General Plan Basics

What is a General Plan?

State law requires every city and county in California to prepare a “General Plan” which guides decisions about future growth and development. A General Plan covers topics such as land use, transportation, housing, open space, natural resources, and public services. Local General Plans have been mandatory in California since the 1950s. State law also requires such Plans to be periodically updated in response to changing conditions. Each General Plan includes maps expressing the community’s vision of how and where it will grow and change in the future. The General Plan typically has a time horizon of about 20 years, giving the city an opportunity to think long-term about what it wishes to preserve and what it wishes to change. Once a General Plan is adopted, it is used by the City Council, local commissions, and City Staff as they make day to day decisions about the community’s future.

Why is the City updating its Plan?

Albany’s current General Plan was adopted in 1992 and looked ahead to the Year 2010. While many of its policies are still applicable, the document is outdated and does not reflect the realities of life in the Bay Area in 2015. The updated Plan will contain current data about the state of the city. It may reflect new issues and priorities. It will incorporate direction from recent city plans and initiatives, such as the City’s Climate Action Plan and the San Pablo-Buchanan Complete Streets Study. The Update also provides an opportunity for Albany residents to weigh in on current planning issues affecting the community.

What topics are addressed by the Plan?

By State law, the General Plan must address seven topic areas, called “elements.” The mandatory elements are land use, transportation, housing, open space, conservation, safety, and noise. Cities are also encouraged to adopt “optional” elements which reflect local issues. The new General Plan will incorporate recently adopted plans including the Active Transportation Plan and the Albany Hill Creekside Master Plan.

How will the community be involved?

Public input is an essential part of the Plan Update. In addition to providing information on the project via this website, the City has set up a portal for Albany residents to speak out on planning issues ( The Albany Planning and Zoning Commission has been holding monthly study sessions on the General Plan since 2013 and will continue to meet through 2015 as the Plan takes shape. Each study session includes an open forum for public comment. Other City commissions have also been providing input on the Plan, and public input is being solicited at these meetings as well. If you’d like to join the email list for the General Plan and receive notices of upcoming meetings, please visit the “Contact” link on this website and provide your email address.

Why is the Housing Element separate from the rest of the General Plan?

Most of the General Plan is contained in a single document. However, the Housing Element stands on its own as a separate report and is updated more frequently. This is because the Housing Element must be submitted to the State Department of Housing and Community Development roughly every eight years to ensure that it is compliant with State housing laws. The 2007-2014 Housing Element was deemed fully compliant with state laws by HCD in June 2014.  The Element was updated in late 2014 to cover the 2015-2023 period.  This document was adopted on February 2, 2015 and certified by the State on February 19, 2015.  Unlike the other sections of the General Plan, the Housing Element must meet very prescriptive requirements which demonstrate that the City is capable of accommodating its fair share of the region’s housing needs.

What is the Schedule for the Plan Update?

The General Plan Update will take approximately 2-1/2 years. The first year of the project involved the collection and analysis of data about Albany, and the initiation of an Environmental Impact Report for the project. Much of the work in 2013 focused on completing the last Housing Element and engaging the public in discussions of housing needs, opportunities, and constraints The City has moved on to other elements of the Plan, with a focus on Land Use and Transportation.  During 2014, most of the remaining policy topics were covered, including conservation, safety, parks and open space, and community facilities. Waterfront policies are now being drafted.  A Draft Plan and EIR are scheduled for completion by the end of August 2015.  Plan review and adoption will take place in Fall 2015.

How will this affect me?

The intent of the General Plan Update is not to “reinvent” Albany or steer the city in an entirely new direction. Because the City is mostly built out, the Plan will focus on ways to conserve existing neighborhoods and carefully manage change. Major departures in land use and future zoning designations are not envisioned. However, the Plan will address topics that affect all residents and businesses, such as the City’s parking regulations, the mix of uses along San Pablo Avenue, opportunities for new parks, and the future of the city’s remaining developable lands. We encourage you to check this website frequently for updates on plan proposals and ideas.