General Plan Amendment
WHAT IS A GENERAL PLAN?
California law requires that each county and city in the state develop and adopt a general plan. The general plan consists of a statement of development policies and includes a diagram or diagrams and text setting forth objectives, principles standards, and plan proposals. It is a comprehensive long-term plan for the physical development of the county or city. In this sense, it is a “blueprint” for development.
The general plan must contain seven (7) state-mandated elements. It may also contain any other elements that the legislative body of the county or city wishes to adopt. The seven (7) mandated elements are: Land Use, Open Space, Conservation, Housing, Circulation, Noise, and Safety. The general plan may be adopted in any form deemed appropriate or convenient by the legislative body of the county or city, including the combining of elements. The Kern County General Plan consists of the seven (7) mandated elements plus the Metropolitan Bakersfield 2010 General Plan, the Kern River Element, Energy Element, Public Facilities Element, and Recreation Element.
By law, the legislative body of the county or city can amend any mandatory element of the general plan only four (4) times a year. Accordingly, the Planning Department staff schedules four (4) “windows” per year at the Board of Supervisors to consider amendments to the general plan.
WHAT ARE THE SUBMITTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR A GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT?
Applications to amend the general plan may be obtained from the Planning Department counter or mailed on request. The application is in two (2) parts, beginning with the “Notice of Intent” (NOI). The NOI requires a complete legal description of the property, a statement of objectives, a detailed description of the project, and how it relates to various technical and environmental characteristics. In other words, what do you want to do, how do you intend to do it, and what might happen to the surrounding area?
The NOI is reviewed by staff and, in most cases, is considered by the Pre-Application Review Committee (PARC) at a meeting which you are invited to attend. At the PARC meeting, you will be informed as to the nature of the information and reports you must formally file with the Department to constitute a formal application.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that an environmental study be prepared for some types of projects. The environmental study can take the form of a Negative Declaration, a Mitigated Negative Declaration, or an Environmental Impact Report. Most general plan amendments require some form of environmental study, but you will be advised in your specific case at the PARC meeting. If an environmental study is required, an applicant will be asked to submit a completed Environmental Information Form, which asks more specific questions about the proposal and the affected property. Technical reports, such as biota reports, traffic studies, archaeological reports, and groundwater studies may also be required when an environmental study is performed.
After the PARC meeting, the applicant must gather all the necessary information, complete an application for general plan amendment and, together with the proper filing fees, submit the package to the Planning Department. This constitutes the second part of the application process.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS THE GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT APPLICATION GOES THROUGH?
After the general plan amendment application is accepted as complete, work begins on determining the appropriate type of environmental document for the project. Information is sent to various local, state, federal, and private agencies asking for their comments. Upon receipt of those comments, an Initial Study is performed and the environmental document is prepared. For additional information on this procedure, see the pamphlet regarding the environmental process. On completion of the environmental document, the request is set for public hearing before the Kern County Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is not constrained by the “windows” provision of state law that applies to the Board of Supervisors. Therefore, the Commission may consider a proposed amendment at any time upon completion of the environmental process.
The Commission will hold one (1) or more public hearings to maximize public input into the project. Prior to hearings before the Commission, a staff report will be prepared. The staff report contains information on the proposed project, an analysis of the proposal in relation to surrounding properties and land uses, and a staff recommendation. On the conclusion of these hearings, the Planning Commission will forward a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for final consideration. The Board will consider the proposed amendment at one of the designated “windows.”
HOW LONG DOES THE PROCESS TAKE?
If the application is determined to be incomplete, the applicant will be notified in writing of what additional information will be required to complete the application. After being accepted as complete, applications which require a Negative Declaration or do not require an environmental study, generally take five (5) to six (6) months to process. Where an Environmental Impact Report is needed, applicants should allow ten (10) to twelve (12) months for processing of the application.
AFTER THE PROJECT IS APPROVED, WHAT FOLLOWS?
Unless there are special conditions attached to a project, the approval of a general plan amendment is generally effective immediately. Approval of a general plan amendment does not, however, immediately entitle an applicant to a building permit or other type of permit. There may be other ordinances or permit requirements from other agencies that must be complied with before the applicant can do what is necessary to complete the project. Before permits can be obtained, the applicant will have to demonstrate that any conditions of approval which must be satisfied prior to further implementation of the project have been satisfied.
Staff is available to answer any questions you may have regarding the Kern County General Plan and the amendment process. Please telephone (661) 862-8600 if the Department can be of assistance.
FORM 708 (1/2013)