Helping Our Peninsula's Environment


General Plans Overview (County and City)


Copyright 2004-2005 David Dilworth & HOPE

  • A General Plan is your community's Vision & a Legally binding Constitution for all human activities within it.
  • All local governmental decisions must fit within the limits your General Plan sets including growth, subdivisions, roads, golf courses, noise and pollution creating activities, logging, & mining.



A General Plan is the vision, you and your neighbor's vision, of what your community should be like.

Do you want strip malls, subdivisions, logging, mining, freeways, and skyscrapers in your community? Do you want oil wells in your residential areas like Houston Texas? Or do you want to prohibit street lights, sidewalks and house numbers like Carmel does? Do you want abundant silence so you can hear crashing waves; do you to want to see stars at night, lots of trees, parks and wild habitat for animals?

You can have what you want. After you meet the minimum requirements provided by our California and federal constitutions and state laws, your General Plan can be any vision you and your neighbors want. It can prohibit the activities you want to stop and it can create programs to achieve the goals you desire.

Downzoning or More Growth?

By far the most important part of a General Plan is whether it allows more growth or reduces the amount of developed land and buildings. Contrary to developer's claims a General Plan is not required to allow any growth. In fact a General Plan can require a reduction in the amount and size of buildings, population and in the amount of developed land.

However, because most citizens oppose growth and almost all cities and counties want growth, those governments push for growth in secret, they either try to hide the growth they want by disguising it or by falsely claiming state law requires them to meet growth goals. If (as is typical) their proposed General Plan does allow more growth you need to find out - exactly how much MORE growth it will allow. (A General Plan is legally inadequate if it fails to disclose this.) You can have No More Growth.

Growth Grants Cost Ten Times Their Value

Would you want a gift of a dollar if it cost you ten times that; ten dollars? Of course not. A city or county may lose some state or federal grant money if they refuse the state's growth goals in their General Plan, but cities and counties are not required by law to use state's growth goals. For example Santa Cruz County has refused the state's growth goals in their General Plan for more than a decade. As a result they have lost a few million dollars in grants, but they have not had to pay many tens of millions more to subsidize roads and sewerage networks for subdivisions and mansions the community didn't want.

A General Plan has 7 required parts: Conservation, Open Space, Noise, Land Use, Housing, Transportation (Circulation), and Safety.

Once you meet the minimum legal requirements, a General Plan is more art than science. You can fashion an element any way you see fit to illustrate your community's vision. For example you can require a living native tree on every property.

You can even create entire new elements. Potential Optional Elements include: Water, Energy, Public Participation, Pollution, etc. All of these are in use in at least one city or county in California. An example is the City of Carlsbad which included an Art Element in their General Plan.


We the public have no direct control over a General Plan because we don't often get to vote on them. With a few pleasant exceptions, in Monterey County most General Plans are awful because developers and business and financial interests directly control them through campaign contributions. They typically demand unrestricted growth.

While you can sue over an inadequate General Plan, you can't challenge one purely on the grounds that it mandates massive growth. Your only recourse is a Referendum to overturn it or Recall to remove the elected officials who approved it.

Typically the only legal challenge to a General Plan is that it is "Internally inconsistent." This means that for example if it requires lots of subdivisions, but there isn't enough water or roads or transportation to support those subdivisions - then it is internally inconsistent.

The only strong way the public has any uncomplicated and inexpensive control over a General Plan is through the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Then the city or county is required to respond to your questions, recognize environmental impacts, and avoid or minimize those recognized impacts.

The lack of control is why Monterey County's recent General Plan (Version 3) is a disaster. As recently written is would allow and require more than a doubling of our county population; require 4 laning of all 3 highways approaching our Peninsula; and why it fails to mention any protection for wildlife.

OverZoning and Downzoning

The major problem in most General Plans is overzoning; allowing far more growth than an area can sustainably support without harming wildlife or the water cycle.

What is little known by the public is that we can reduce the zoning to allow less building in any general area. Property rights advocates might argue that downzoning is a taking, but the US Supreme Court has persistently ruled that while a complete removal of all, 100 percent, right to build is a taking, a 50 percent downzoning is NOT a taking; and that as much as 95 percent downzoning might not be a taking.

A 50 percent downzoning means that a developer can only build half as many houses in a given area as they could before the downzoning.

An 85 percent downzoning means that a developer can only build 15 percent as many houses in a given area as they could before the downzoning.

This 85 percent is a safe amount used by agencies (including our Coastal Commission) who need to protect natural habitat for the public interest, but can't afford to buy the properties.


The Eight (8) Principles of a Healthy General Plan include:

1. Achieving a Sustainable Community by determining a numeric Carrying Capacity limit for ultimate human population, where that amount of people and their impacts clearly does not imperil the existence of any native animal or plant populations. We may not agree on what the carrying capacity limit is, but we must establish one using the best available science. Within the Carrying Capacity Limit, until the affordable housing problem has been solved, whenever housing is approved, the primary goal shall be to first house those with the least income.
2. Provides full, and fully, enforceable protection for all of our priceless, imperiled remaining native Monterey pine forest and its ecosystem;
3. Prevents and reduces all man-made environmental impacts including pollution by chemicals (including pesticides) of air, land and water, and by noise and light (radiation) to levels unarguably below potential harm and significance;
4. Allows subdivisions, golf courses, dams, logging and roadway increases only when approved by a public vote;
5. Provides a Public Participation Element, which provides the same amount of participation for the public as it provides for developers, extractors and government with a fair and thorough process to provide facts and reasoning for decisionmakers and the public, and provides for fair and reasonable decisions in the public interest based upon facts and reason;
6. Provides for full genuine citizen enforcement of all General Plan violations;
7. Fully complies with, by exceeding, all state and federal environmental protection laws specifically including California's Environmental Quality Act, California's Endangered Species Act, our Federal Endangered Species Act, our Federal Clean Water Act, and our Coastal Act;
8. Must be ratified by the voters. This removes the burden from the public to objecting to a bad General Plan and places it on the City to make a good General Plan the public will support.

HOPE has created ready-to-use Model General Plan Elements which you can easily use in your city or county. They include -- 

Informed Consent Noise Pollution  



They are here on our website at --


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This Page Last Updated June 8, 2005