Every city, town, and county in California must have a general plan, which is the local government’s long-term framework or “constitution” for future growth and development. The general plan represents the community’s view of its future and expresses the community development goals. The general plan contains the goals and polices upon which the City Council and Planning Commission will base their land use decisions. Typically, a general plan is designed to address the issues facing the city for the next 20 years.
The general plan is made up of a collection of “elements,” or topic categories. The State currently lists nine elements as mandatory: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, safety, environmental justice, and air quality. As part of this Update, the City is updating the existing Land Use, Housing, Safety, and Circulation Elements. The City is also preparing its first Environmental Justice Element.
A general plan provides general policy guidance that the local government will use to guide future land use and natural resource decisions.
A general plan is comprehensive, covering a range of topics, such as land use, housing, economic development, infrastructure, public safety, recreation, natural resources, and much more.
A general plan provides guidance for reaching a future envisioned 20 or more years in the future. To achieve the vision, a comprehensive plan includes goals, policies, and actions that address both immediate and long-term needs.
A general plan is not to be confused with zoning. Although both the general plan and the zoning ordinance designate how land may be developed, they do so in different ways. A general plan has a broad, long-term outlook. It identifies the types of development that will be allowed, the spatial relationships among land uses, and the general pattern of future development.
A zoning ordinance regulates development through specific standards such as lot size, building setbacks, height, and allowable uses. However, the land uses shown on the general plan diagrams will typically be reflected in the local zoning maps as well and changes to the zoning map are required to be consistent with the adopted general plan map. Development must not only meet the specific requirements of the zoning ordinance but also the broader policies set forth in the general plan.
Environmental justice is the response to the tendency of low-income and racial minority communities bearing a disproportionate burden of hazardous or degraded environments (e.g., freeways, landfills, hazardous waste facilities, poor working conditions) than the general population. Historically, this is due to a lack of meaningful opportunities for these communities to participate in the planning process, sometimes leading to discriminatory practices, such as redlining, that have segregated communities and pushed low-income and racial minority populations to areas with poor air quality, pollution, and other health hazards. Environmental justice policies and programs work to overcome these trends and undo the effects of discrimination in land use decisions.
Environmental justice is defined in the California Government Code as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of people of all races, cultures, incomes, and national origins with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
In 2016, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1000 requiring both cities and counties that have disadvantaged communities to incorporate environmental justice goals, policies, and objectives into their general plans. The purpose of this legislation is to address the “unique or compounded health risks” in disadvantaged communities by decreasing pollution exposure, increasing community assets, and improving overall health. State law requires general plans to address the following topics in disadvantaged communities:
Pollution exposure (including air quality)
Public facility access (i.e., libraries, healthcare, banking, schools)
Safe and sanitary housing
Access to physical activity and recreational opportunities
Unique compounded health risks
Meaningful community engagement in the public decision-making process
Programs that prioritize the needs of disadvantaged communities
Cities and counties can incorporate environmental justice policies into their general plans either in a standalone Environmental Justice Element or by including relevant environmental justice policies into existing General Plan Elements. As part of the Housing Element and General Plan Updates, the City of Lompoc will be creating a stand-alone Environmental Justice Element.
What is a disadvantaged community?
State law defines a “disadvantaged community” as “an area that is a low-income area that is disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation.” - California Government Code, Section 65302(h)(4)(A)
Cities and counties in California can use the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (“CalEnviroScreen”) to identify disadvantaged communities in their jurisdiction. CalEnviroScreen contains 12 indicators related to pollution burden and 8 indicators that track population characteristics and other vulnerabilities
The location, quality, and affordability of housing play an important role in addressing environmental justice goals and policies and promoting positive health outcomes for disadvantaged communities. Through the Housing Element Update the City has an opportunity to plan housing near transit, public facilities, and recreation, and work to overcome concentrations of lower income populations in areas with hazardous or degraded environmental conditions. Additionally, the Housing Element can address issues faced by disadvantaged communities, such as substandard housing, displacement, and homelessness, through policies and programs that promote safe, secure, and affordable housing for all residents throughout the community.
State law requires cities and counties that have disadvantaged communities to identify environmental justice policies whenever two or more elements are adopted or updated concurrently. Since the City of Lompoc is updating both its Housing Element and Safety Element as part of this Housing Element Update process, the City is also adopting a new Environmental Justice Element to be in compliance with State law.
California requires that every city, town, and county in California create a general plan. The general plan represents the community’s view of its future and expresses the community development goals.
The Technical General Plan Update is being prepared by City staff with direction from the City Council and input from the Planning Commission and the community. The development of the Housing Element is being led by City staff from the Planning Department. To assist in the preparation of the Update, the City has also hired a team of planning specialists that include community planners and technical specialists:
Brent Gibbons, Project Manager