Davis (Finally) to Embark on a General Plan Update

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Calling it a process that “has been long in coming” and is “highly anticipated” as well as “fundamental to shaping the future of the Davis community,” the city of Davis is finally embarking on its General Plan update.

“With the completion of the Downtown Plan and the recent certification of the Housing Element, sights can now focus on initiating the General Plan update,” the city staff writes.

What that will ultimately look like remains to be determined, although the council provided some preliminary thoughts at its February 9 goal setting session.

The last General Plan update was initiated more than 30 years ago, in 1993.

The EIR was subsequently prepared and it, and the Final General Plan, were adopted in May, 2001. Altogether, it took 7 years to prepare and adopt the current General Plan and EIR.  Staff notes that the 2001 General Plan has been amended several times, but remains in effect today with no legal expiration date.

According to staff, “A general plan articulates a community’s vision of its long-term physical form and development, and serves as a basis for decision-making. General plans are prepared under a mandate from the State of California, which requires that each city and county prepare and adopt a comprehensive, long-term general plan for its jurisdiction and any adjacent related lands.”

State law requires that a general plan include a land use element which “designates the proposed general distribution and general location and extent of the uses of the land for housing, business, industry, open space…”

It also includes a Housing Element, which the city just got certified on February 8 and will be valid until 2029.

“The Housing Element must also demonstrate the community’s ability to accommodate the need for housing at all income levels,” staff writes and notes that it has been updated now four times during the lifespan of the current general plan.

In addition to the housing element, always contentious in Davis, is the Environmental Justice Element.

“State law requires that a general plan identifies disadvantaged communities within the area covered by the general plan if the city, county, or city and county has a disadvantaged community,” staff explains.

The Environmental Justice Element, or related environmental justice goals, policies, and objectives integrated in other elements, shall do all of the following:

(A) Identify objectives and policies to reduce the unique or compounded health risks in disadvantaged communities by means that include, but are not limited to, the reduction of pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality, and the promotion of public facilities, food access, safe and sanitary homes, and physical activity.

(B) Identify objectives and policies to promote civic engagement in the public decision-making process.

(C) Identify objectives and policies that prioritize improvements and programs that address the needs of disadvantaged communities.

“Disadvantaged communities” staff writes, means “an area identified by the California Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to Section 39711 of the Health and Safety Code or an area that is a low-income area that is disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative health effects, exposure, or environmental Degradation.”

According to staff, “It would appear from the map below that the city of Davis does not have any disadvantaged communities per this definition.”

A key question is: “Should the Existing General Plan policies be considered for inclusion, or should the update start from scratch?”

From Council’s standpoint on February 9, they wish to stay focused “on essentials of the Elements required by the State” and they noted, “Current General Plan has many good policies and does not require starting from scratch in most instances. Analyze the current General Plan for policies that may still be relevant vs. those that may be outdated and just needing updates vs. those that should be eliminated.”

They added, “Consider options for how best to approach inclusion of Environmental Justice Chapter.”

They said, “Calling this a General Plan UPDATE is crucial.”

Staff notes again that the current General Plan took seven years to complete.  They believe bare minimum time to prepare including an EIR is two years, but three years is more realistic, which would be by 2027.

They also noted, “A Ballot measure to incorporate land and uses subject to Measure J/R/D would require additional time and funds.”

That was the sole mention of a possible Measure J vote.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Todd Edelman

    The Council’s long festering and now chest-bursting assault on the City’s Commissions is a long step backwards from an improved and equitable General Plan.

    I’m not sure how to quantify it exactly, but currently a large number of Davis residents live within noisier-than-the-birds distance of I-80 (and to a lesser extent, 113). These are disproportionately renters, and quite a few of them in modest apartment complexes. It’s not clear what’s the equity-challenged threshold in this context, but the number of freeway super-proximate residents will be increasing significantly as Promenade is populated.

    The City’s Street Standards were last updated in a process that started about 10 years ago; as a functionally direct component of the General Plan Transportation Element, they are key in supporting the both environmental stewardship and equity. Yet yet Public Works transportation is down two important staff members, and the current senior planner was promoted internally and I’ve not seen any evidence that they have the skill set to contribute in any necessary way to an upgraded Transportation Element – under her watch an update of the Street Standards has been sitting in the long-range calendar of the BTSSC for at least 4 years.

  2. Tim Keller

    “Current General Plan has many good policies and does not require starting from scratch in most instances. Analyze the current General Plan for policies that may still be relevant vs. those that may be outdated and just needing updates vs. those that should be eliminated.”
    They added, “Consider options for how best to approach inclusion of Environmental Justice Chapter.”
    They said, “Calling this a General Plan UPDATE is crucial.”

    Although the details behind these statements are important, the statements on their own are concerning to me.

    The city has been following a sprawling car-centric development pattern for decades that is NOT worth continuing, and for a “bike city” we have done a poor job of orienting our streets and neighborhoods towards favoring any kind non-car mobility.   Many areas are outright hostile to pedestrian and bike transit.

    We need to be careful about treating this as “just an update”.  This is an opportunity for us to change gears away from a failed planning philosophy and towards something much more sustainable and vibrant.

    That said, I think the planning commission did a great job with the downtown plan though, removing height limitations and parking minimums.

    If the same kind of forward-thinking can be applied to a general plan update, including a real plan for densification in our core areas over time, and aggressive deployments of better bike and transit infrascturcure without being afraid to take capacity away from car infrastructure, we should be fine.

    1. Richard McCann

      Our General Plan is now out of date and not consistent with our Climate Action Plan. The rather dramatic changes incorporated into the Downtown Specific Plan illustrates how far the world had diverged from the assumptions of the late 1990s. We need to steer away from SF-zoning across most of the city, and work to get more businesses dispersed around the community. And we need to focus on what transportation modes we want to encourage rather than just default to cars.

      1. Don Shor

        not consistent with our Climate Action Plan.

        This is likely the part that needs the most focused discussion and community engagement.

        We need to steer away from SF-zoning across most of the city

        Maybe Davis should just eliminate s-f zoning. Or at least evaluate the outcomes in cities across the country that have done so.

  3. Don Shor

    I suggest folks read the current General Plan.

    Here are excerpts. See any problems? Remind me why we’re doing this update?

    GOAL Urban Development

    1. Encourage community design throughout the City that helps to build community, encourage human interaction and support non-automobile transportation.

    Policy UD 1.1 Promote urban/community design which is human-scaled, comfortable, safe and conducive to pedestrian use.


    a. New neighborhoods shall be designed so that daily shopping errands and trips to community facilities can generally be completed within easy walking and biking distances.

    b. New development shall incorporate a balanced circulation network that provides multi-route access for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians to neighborhood centers, greenbelts, other parts of the neighborhood and adjacent districts and circulation routes.


    1. Promote an adequate supply of housing for people of all ages, income, lifestyles and types of households consistent with General Plan policies and goals.

    Policy HOUSING 1.1 Encourage a variety of housing types that meet the housing needs of an economically and socially diverse Davis.


    a. Housing, including affordable housing, should include a range of unit sizes appropriate to meet Davis housing needs. …

     b. Each new development area should include a mix of housing types, densities, prices and rents, and designs.

    c. All new housing construction shall meet minimum densities and will have limited number of overly-large homes.

    Actions ….  c. As part of proposed large housing developments, consider requiring a percentage of small residential lots and structures with related floor area ratio standards to contribute to the supply of affordable housing and to avoid overbuilding of lots.

    d. Encourage increased densities in Davis in order to facilitate greater affordability without sprawl. Study such dwellings as row houses, town houses, second story apartments over businesses, and second dwelling units. At a minimum, the study parameters should included analysis of the cost of construction impact on local infrastructure, impact to the city General Fund, affordability, proximity to shopping and services and consistency with neighborhood preservations standards as they relate to adaptive reuse, privacy open space, building mass and scale and parking impact issues.

    e. Strive to provide owner-occupied townhouses and condominiums in and near the core area and the neighborhood shopping centers geared to empty nesters and singles and couples without children, in order to limit sprawl and provide lifestyle alternatives for those who do not need large suburban houses.

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