California General Plan Guidelines

The California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) has completed the first comprehensive update to the State General Plan Guidelines since 2003. The Guidelines are for the preparation and content of general plans for all cities and counties in California. The 2017 version includes legislative changes, new guidance, policy recommendations, and the requirement to incorporate climate change into community planning.

Local governments of California are now required, in accordance with Senate Bill 379, Land Use: General Plan: Safety Element (2015) to include a climate change vulnerability assessment, measures to address these vulnerabilities, and a comprehensive hazard mitigation and emergency response strategy. Policies in a safety element are to identify hazards and emergency response priorities, as well as mitigation through avoidance of hazards by new projects, and reduction of risk in developed areas. The new Guidelines incorporate climate change impacts as they may affect land use, housing, conservation, open space, safety, noise, and environmental justice. The Guidelines illustrate each statutory requirement in detail, and provide OPR recommended policy language. Examples of city and county general plans that have adopted similar policies are included also for all of the mandatory and common optional elements of the general plan.

The Guidelines recommend several ways for communities to satisfy the requirement to plan for climate change, including integrating considerations directly into their General Plan or by adopting a separate Climate Action Plan. The report also includes a framework recommended by the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative to help communities implement their plan. These suggested steps as described further in the guide are to:

  1. Inventory greenhouse gas emissions
  2. Establish reduction targets
  3. Develop a Climate Action Plan (CAP)
  4. Implement policies & measures
  5. Monitor and verify results

Chapter 4.5 in the 2013 California State Hazard Mitigation Plan offers a specific approach for local communities to evaluate their risk as a result of climate change. The resources the SHMP and LHMP guidance materials reference are the same materials referenced in the Climate Change chapter of the General Plan Guidelines. The intention is to support consistency across multiple documents such as an adaptation plan, climate action plan, general plan, implementation plan, local hazard mitigation plan, etc.

Climate Change requirements must be implemented by the next Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) update or by January 2021 if no LHMP has been adopted.  

Publication Date: August 2017

Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Planning guides

States Affected:

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