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The City of Menlo Park's compliance with California law on General Plans

From: domainremoved <Peter>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2015 10:30:52 -0700

I suggest to the City Council and the Planning Commission that the City’s current and long outdated General Plan (even as partially revised by the Downtown Specific Plan and the proposed Connect Menlo/M 2 rezoning) fails to meet the internal consistency and currency requirements of the State law.

In addition, the current policy changes regarding Santa Cruz Ave and the proposed changes concerning ECR fail to meet the requirement of being part of an integrated City-wide Circulation Element. (The controversy regarding the proposed ECR changes underscores the absence of an updated City wide Circulation Element particularly as it applies to addressing the need for an integrated bicycle network.) Similarly, the current Connect Menlo planning fails to meet the requirement of looking at circulation throughout the entire City.

And the current Safety Element is totally inconsistent with both the current and already approved developments within the City. Certainly the significant new developments in the Downtown Specific Plan area and the proposed new developments in the M 2 area must be included in an updated Safety Element which addresses, as the law requires, the entire City and which would require an updated Circulation Element to address both emergency access and evacuation requirements.

And since the entire General Plan must be updated now would be an appropriate time to include the State recommended optional Water Element.

These legal deficiencies make the City exceeding vulnerable to legal challenges on any and all new projects.

Here is the General Plan guidance from the State of California:

“California state law requires each city and
county to adopt a general plan “for the physical
development of the county or city, and
any land outside its boundaries which bears relation to
its planning” (§65300). The California Supreme Court
has called the general plan the “constitution for future
development.” The general plan expresses the
community’s development goals and embodies public
policy relative to the distribution of future land uses,
both public and private.”

"Every city and county must adopt “a comprehensive,
long term general plan” (§65300). The general
plan must cover a local jurisdiction’s entire planning
area and address the broad range of issues associated
with a city’s or county’s development.”

"In statute, the general plan is presented as a collection
of seven “elements,” or subject categories (see
§65302). These elements and the issues embodied by
each are briefly summarized below:

The land use element designates the type, intensity,
and general distribution of uses of land for housing,
business, industry, open space, education, public buildings
and grounds, waste disposal facilities, and other
categories of public and private uses.

The circulation element is correlated with the land
use element and identifies the general location and extent
of existing and proposed major thoroughfares,
transportation routes, terminals, and other local public
utilities and facilities.

The housing element is a comprehensive assessment
of current and projected housing needs for all economic
segments of the community. In addition, it embodies
policies for providing adequate housing and includes
action programs for that purpose. By statute, the housing
element must be updated every five years.

The conservation element addresses the conservation,
development, and use of natural resources, including
water, forests, soils, rivers, and mineral deposits.
The open-space element details plans and measures
for the long-range preservation and conservation of
open-space lands, including open space for the preservation
of natural resources, the managed production of
resources (including agricultural lands), outdoor recreation,
and public health and safety.

The noise element identifies and appraises noise
problems within the community and forms the basis
for land use distribution.

The safety element establishes policies and programs
to protect the community from risks associated
with seismic, geologic, flood, and wildfire hazards.

The aim of the safety element is to reduce the potential
risk of death, injuries, property damage, and economic
and social dislocation resulting from fires, floods,
earthquakes, landslides, and other hazards. Other locally
relevant safety issues, such as airport land use,
emergency response, hazardous materials spills, and
crime reduction, may also be included. Some local jurisdictions
have even chosen to incorporate their hazardous
waste management plans into their safety

The safety element overlaps topics also mandated in
the land use, conservation, and open-space elements.
When preparing a new general plan or undertaking a
comprehensive revision of an existing general plan,
OPR suggests addressing these common topics in a
single place rather than scattering them among four separate
elements. The key concern should be to integrate
effectively these common issues into the decision-making

The safety element must identify hazards and hazard
abatement provisions to guide local decisions related
to zoning, subdivisions, and entitlement permits.”

"All elements of the general plan have equal legal
status. For example, the land use element policies are
not superior to the policies of the open-space element.
A case in point: in Sierra Club v. Board of Supervisors
of Kern County (1981) 126 Cal.App.3d 698,
two of Kern County’s general plan elements, land
use and open space, designated conflicting land uses
for the same property. A provision in the general plan
text reconciled this and other map inconsistencies
by stating that “if in any instance there is a conflict
between the land use element and the open-space element,
the land use element controls.” The court of
appeal struck down this clause because it violated
the internal consistency requirement under §65300.5.
No element is legally subordinate to another; the general plan must resolve potential conflicts among the
elements through clear language and policy consistency.”


“State law offers considerable flexibility to go
beyond the mandatory elements of the gen
eral plan. Section 65303 enables a county or
city to adopt “any other elements or address any other
subjects, which, in the judgment of the legislative body,
relate to the physical development of the county or
city.” Once adopted, an optional element carries the
same legal weight as any of the seven mandatory elements
and must be consistent with all other elements,
as required by §65300.5.”

"Given the importance of water to the state’s future,
a community would be well served to create a separate
water element, in conjunction with the appropriate water
supply and resource agencies, in which each aspect of
the hydrologic cycle is integrated into a single chapter
of the general plan. With recent law that requires land
use decisions to be linked to water availability, a water
element takes on increased importance.”


“In construing the provisions of this article, the Legislature intends that the general plan and
elements and parts thereof comprise an integrated, internally consistent and compatible statement of
policies for the adopting agency.” (§65300.5)”

Respectfully submitted,

Peter Carpenter
(former Palo Alto Planning Commissioner 1974-78 - during which time the Planning Commission wrote an entirely new Comprehensive Plan for the City of Palo Alto)

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Received on Thu Apr 16 2015 - 10:27:14 PDT

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