is possible and what is required, varying in degree according to each local government’s priorities. That’s where a General Plan comes in. General Plans provide a blueprint for communities to guide development and to establish a vision for their future. However, local governments are also mandated by California law to address a number of specific community elements including: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, safety and air quality (in the San Joaquin Valley). These can all be found under the State’s General Plan Guidelines.

COMM Sonora2 CSegerstrom 2017 09 copyWithin the last 15 years, a new vision for California has developed through policy and action, requiring an update to the standing 2003 General Plan Guidelines created by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR). Released this past summer, the General Plan Guidelines Update (GPGU) incorporates a decade’s worth of landmark policies, new online mapping tools and notable documents that have guided research for urban and regional planning.

The GPGU streamlines general plans across the state and provides an original source of comprehensive planning elements that serve each community, city and region in California. Furthermore, the update reflects over a decade’s worth of widespread, multi-sector advancement towards addressing socio-economic and landscape changes such as: climate change, disaster preparedness, new definitions on social equity and health, and economic development.

Sierra CAMP has recently reviewed the update and created a GPGU factsheet for Sierra communities to use as a summary of key changes. One of the most notable updates to the GPGU is its user-friendly interface. The time consumed by local governments to create or update their General Plans has represented a serious barrier, but now the GPGU has text-searchable content and example policy phrasing in order to cut time and costs for low-capacity local governments.

Another update is the integration of Gov. Brown’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change impacts. A local analysis of climate change and adaptation is now required under the Safety element, per SB 379. With a significant portion of California’s economy relying on natural resources, ecotourism and agriculture, climate change poses an imminent risk. This subject of the Safety element will need to be incorporated by the next Local Hazard Mitigation Plan Update or made active by January 2021.

Additionally, an Environmental Justice Element discussion, per SB 1000, has been incorporated into the GPGU. In order to properly recognize that the damage caused by an unreliable climate will disportionately affect disadvantaged communities, this new element requires that a discussion be added to all General Plan updates by next revision of two or more elements after January 1, 2018. To note, disadvantaged communities are uniquely defined under the EnviroCalScreen 3.0. To find more information on the classification see Sierra CAMP’s Disadvantaged Communities in the Sierra Nevada policy memo.

OPR will be conducting workshops around the state over the next year to help communities understand the new compliance measures as well as the trove of recommendations offered in the GPGU.