Our board director Eve Kahn took some time talking with Jean Hasser, a local City of Napa resident who has deep experience in the city planning process. She is a retired city of Napa planner and was a principal planner primarily for long-range planning for both the cities of San Rafael and Napa, retiring at the end of 2009. She also has experience having worked for Sonoma County, Lodi, and San Joaquin County, as well as private consulting after her retirement.
Many thanks to Jean, and Eve, for illuminating so much about the process and its importance to our lives.
Is the City of Napa required to prepare and/or update their General Plans? Why at 20-year intervals?
All cities and counties in California are required to prepare, adopt, and amend their General Plans “periodically”. There is no requirement for how often to update the General Plan, but the planning period has traditionally been about 20 years. According to the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR), some cities and counties update their general plans as often as every 5 years, while others update portions over time. The Housing Element is the only part of the General Plan that is required to be updated on a schedule as listed by the Housing and Community Development agency (HCD). Napa County and its cities must update their Housing Elements by 2023.
How does the General Plan shape City policy?
The General Plan IS the City’s policy for land use and development. It is essentially the city’s “constitution” for land use. It is a vision about how a community will grow over the time frame of the plan, reflecting community priorities.
Can the General Plan be changed by the City Council at any time? What are the most frequent requests to change?
Cities and counties are allowed to amend their General Plans up to four times a year and more than one change can be included in each amendment. Such amendments may include:
*Individual property requests for changes
*City-proposed changes needed to incorporate neighborhood plans, recreation, housing, infrastructure or other element updates
*City-proposed changes to incorporate new information or state requirements.
All parts of the General Plan must be consistent with each other. It is expensive and time-consuming to amend the General Plan, so most cities do not adopt more than a few changes in a year.
The Land Use Element has been the most controversial section to date. But it seems that Land Use and Open Space are related issues.
Land Uses and open space are definitely closely related. California Law states that a land-use element must “…designate the general distribution, location, extent of the uses of land for housing, business, industry, open space, including agriculture, natural resources, recreation, and enjoyment of scenic beauty, education, public buildings and grounds, …and other categories of public and private uses of land.” (Govt. Code 65302(a)).
From this listing, it is clear that open space, agriculture, recreation, enjoyment of scenic beauty– that people often value most in their communities– are important land uses and considerations.
In Napa County, agricultural protection has long been a paramount goal, and the City of Napa’s recent general plan Community Survey found that actions toward “preserving the natural environment and open space” over the next 20 years received the highest number of “very important” ratings- 77%!
Are there other elements that should be added?
Cities and counties have a lot of discretion how to organize their General Plans and add elements they consider to be important, depending on community input.
How do issues such as water security and climate change fit into the General Plan?
General Plans are required to analyze climate change adaptation in the Safety Element of the General Plan. Local actions help identify how vulnerable a community will be as the climate changes, and how resilient it can be by addressing such vulnerabilities, such as rising sea levels or increasing wildfire danger. Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) are not required to be addressed in the General Plan, however, they are required to be addressed in the environmental impact report, so the Office of Planning and Research reports that many local governments address GHGs in their local general plans as well.
Similarly, the city has discretion on how to address the topic of water security. In the last Napa General Plan, the City chose to address this key issue in a “Community Services” Element, setting a goal to ensure adequate, reliable, and safe water supplies to the community even through major drought periods. It included many programs to accomplish this goal such as water conservation programs that have been quite successful, acquisition of accelerated water supplies through the State Water Project, increasing water storage and treatment capacity, and increasing use of reclaimed wastewater.
How does the City of Napa’s General Plan integrate with the County’s General Plan?
The City’s General Plan integrates with the County’s Plan, and other local and regional plans in many ways: annexations, meeting housing needs, infrastructure planning, economic development, open space and natural resource protection, hazards reduction.
*Each City must identify land uses and policy for land within its “Planning Area” which includes all land within the city limits, and any land outside its boundaries which in the planning agency’s judgment bears relation to its planning. The Planning Area in the City of Napa includes land within the city’s “Sphere of influence” which is the probable ultimate boundary and service area for the city identified by LAFCO–the county-city agency with responsibility for evaluating service areas and approving annexations.
*Future housing needs are highly regulated by the state and the state generates future housing need numbers for all cities and counties. The rules allow for subregional approaches, and Napa cities and the County have established a subregion to review and make decisions on how to accommodate the countywide share of state-generated housing needs. The City of Napa has an agreement with the County to identify adequate sites to accommodate part of the unincorporated County’s housing needs in its General Plan.
*Growth planned by any jurisdiction affects circulation outside of those boundaries. The cities and County, working with the Napa Valley Transportation Agency, use General Plans and their impacts to inform needed countywide circulation improvements.
*Other infrastructure, such as flood protection improvements and water supply planning must be coordinated with other agencies when developing individual general plans.
*Open space, agriculture and natural resources in cities and the county also serve and/or affect others outside individual jurisdiction boundaries. The cities and county have worked closely to coordinate agricultural policies.
*Economic development has been and is another area of coordination – in determining where different types of commercial and industrial growth should occur and in what jurisdiction.
Why should I want to get involved in a General Plan process for the entire city or county rather than when some nearby project (from agriculture to development to a road project) nearby affects me?
Simply put– the General Plan is where the city has the most discretion in identifying appropriate land uses, and policies and programs to guide future development. It is also where interested individuals and groups may have the greatest impact, as city goals, policies and strategies are to reflect the community’s priorities, needs and desires.
Once adopted, subsequent zoning, subdivisions, and public projects must be consistent with it. While it is helpful to look at the entire Plan document, participants can focus on particular issues of concern, like neighborhood land uses and densities, water supplies, or a needed circulation improvement.