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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Housing Element is one of the required Elements of the General Plan. It will identify policy direction to meet the housing needs of the county, both by preserving existing homes and by clarifying priorities for housing creation. The Element will include an overview of housing policies and programs and will identify locations that can accommodate future housing. Due to State-required adoption deadlines, the Housing Element will be prepared on a separate but parallel track as the General Plan. The Housing Element must be adopted no later than January 2023.