General Plan Update

The General Plan outlines the County’s goals for physical growth, conservation, and community life in the unincorporated area, and contains the policies and actions necessary to achieve those goals. County staff members use the General Plan to guide decisions about zoning, permitted development, provision of public services, and transportation improvements. Contra Costa County’s current General Plan was adopted in 1991 and reflects the data, attitudes, and assumptions of this time. The Plan has been reconsolidated twice, once for 1990-2005 and again for 2005-2020. However, as the Bay Area and Contra Costa have grown over the past 28 years, conditions have evolved, and the General Plan needs to evolve as well. The updated General Plan will respond to current concerns about sustainability, environmental justice, and affordable housing, while carrying forward enduring County values like balancing growth and conservation.

Typically, a General Plan begins with a Vision Statement and then establishes specific goals and policies related to a range of civic issues.  These issues are organized into a series of topic-specific “Elements” or chapters of the General Plan. State law requires General Plans to address the following broad topics: land use, open space, transportation, housing, conservation, safety, noise, and environmental justice.  These topics can be combined or presented in any order that best fits the community. Additional Elements can be added to the General Plan depending on local needs and goals and Elements can be combined into one another. Incorporated cities or towns are required to adopt their own General Plans. 

Current General Plan

The current General Plan addresses all State required Elements and includes two additional Elements, Growth Management and Public Facilities/Services, for a total of nine Elements. The General Plan Update will work from the existing General Plan to update each of these Elements, which are described below.

  • Land Use. Establishes a comprehensive set of explicit goals, policies, and implementation actions to guide the future use and development of land in unincorporated Contra Costa. The Urban Limit Line and the 65/35 Land Preservation Standard are critical parts of this Element.
  • Growth Management. This Element, which the County and all communities within the County must have, covers traffic service standards and performance standards for public services in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of both existing and future residents and to ensure that new development won’t adversely affect public services for existing residents.
  • Transportation and Circulation. Describes existing and proposed roadways and other means of transportation such as public transit, bikeways, pedestrian routes. Addresses possible ways to reduce traffic congestion. Analyzes traffic conditions and needed improvements so that existing and projected circulation needs may be adequately met.
  • Housing. Identifies significant issues associated with the provision of housing in Contra Costa County. Provides a strategy that establishes housing goals, policies, and programs intended to give direction to meet current and future housing needs of the County, both in terms of preservation of existing housing stock and in establishing priorities for new construction. [Note: As required by State law, the Housing Element is updated on a separate schedule from the rest of the General Plan. The current Housing Element was adopted in 2014 and is valid through 2023.]
  • Public Facilities/Services. Establishes goals and policies that address the vital infrastructure and public services which are needed to maintain a high-level quality of life for current and future Contra Costa County residents. Civic, public, and community facilities are included in this Element.
  • Conservation. This Element addresses natural resources in unincorporated County land, including air, water, soil, and habitat.
  • Open Space. Establishes policies and implementation for preservation of open space lands and maps out specific areas that are affected under this Element. While the Conservation Element covers natural resources, this Element covers open space areas categorized as scenic resources, historic resources, and park and recreational facilities.
  • Safety. Establishes goals and policies to minimize risk to people and property from with natural and human-caused hazards.
  • Noise. Seeks to control environmental noise and protect the community from excessive noise exposure.

Climate Action Plan

The Climate Action Plan (CAP), adopted in December 2015, is the County’s strategic approach to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from sources throughout the unincorporated area. The CAP reflects the County’s programs and actions to decrease energy use, improve energy efficiency, develop renewable energy, reduce vehicle miles traveled, increase multi-modal travel options, expand green infrastructure, reduce waste, and improve the efficiency of government operations. The CAP also forecasts the County’s GHG emissions and sets reduction targets and strategies.

The CAP will be updated in parallel with the General Plan. The General Plan will provide the long-term resiliency framework of goals and policies, and the CAP will provide strategic implementation programs to show how the County will reduce GHG emissions in support of the State’s adopted reduction targets for 2030 and 2050, reducing GHG emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, with consideration of the State’s long-term goal to reduce GHG emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Zoning Code Update

The Contra Costa County Zoning Code was originally adopted in 1947 and has been updated in an irregular, piecemeal fashion. As part of the General Plan update process, the Zoning Code will be updated in order to ensure consistency between the General Plan and to meet modern standards. The Zoning Code and Zoning Map implement the General Plan policies and as such, all three must be consistent with one another. While the General Plan sets the broad goals and actions of the County, the Zoning Code deals with individual properties and sets rules and regulations to guide development.

Environmental Review

California law requires the County to conduct a thorough analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the updated General Plan, updated CAP, and any changes to the Zoning Code ensure that future development and policy changes do not negatively affect our community. This component involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to identify potential environmental impacts and measures we can take to reduce or avoid them. For these three items, a broad, programmatic EIR will be used. This means that individual projects throughout the County would still need to complete a project-specific EIR.