Part I. The Specific Plan

Part II. Guidelines for Preparing Specific Plans

Part III. CEQA and Specific Plans

Part IV. Adoption, Amendment, Repeal, and Administration

Part V. Relationship to Other Planning Measures

Part VI. Implementation Measures

Part VII. Plan Summaries

Appendix A. Court Cases

Appendix B. Selected Statutes

Appendix C. Local Specific Plan Guidelines

Bibliography (including links to other planning information)


The Planner's Guide to Specific Plans benefited from the contributions of many individuals involved in planning at both the state and local levels. The Office of Planning and Research (OPR) appreciates their perceptive comments, constructive criticism, and beneficial advice. OPR wishes to acknowledge the following individuals and agencies for their valuable suggestions and their contribution of specific plans.

Daniel J. Curtin, Jr., McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, LLP

Paul H. Sedway, AICP, Sedway Consulting

M. Thomas Jacobson, Environmental Studies and Planning, Sonoma State University

Patty Dunn, Planning Director, City of Roseville

Dennis Hawkins, Senior Planner, Ventura County

Scott A. Johnson, City Planner, City of Folsom

Jay Pawlek, Senior Planner, Mariposa County

Stephen M. Patek, Director, Community Development, City of West Sacramento

Kent Edens, Deputy Director, Department of Planning and Building, City of San Jose

Suzanne Frick, Director, Planning and Community Development, City of Santa Monica


This guide updates Specific Plans in the Golden State, originally written by the Office of Planning and Research in 1989. Since the original publication, specific plans have evolved in use and creative application. However, specific plans continue to function as versatile tools for implementing general plans without substantial legal challenge to the nature of their use. They systematically implement the general plan for all or part of the area under its scope in any of three ways: 1) by acting as statements of planning policy that refine the general plan policies applicable to a defined area, 2) by directly regulating land use, or 3) by bringing together detailed policies and regulations into a focused development scheme.

The use of specific plans, in many cases, has gone beyond the original legislative intent and incorporated detailed development plans with environmental policies, programs and goals to create defined areas which are functional, livable, and affordable and which offer the sense of place commonly envisioned in the creation of the general plan. Although specific plans are being used for projects ranging from "new towns" to manufacturing and warehousing developments, there remain many basic uncertainties about what a specific plan is, how it functions, its relationship to the implementation of the general plan, and the extent of its powers.

The purpose of this document is to clarify these uncertainties and provide new and innovative examples of specific plans and their use. It examines the pertinent statutes (Government Code §65450 et seq.), suggests guidelines for the preparation and implementation of a plan, and provides examples and references to unique or innovative plans prepared throughout the state.

While researching this guide, the Office of Planning and Research reviewed the preparation and adoption of specific plans and the related environmental documents. In addition, we examined those specific plans which have received APA Comprehensive Planning Awards and others which are commonly viewed as exceptional. We have reviewed all of the post-1984 court cases concerning specific plans and detailed the most relevant cases on the subject.

The Planner's Guide To Specific Plans is written primarily as a guide to counties and general law cities; however, charter cities will find the information contained herein to be relevant in their use of specific plans as well. Although charter cities are exempt from the specific plan statutes contained in Government Code §65450-65457, once a charter city adopts a specific plan, the city must make findings of consistency between the specific plan and any proposed tentative subdivision map before the subdivision can be approved.

The information contained in this document is meant to provide direction and references to planning practitioners for the development of specific plans. Interested individuals and other participants involved in local land use planning may also find it useful. The suggestions for style, format and techniques are meant to be advisory only and should not be construed as being mandatory. All references are to the Government Code unless otherwise noted.

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