General Plan 101

So right now I’m preparing a number of fairly technical posts that you can look forward to starting tomorrow and continuing through next week, about both the industrial land use policy the Council passed last week and the new (insane) draft zoning proposal (PDF!) for the Central Business District.

Before I get into all that, I think that some background information about the General Plan will be useful.

Okay. So the State of California requires every city and county to have a general plan, which is supposed to guide long term planning and development. Specifically, it’s supposed to provide “a basis for rational decisions regarding a city’s or county’s long-term physical development.” A general plan is supposed to be created through an extensive public participation process. The State mandates that the General Plan contains seven elements, although cities can add more if they want to. So basically we have to adopt documents explaining our long term goals in each of the following categories:

  • Land Use
  • Open Space
  • Conservation
  • Housing
  • Circulation
  • Noise
  • Safety

Cities are allowed to combine these elements into single documents as they deem appropriate, and they can add more elements if they wish. If you’re really bored, you can learn so much more than you ever wanted to know about California’s legal general plan requirements here (PDF!). Oakland’s General Plan consists of 10 elements, all of which you can download here:

  • Land Use and Transportation: When I, and most people, use the term “General Plan” (at least in the context of discussing development), we’re usually using it as shorthand for the LUTE. The LUTE (huge PDF!) is fascinating and awesome, and everyone should read it. It assigns each part of the city to one of 14 zoning designations. You can look at a map of the LUTE zoning here (PDF!)
  • Estuary Policy Plan: Details what we should do with the waterfront. This was adopted after the LUTE, and therefore supercedes the LUTE’s determinations about zoning designations for that area. Annoyingly, the EPP doesn’t employ the LUTE’s zoning categories, and instead features its own 21 land use categories, making zoning update a little more complicated.
  • Open Space, Conservation, and Recreation: Fairly self-explanatory. Mostly about parks.
  • Historic Preservation Element
  • Bicycle Master Plan: We just adopted this. In theory it will help us make the city safer for bicyclists. Unfortunately, we don’t have an engineer on staff who can implement the plan.
  • Pedestrian Master Plan
  • Housing Element: Talks about our housing production needs and theoretically explains how we’re going to meet them. Um…I think this is expired, actually. The Housing Element on the City’s website expired in 2006, and I couldn’t find any reference to renewing it in a quick search of agendas from the last two years. Hmm.
  • Noise Element
  • Safety Element
  • Scenic Highways

Since Oakland is a charter city, rather than a general law city, we have a little more flexibility than most in implementing our general plan. We, for example, aren’t actually required to make our zoning consistent with the land use element of the plan. But we decided we’d do it anyway, since otherwise the general plan is kind of meaningless.

Our General Plan was adopted in 1998 and expires in 2015. Now, the State gets that things change, and that sometimes you will have different ideas about what you want to do with a space 10 years later. In fact, they recommend we should thoroughly review and revise our General Plan every five years. Ha! Ours is closer to expiration than adoption at this point, and we’re just now getting around to making the zoning conform to it. (dto has written some excellent posts about Oakland’s zoning that everyone should be sure to read.)

Anyway, when the time comes to revise it, what you do is a General Plan Amendment. Any amendment to the General Plan has to be voted on by the City Council, and we are only allowed to amend any of the elements four times per year. This hasn’t really been a problem for us so far. We didn’t make any amendments to the LUTE last year. In 2005, we did it once, in May, to change the designation of the Wood Street project area from Business Mix to Urban Residential (PDF!). We changed the LUTE three times in 2006. Once in June, to change the area around the new Kaiser Medical Center from a mess of designations to institutional (PDF!), once in March, to change the designation of part of the old Army Base from Business Mix to General Industrial (PDF!), and again in October, to change .03 acres in East Oakland from Business Mix to Mixed Housing Type (PDF!) for an affordable housing project.

I think that pretty much covers it, but if you have questions, please leave them in a comment and I’ll try to answer.

One thought on “General Plan 101

  1. Rich

    Thanks for the primer. The issues are a bit complex for me to have mastered yet, but I appreciate the information (especially the source material links, such as to the LUTE). I will interested in reading more in the near future.