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Mill Valley 2040 - General Plan Update


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Is updating the Housing Element part of the General Plan Update?
Will the General Plan Update include an environmental review?
What is the role of Zoning and Design Guideline Advisory Committee?
How will the community participate in the implementation of the General Plan?
What is a General Plan?
What is the scope of a General Plan?
Why is important to have a current General Plan?

Q: Is updating the Housing Element part of the General Plan Update?

The Housing Element is one of the mandatory elements (or chapters) of the General Plan. It is also the element with the most state requirements attached to it and the only element of the General Plan that requires "certification" by a state agency: Housing and Community Development (HCD). One of the most prominent and contentious provisions of state Housing Element law is the requirement to plan for the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. This is a given city or county's share of anticipated regional housing growth for a specific 7-year cycle. It is not just affordable housing, but housing for all income levels, including moderate and market rate housing.

On October 7, 2013 City Council adopted the MV2040 General Plan and 2009-2014 Housing Element.  HCD certified the adopted Housing Element shortly thereafter.  The City is now working to implement the policies and programs in the certified Housing Element.  Tasks include: updating the City's Municipal Code (title 20, "Zoning") to comply with state law, establishing zoning,development and design guidelines for commercial and multi-family zoned areas, and establishing bi-laws and the organizational structure for a Housing Advisory Committee.

The City of Mill Valley will be required to submit its 2015-2023 Housing Element to HCD in 2014, and will report on the progress of implementing its 2009-2014 Housing Element

Q: Will the General Plan Update include an environmental review?
General Plan revisions and updates are "projects" as defined by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and, as such, typically require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  On October 7, 2013 City Council certified the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) associated with the General Plan project.  See Documents and Links 
Q: What is the role of Zoning and Design Guideline Advisory Committee?

Zoning and Design Guideline Advisory Committee (ZDAC)
The ZDAC is a seven member committee consisting of: City Council member, Planning Commissioner; commercial property owner; neighborhood association representative; architect; residential property developer and resident at-large.

Role: The ZDAC will work with staff adn consultants to review and discuss updates to the City of Mill Valley's Municipal Code, specifically Title 20, "Zoning" and design guidelines for commercial and multi-family zoned areas.  Tasks include: 

Ordinance Revisions: Update the City’s Municipal Code to meet state law requirements such as Density Bonus, Condominium Conversions and the development of an “affordable housing overlay” for the Redwoods property (senior housing located at 40 Camino Alto). 

Zoning/Development Standards/Design Guidelines: Update the City’s residential and commercial zoning regulations, such as parking, uses (such as co-housing, live-work, mixed use, special needs and assisted living), development standards (height, setback, lot coverage, etc.)and develop multi-family design guidelines (including illustrations, layouts, parking lot standards, etc.).

The deadline for applying for the advisory committee and working groups is January 9, 2014.  


Q: How will the community participate in the implementation of the General Plan?

Opportunities for participation include: a website and resource centeremail notifications; special events and stakeholder meetings (e.g., in conjunction with the Memorial Day Parade or Library events; youth programs in conjunction with Mill Valley Schools and Tam High and programs with local business, neighborhood associations, etc.); publicly noticed advisory committee meetings; and public hearings.

Similar to the General Plan Update process, the community will have the opportunity to listen and provide feedback on programs and policies through staff work, committee work and public hearings.  Currently, the City is working to establish a Zoning and Design Guildeline Advisory Committee to assist the community in updating the City of Mill Valley's Municipal Code, specifically Title 20, "Zoning" and design guidelines for commercial and multi-family zoned areas.

In addition to specific advisory committee work, various commissions and City departments will be regularly reporting to the City Manager on the implementaion of the overall goals, policies and programs identified in the MV2040 General Plan.  
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Q: What is a General Plan?

City plans have existed throughout the history of urban development as a means to organize space and insure that essential ceremonial and communal functions could be accommodated. Beginning in the early 20th Century, and in response to the detrimental effects of rapid urbanization (inadequate housing, poor sanitation, industrialization, etc.), city plans emphasized a compelling vision of a future (the "city beautiful"; the "garden city") intended to engage the public, build civic pride, and encourage long-term investments and decision-making that would ultimately realize the goals of the plan. By the 1920's states began adopting planning and zoning enabling laws that allowed local governments to regulate the use and development of individual properties under the premise of protecting the public health, safety and welfare. These laws typically made zoning ordinances the primary tool for guiding growth and development, while general (or comprehensive) plans were considered to be optional, advisory documents. That is still true in many states, even today.

In 1971, the state of California amended its Government Code to make General Plans mandatory for every city and county in the state and further, and more significantly, required all local land use approvals to be consistent with the jurisdiction's General Plan. In 1990, the California Supreme Court firmly established the General Plan as the pre-eminent statement of local planning policy governing future growth and development, calling it "the constitution for all future development." On-going changes in state law and successive interpretations by the courts continue to add to the scope and responsibilities of the General Plan. However, in its purest form, the General Plan is the link between the expressed values and vision of the community and the resulting public process and decision-making that affect the physical, social, environmental and economic character of the community.


Q: What is the scope of a General Plan?

State law and the collective body of court decisions over the years clearly establish the basic components of a General Plan and how these components are to be interwoven to create a "longterm", "comprehensive", "integrated, internally consistent and compatible statement" of goals and policies that reflect local conditions and circumstances. The law requires that a General Plan
address seven subject areas, known in the law and by practice, as "elements", and that each element establish goals, policies and implementation programs and time frames for the subject matter in each element. The mandatory elements are:

  • land use
  • circulation
  • housing
  • open space
  • conservation
  • noise
  • safety

The law and the state's "General Plan Guidelines" (created and periodically updated by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research to assist localities in preparing a General Plan) includes specific requirements for each element as to the level of detail and analysis that must be addressed in the plan. The "Housing Element" has the most specific content requirements, including its own separate schedule of mandatory revision (currently every 7 years); and it is the only General Plan element that requires the separate approval (called "certification") of a state agency, the department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). However, the internal consistency requirement of General Plan law is intended to insure that all elements have equal importance and priority in their application and implementation.

Beyond the mandatory elements of the General Plan, there is a great deal of flexibility to address local conditions and circumstances through additional elements. Many General Plans contain elements that address the local economy, urban design, bicycle and pedestrian needs, parks and recreation, social services, public health, sustainability and so forth. There is also a great deal of flexibility in creating the format of the General Plan so that certain topics can be better integrated. For example, the Circulation element, which has traditionally focused on roadway networks and accommodating motor vehicle movements, has evolved into a much more comprehensive analysis of "mobility" that analyzes all means of personal and public transportation, as well as the movement of goods and services.

Although the scope of the General Plan focuses on local conditions and circumstances, it also offers an opportunity to do that in a broader context. Many local issues are influenced by factors that do not necessarily recognize the city limits: traffic, air quality, housing, natural disasters and water supply, to name several. The process of preparing a General Plan allows the local community to look beyond its borders and not only collaborate with other communities and agencies on solutions to common problems, but also build relationships that can result in more effective policy and program implementation into the future. Within the organization, the General Plan process can be a tool for building better working relationships among departments by clarifying regulatory and program implementation roles and responsibilities and future budget and capital project priorities.


Q: Why is important to have a current General Plan?

There are several reasons why it is important to have a current General Plan: 

  • Community Vision - The General Plan preparation and adoption process offers the opportunity to bring the community together to express (or confirm) its collective values and shape a common vision for the future and dealing with future conditions. A strong and clear vision built on broad-based participation and consensus will guide long-term decision-making and build community. 

  • Public Policy Coordination - The General Plan is not just a land use document that governs future growth and development. It is where all of a community's major policy initiatives are identified, assessed and expressed in a comprehensive and consistent form. As such, the General Plan process allows for a community discussion about policy goals and objectives, which can then lead to the identification of implementation programs, timing and priorities. The internal consistency requirement of the General Plan helps insure that there is coordination among the various elements of the plan. 

  • Budget and Capital Investment Coordination - An up-to-date General Plan can be used to strategically identify budget and capital investment priorities based on realizing the vision of the plan and its implementation priorities. It is a management tool used by all City departments and decision-makers.

  • Legal Basis for Implementation - State statutes and established case law require that local government decisions affecting a community's growth and development must be consistent with the General Plan. Although this requirement is most commonly expressed through the City's review of and action in matters regarding land use, the same legal standard of consistency with the General Plan can also apply to adopting new regulations and fees or undertaking new program or service initiatives that affect the entire community.


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