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General Plan

SRTS Toolkit

The general plan is a guiding document developed by local governments that puts forth a vision for future development.  It helps inform local land use decisions and policies in a manner consistent with a community’s values.  All cities and counties in California are required to create and routinely update a general plan. California law requires that general plans address seven elements: (1) land use, (2) circulation, (3) housing, (4) conservation, (5) open space, (6) noise and (7) safety.

The land use, housing and circulation elements in a general plan lay the foundation for community policies related to walking, bicycling, parks and urban greening. Complete Streets policies, Climate action plans, bicycle plans and pedestrian plans can be incorporated into the general plan to provide more specific policy direction. 

Many cities and counties also incorporate health elements into their general plans. Such health elements may include the promotion of physical activity, improved access to healthy foods, and increased health and wellness amenities within walking or bicycling distances.

The general plan is prepared and monitored by a local government’s planning department, approved by the planning commission and adopted by the city council or board of supervisors. 


School districts are not typically part of the general planning process, but can work collaboratively with local governments to improve a school’s surrounding area and connectivity. 


Planners and engineers must be strategic and work with the school and community to create networks of sidewalk infrastructure throughout the community to safely support children walking and bicycling to school.  As a school board member in the City of Lemon Grove noted, creating sidewalks surrounding the school is simply not enough.

When considering what health elements to address in a general plan, it is important to first assess the overall health of the community. Such questions to ask are:
  • What are the primary causes of mortality? Which ones are related to the built environment?
  • What percent of the population are infants, young children, adolescents or older adults?
  • Where are community clinics, hospitals, or skilled nursing facilities located and how many are there?
  • What are the overweight and obesity rates of children and adults?

Answering these and other health-related questions will help determine what health-promoting policies and programs might benefit the local population if included as health elements in a general plan.


Marin County was the first California county to include safe routes to school language in its general plan.


In 2004, Marin voters approved Measure A, a 20-year sales tax that allocated 11 percent or $36 million to safe routes to school. The general plan outlines that the county work with local schools and the Transportation Authority of Marin to support safe routes to school programming by providing a planning-basis for the Measure A-financed Safe Pathways County Capital Improvement Program.
For more information see:

The City of Ventura’s general plan(PDF) has a chapter(PDF) dedicated to improving bicycle, pedestrian, and transit opportunities in Ventura and the surrounding region by:
  • Ensuring that the transportation system is safe and easily accessible to all travelers.
  • Providing development incentives to encourage projects that reduce automobile trips.
  • Improving the local bicycle network by connecting schools, parks, activity areas, housing areas and employment centers via bicycle paths and lanes.
  • Allowing bicycle use on ALL city thoroughfares.
  • Developing strategies to shift travel behavior towards alternative modes of transportation.
  • Increasing transit efficiency and options.
  • Protecting views along scenic routes by requiring development along specific roadways to address issues such as noise mitigation, landscaping and advertising.
The City of Chula Vista has integrated health into its general plan. Examples include addressing access to healthy foods, walkability, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and a jobs-housing balance.

Related concepts: zoning codes, specific plans, and local ordinances are tools designed to help implement the general plan.

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