General Plan Extensions


California Government Code Section 65361 authorizes the Director of OPR to grant "general plan extensions" to cities and counties. An extension relieves a city or county of the requirement that it adopt a complete and legally adequate general plan or, in the case of a new city, that it adopt its plan within a specific time period. For counties and most cities an extension may apply to any portion of the general plan which is being or will be prepared or revised, except the housing element. New cities, however, may request an extension for all portions of their general plan, including the housing element.

The grant of an extension temporarily waives state laws requiring consistency between local decisions and the portion of a plan subject to the extension. This allows local officials to continue acting on zoning, subdivisions, and related matters in the absence of a complete or adequate general plan. Local government decisions, however, must still conform to those provisions of the general plan excluded from the extension, to the extent specified by state and local laws. Also, local decision makers must comply with any conditions of approval imposed by OPR in granting the extension.

Cities and counties are not required to obtain an extension to complete or revise their general plans. In fact, most revisions occur without OPR's involvement. At times, however, a general plan extension may facilitate the local planning process by allowing the jurisdiction to focus its energies on its general plan update without the distraction of threats of lawsuit challenging its plan's adequacy.

OPR's Director may grant an extension of up to two years in duration. The Director may grant a second extension, which shall not exceed one additional year, if the director determines that an applicant has made substantial progress toward completing or revising the covered elements. Only one such second extension is allowed by law.

Section 65361(c) provides that "the director may impose any conditions on extensions of time ... that the director deems necessary to ensure compliance with the purposes and intent of this title." Conditions apply only to those portions of the general plan that are subject to the extension. These conditions may affect the city or county's subdivision, zoning, use permit, variance, and building permit decisions. In addition, they may restrict the approval of general plan amendments and development agreements. The particular conditions imposed by the Director will depend upon the circumstances of the city or county.

A jurisdiction should contact OPR before its local legislative body adopts the resolution of application required under Government Code Section 65361(b)(1). Local staff should discuss the application requirements, criteria for a complete application, and OPR's processing of the extension request prior to filing an extension request. Please contact OPR's Planning Unit at (916) 445-0613 for information.

An application for a general plan extension must include the five items listed below (see also Section 65361(b)).

  1. 1. General Plan Extension Application Form

    The application form is attached to this information packet

  2. 2. Resolution of the Local Legislative Body

    The request for a general plan extension must include a resolution of the local legislative body, adopted after a public hearing. The resolution must set forth:

    1. The existing element(s) of the local general plan for which the extension is being requested. This may include both required and optional elements.

    2. The amount of time needed for preparing and adopting the proposed general plan or part(s) thereof. Note that an extension takes effect on the date it is granted by OPR's Director, not the date of the local legislative body's resolution.

    3. Detailed reasons why the general plan has not been adopted or needs revision. These should explain the specific local circumstances that have precluded adoption or created the need for revision. Pertinent discussion may be appended to the resolution and adopted by reference. The reasons must include at least one of the following findings from Government Code Section 65361(a), and the resolution should specify which of the findings is being made.

      1. Data required for the general plan shall be provided by another agency and it has not yet been provided.

      2. In spite of sufficient budgetary provisions and substantial recruiting efforts, the city or county has not been able to obtain necessary staff or consultant assistance.

      3. A disaster has occurred requiring reassignment of staff for an extended period or requiring a complete reevaluation and revision of the general plan, or both.

      4. Local review procedures require an extended public review process which has resulted in delaying the decision by the legislative body.

      5. The city or county is jointly preparing all or part of the general plan with one or more other jurisdictions pursuant to an existing agreement and timetable for completion.

      6. Other reasons exist which justify the granting of an extension, so that the timely preparation and adoption of a general plan is promoted.

      Findings should be specific and address the issues at hand. A finding is more than a statement of fact; in order for a statement to be a legally recognized finding, it must bridge the analytical gap between raw data and ultimate conclusion (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community vs. County of Los Angeles, 11 Cal.3d 506, 1974). In other words, it must explain how the facts relate to the assertion being made. Findings may incorporate supporting information by reference. Referenced sources must also be included when applying for an extension.

      As previously noted, if a city or county is applying for an extension, its representatives should consult OPR prior to the adoption of the resolution of application. This will help to assure that the contents of the resolution meet statutory requirements.

  3. 3. Detailed Budget and Schedule for Plan Preparation and Adoption:

    Each applicant must submit a budget and schedule for the preparation and adoption of the general plan element(s) for which an extension is sought. The materials should include plans for citizen participation and interim action. The detailed budget and schedule must provide for adoption of a complete and adequate plan within two years of the date of application. The budget and schedule must be sufficiently detailed to allow OPR to assess the applicant's progress during the extension.

    The budget should indicate:

    1. The amount of funds allocated to the project.

    2. The allocation of funds among consultant services (if applicable) and local staff.

    The schedule should include:

    1. Major tasks to be undertaken in preparing or revising the general plan (e.g., appointment of citizen committees, data collection (specify types), formulation of goals and policies).

    2. Projected starting and completion dates for each task.

    3. Identification of individuals responsible for specific tasks (e.g., local planning staff, consultant, other local staff).

    4. Descriptions of and completion dates for major interim products to be completed prior to the final document (e.g., technical reports, draft plan alternatives).

    5. The anticipated occasions for citizen participation and review, planning commission review and approval, and governing body review and adoption.

    6. Methods for obtaining citizen participation.

    If you are already working on a general plan element(s) for which your city or county is seeking the extension, please briefly describe the work to date, and follow the above format for remaining tasks. If a consultant is to be used for all or a portion of the work program, please submit a copy of the consultant's proposed work program with your application or as soon as it is available.

  4. 4. Proposed Policies and Procedures:

    The application must include a set of proposed policies and procedures. Their purpose is to suggest possible means by which the jurisdiction could ensure that land use decisions made during the extension will not interfere with the general plan proposals being considered or studied.

    OPR's Director may use the suggested policies and procedures as a basis for the extension conditions of approval or may modify them as necessary. Where there is a conflict between the proposed policies and the conditions of approval, the Director's conditions will prevail.

    Extension applicants are often at an early stage in the planning process. They may not yet have planning studies or sufficiently comprehensive general plan drafts. Under these circumstances, the policies and procedures should keep local planning options open while simultaneously guiding decisions related to rezonings, subdivisions, and other land use entitlements under consideration during the extension.

    Cities or counties that have already prepared planning proposals or draft general plan documents should consider using these as a basis for their proposed policies and procedures. The extension application should include copies of these proposals or draft documents.

    In either case, the policies and procedures should facilitate and provide a rationale for land use project evaluations and decision making during the extension. These policies and procedures may include any planning and regulatory functions authorized by law.

  5. 5. Additional Materials Required:

    In order to evaluate the extension request and determine appropriate conditions of approval, the following background materials should be included with the application:

    1. Copies of your jurisdiction's general plan, zoning and subdivision ordinances, and any specific plans, area plans, or community plans. If a draft general plan has been completed, a copy of that draft.

    2. Copies of documents associated with pending litigation pertaining to the general plan, if any.

    3. Copies of any interim ordinances, (e.g., growth management, interim zoning).

    4. A list of projects that are currently being processed or that are expected to be filed in the near future. This should include general plan amendments, rezonings, tentative subdivision maps, conditional use permits, planned unit developments, specific plans, development agreements, or other similar discretionary actions. Building permits and final subdivision maps should not be included on this list. Please provide the project name, location, proposal, and status.

The granting of an extension by OPR is not subject to CEQA. Nevertheless, CEQA still applies to local government approvals of discretionary projects during the extension period, including adoption of the general plan element(s) affected by the extension.

When OPR receives an extension request, the application is assigned to a staff member. The staff member evaluates the application and notifies the city or county if additional information is required or if changes in the resolution, budget or schedule appear necessary to ensure compliance with state law.

Subsequent to reviewing the request, OPR's Director will notify the extension applicant, in writing, regarding approval of the extension. The Director's letter granting the extension will set forth the conditions required to ensure compliance with the State Planning and Zoning Law. These may include modification of the jurisdiction's proposed policies or procedures.

OPR fully expects jurisdictions receiving extensions to make steady progress on the general plan revision according to their submitted schedules. OPR also expects cities and counties to abide by the extension conditions of approval.

Government Code Section 65361 empowers the Director of OPR to impose those conditions on extensions of time which are necessary to ensure compliance with state planning law. The conditions are tailored to the particular circumstances of the involved city or county and will vary from extension to extension.

OPR's further intent in establishing extension conditions is to protect the integrity of the plan update process, to the extent possible, by preventing a jurisdiction from foreclosing its planning options. Although the actual conditions of approval will vary, the following examples illustrate the sort of conditions that are commonly applied:

  1. The city shall not amend its existing general plan during the period of this extension, except as may be necessary to:

    1. Comply with a specific state or federal requirement, such as the California Hazardous Waste Management Act.

    2. Revise or implement administrative or impact fees pursuant to the California Government Code.

  2. The city shall neither accept application for, nor consider, any development agreement, vesting tentative map, or other agreement which vests and legally precludes unilateral changes in land use by the city.

  3. During this extension, the County shall not initiate or accept applications for, process, or adopt any specific plans.

  4. The city may continue to process and consider those projects which were filed prior to the effective date of this extension provided that the city shall not approve such applications unless it makes written findings, based on substantial evidence in the record, that: (1) the project is consistent with the existing general plan, (2) there is a reasonable probability the project will be consistent with the proposed general plan, and (3) there is little or no probability the project will be detrimental to or interfere with the future adopted general plan.

  5. This extension shall not release the City from continuing to comply with the requirements of applicable State, federal, and California law including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

    1. The city may approve a discretionary land use project, as defined below, only when it makes written findings, based on substantial evidence in the record, that: (1) the project is consistent with the existing general plan, (2) there is a reasonable probability the project will be consistent with the proposed general plan, and (3) there is little or no probability the project will be detrimental to or interfere with the future adopted general plan.

    2. For the purposes of this extension, "discretionary land use project" includes zoning ordinance adoptions or amendments (e.g., rezonings); tentative subdivision and parcel maps; parcel maps for which no tentative maps are required; conditional use permits; zoning variances; design, site plan, architectural, or historic preservation reviews; planned developments; and public works/capital improvements projects (except for those projects necessary for the maintenance or public health and safety).

    "City" includes the City Council, planning commission, planning advisory council, and any County official, commission, committee, board, or individual delegated administrative responsibilities under city ordinances and policies.

When the jurisdiction completes the general plan element(s) for which an extension has been granted, the legislative resolution adopting the element should be submitted to OPR along with a copy of the adopted element(s). Submission of an adopted element does not constitute OPR endorsement of the element's adequacy. Completion of the elements and their adoption terminates the extension.

In the event that jurisdiction will not be able to complete a general plan or plan element within the authorized extension period, it may request a second extension that shall not exceed one year. The application process is the same as that for the first extension. That is, the jurisdiction's legislative body must adopt a resolution requesting a second extension, providing the required findings and reasons why additional time is needed. The application must also submit another budget and work program, revised if necessary to reflect a new schedule of progress during the third year. Further, the application must include a set of proposed policies and procedures as described previously.

Before OPR can approve a second extension, the jurisdiction must demonstrate that it has made substantial progress toward completion of the general plan or plan elements for which the first extension was granted. Toward this end, the jurisdiction should include sufficient documentation in its second extension application to demonstrate substantial progress. Unlike the first extension, approval of a second extension is subject to the discretion of the Director of OPR.

If a jurisdiction needs a second extension, it should contact OPR at least four weeks before the first extension expires. The city or county should be sure that the length of time it requests for the second extension, if less than one year, is adequate to complete the plan revision process, because OPR's Director is statutorily prohibited from granting an additional extension.