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General Plan Land Use Policies and Actions

Best Practice Category:

Compact Design Complete Neighborhoods Street and Network Connectivity Site Layout, Parking Layout, and Building Design Affordable Housing Transit Prioritization, Accessibility, and Area Design


Building off the General Plan vision statements and land use designations, which identify development standards for a community’s transit districts, the goals and policies in the General Plan establish city-wide and area-specific policies. These policies are instrumental in guiding land use in critical districts, such as around transit. Jurisdictions will typically review the General Plan every ten to fifteen years and identify the need for revisions to policies to reflect current needs and conditions. Since General Plan update cycles and transit planning efforts both have long lifecycles, it is critical to look ahead at anticipated public transportation alignments, and prepare strategies, policies, and implementation actions for future stations long before they are built. General Plan goals and policies in the Land Use, Transportation, and Housing Elements can be used to provide a framework for all aspects of transit-supportive places, including:

  • Encouraging/allowing higher density in targeted locations
  • Promoting mixed-use development
  • Providing affordable housing
  • Creating a robust walking and biking network
  • Establishing a high quality public realm
  • Ensuring transitions to existing (residential) uses
  • Providing incentives (density bonus, parking reduction, etc.)

Often the most critical contribution that a General Plan can have for transit-supportive places is to establish clear implementation actions, programs, and physical improvements for the station area(s). Creating this explicit link is key for translating goals and a vision into concrete action. Most commonly, related policies and actions are found in the Land Use, Circulation/Mobility, or Housing chapters. Typically these could include policies and programs such as establishing a new Specific Plan, establishing a Parking District or Business Improvement District, securing agreements with transit agencies, recommending a nexus impact fee study (impact fees are a commonly used method of collecting a proportional share of funds from new development for infrastructure improvements and other public facilities to offset the impact of new residents), prioritizing key streetscape or infrastructure projects, or other similar steps.

Arranging for the appropriate policies can also help accelerate and simplify the development process through the new CEQA exceptions provided by SB 743 which states that projects that are consistent with “with the general use designation, density, building intensity, and applicable policies specified for the project area” can avoid studying the traffic, parking, and aesthetics impacts of new development.

South Gate; Metro Los Angeles


  • Clear support for transit-supportive development in the General Plan
  • Increased development intensity near transit stations
  • Incentives and bonuses to encourage new development in transit-supportive locations
  • Promotion of walkable areas, particularly around transit stations

Examples :

South Gate General Plan.

During the City’s General Plan update process, citizens and the City Council identified key community design concepts which will serve as the foundation for future land use decisions, and for the related goals, policies, and actions. In particular, the City’s General Plan helped to set the stage for multiple transit-supportive places by emphasizing focused development and the ‘transit village’ concept through two specific development policies:

  • Focus New Development on Transit Corridors. Corridors should be redeveloped with a mix of uses that provide additional opportunities for shopping, working and living. Special attention must be paid to buffering the new uses from the existing residential areas that are typically located just beyond the edge of the corridor
  • Create a Transit Village. A new transit village should be created near the Firestone and Atlantic intersection. New transit uses should be explored for the area and a mixed use district with high density housing, retail, and office use should be created

The language and intent in these community design strategies later led directly to the creation of zoning code amendments that have facilitated new mixed-use, transit-supportive development: a Transit Villagezone, and a Corridor Transition overlay zone. The General Plan also included a map of the corridors where focused activity was to occur.

Supportive actions in the South Gate General Plan that include:

  • Action CD 1: Revise the Zoning Code. Consider the development of a form-based code for all or part of the City, especially areas that are expected to see significant change over the life of the General Plan. Develop incentives to ensure that the “Highly Desired” Place Types occur
  • Action CD 2: Create citywide design guidelines and/or streetscape plans. Create neighborhood design guidelines to ensure that new, infill development or the rehabilitation of existing homes is consistent with the overall character of the neighborhood
  • Action CD 3: Create a density bonus program; explore a TDR program
  • Action CD 8: Undertake a citywide parking management study
  • Action CD 14: Conduct an impact fee study for new development

See more Pages 49 - 53.

Pasadena General Plan.

Downtown Pasadena; Joe Wolf

The policies in the General Plan flow from guiding principles which stress that Pasadena will be a city where people can circulate without cars, that higher density development will be directed away from residential neighborhoods and into Transit Villages, and that Pasadena will be economically vital city by providing jobs, services, revenues, and opportunities. The most relevant goal is #29:

GOAL 29. Transit Villages. Moderate- to high-density mixed-use clusters of residential and commercial uses developed in an integrated “village-like” environment with buildings clustered on common plazas and open spaces in proximity to Metro Gold Line stations capitalizing on their induced market demands and land values, facilitating ridership, and reducing automobile use while increasing walkability.

  • 29.1   Mix of Uses. Accommodate mixed-use development permitted by the applicable land use classification on the Land Use Diagram, whether it is horizontally or vertically integrated, as an essential component to the creation and implementation of the Transit Village vision
  • 29.2   Neighborhood Identity. Design Transit Villages to be distinct, cohesive, and pedestrian-oriented places that are linked with and walkable from adjoining neighborhoods
  • 29.3   Pedestrian Orientation. Require the inclusion of improvements and amenities to create a safe and comfortable environment for sitting, meeting neighbors and friends, walking and providing easy access to Metro Gold Line station areas and a mix of uses in close proximity to the station

The Plan also contains several other policies related to transit-oriented development, pedestrian orientation, infrastructure improvements, and parking policy. The key concepts are intensification of activity and development near transit, a recognition that different stations should respond differently to the surrounding context, and addressing the issues around parking supply/demand:

  • 4.5     Transit Villages in Context . Differentiate the mix and development intensities of the Transit Villages to reflect their setting, with the highest intensities at Fillmore, Del Mar, Memorial Park and Lake Metro Gold Line stations, moderate intensities at Sierra Madre Village and lowest intensities at the Allen Avenue station
  • 18.1   Development Mix and Densities. Accommodate the mix and density of land uses and urban form that induce walking, bicycling, and transit use as an alternative to the automobile, as specified by the Land Use Diagram
  • 18.2   Mobility. Correlate land use development intensities with adequate infrastructure improvements and transportation strategies to ensure mobility in all areas of Pasadena
  • 19.2   Parking Limits. Establish limits on the amount of parking that may be developed for projects in the Central District and Transit Villages to promote walking, bicycling, and use of transit as an alternative to the automobile
  • 19.4   Park Once. Provide the opportunity for residents, patrons and visitors to park once and visit many destinations in the Central District, Transit Villages, and Neighborhood Villages through centrally located shared parking while providing additional flexibility for businesses to provide parking off-site or participate in other alternative parking funding mechanisms

See more Pages 16 to 26.

South Pasadena General Plan.

South Pasadena; Metro Los Angeles

The City’s General Plan includes a variety of policies aimed at encouraging the provision of and use of alternative modes of transit, emphasizing pedestrians over cars in portions of the city, while still maintaining the character of South Pasadena’s commercial areas. Examples include:

  • 2.5:    Intensify use in select locations. Concentrate higher density and mixed-use development adjacent to transit or transportation corridors
  • 2.6:    Establish controls. Adopt appropriate specific plans, zoning designations, development standards and code enforcement procedures to assure compatible scale and orientation of buildings, effective site planning, shared parking and the joint use of facilities, with an emphasis on transit and bicycle access
  • 3.13:  Promote mixed-use development. Maintain compaction and encourage vertically mixed-use (ground floor retail, office and residential above) to create nodes of activity and to promote the pedestrian use concept
  • 6.4:    Facilitate pedestrian movement. Intersections and streets within transit oriented developments shall be designed to facilitate pedestrian movement
  • 6.5:    Enhance pedestrian and bicycle amenities. Provide additional amenities such as street trees and furniture, supplemental lighting, widened walks, bikeways and narrowed vehicular right-of-ways to encourage non-vehicular usage
  • 8.1:    Require contextual, compatible and responsible design. Encourage new development to respect South Pasadena’s heritage by requiring that it “respond to context” and minimize adverse impacts on the privacy and access to light and air of its neighbors
South Pasadena; Metro Los Angeles

See more Pages II-16 to II-26.

Santa Monica Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

Santa Monica LUCE Map; City of Santa Monica

The Santa Monica LUCE highlights two principal locations for mixed-use development around transit, and expands upon the desired vision and character of these focus areas with accompanying policies.

Downtown District . The policies for the Downtown District focus on placemaking, easy connections to transit, streetscape upgrades, recommended community benefits, and high-quality architecture and building facades. It includes a list of exact intersections or blocks where new development and amenities should be targeted – areas that are accessible to transit and accommodate mixed-use development. Key goals and policies are:

  • Goal D2: Maximize placemaking opportunities associated with the Expo Light Rail station to create a vibrant Downtown gateway
  • Goal D3: Ensure high-quality implementation of TOD adjacent to the station
  • Goal D5/D6: Create convenient and comfortable pedestrian/bicycle linkages to the station
  • Goal D8: Ensure that new and remodeled buildings in the Downtown District contribute to the pedestrian character of Downtown and are compatible in scale with existing buildings and the surrounding residential neighborhoods
  • Goal D9: Enhance the quality and character of the streetscape and urban pattern in the Downtown

Bergamot Transit Village . The policies for this future light rail station are meant to foster a successful mixed-use neighborhood activated by open space, retail and dining, and served by a shared parking facility. A key distinction is that this transit village is designed to function as an “urban station,” with minimal parking and a strong transit/pedestrian focus, surrounded by high density development. Currently, the station area is composed mainly of light industrial or office uses. The vision is for lively, vibrant streets and retail-activated ground floors, and for new projects to consciously repair the existing superblock pattern with new streets, sidewalks, alleys, and pedestrian paseos. Examples of specific policies that support transit use are listed below:

  • D20.1  Encourage a diverse mix of creative arts/entertainment uses and employment opportunities balanced with a variety of residential types and local-serving uses to establish a 17 hours per day/7 days per week active neighborhood
  • D20.2  Prepare an area plan with a community process to locate a new grid of streets with connections to existing surrounding streets, require a parking district to consolidate parking into a shared facility(ies) and establish a district-wide Transit Demand Management strategy to capitalize on the new Expo Light Rail
  • D20.5  Locate active retail-serving uses at the ground floor of buildings where identified pedestrian activity is highest, such as near the light rail station, along active pedestrian routes and around new open spaces
  • D22.1  Design the length, width and shape of blocks to provide convenient and safe circulation and access for pedestrians and vehicles, recognizing the constraints and opportunities presented by the existing development
  • D23.1  Create a parking district for the Bergamot Transit Village to accommodate centralized, shared parking to serve both the new and existing uses in the area
  • D23.2 Create a TDM district for the Bergamot Transit Village area to capitalize upon the new transit assets to reduce overall vehicle trips

See more Pages 2.6-29 to 2.6-36.

Burbank General Plan.

Downtown Burbank; Gord McKenna

The City of Burbank has taken a simpler approach to promoting transit-supportive places through its General Plan. Instead of calling for a study or plan to evaluate TOD incentives in the implementation actions, the General Plan itself includes a provision that allows for a flat 25% density bonus for TOD projects, with the stipulation that these projects are still subject to discretionary review (it is unclear whether this bonus is additive with the State density bonus or not – this is a dilemma that cities need to be aware of as they plan for greater intensity around transit). To balance out this added density, a separate policy calls for stepping down to single-family residential neighborhoods.

  • P 1.2   With discretionary approval, allow for the density and intensity limits specified in Burbank2035 to be exceeded for transit‐oriented development projects within transit centers as identified in the Mobility Element. The density and intensity limits may be exceeded by no more than 25%
  • P 1.7   Ensure that building height and intensity near single‐family residential neighborhoods is compatible with that permitted in the neighborhood. Use graduated height limits to allow increased height as distance from single‐family properties increases

See more Pages 3-2 to 3-4.

El Monte Land Use Element.

The City has classified a large area adjacent to its downtown Metrolink station and the sub-regional bus terminal as the “El Monte Gateway,” intending to create a 60-acre regionally significant, mixed-use community that integrates public transit, housing, parks/open space, retail, business, and entertainment. With the potential for up to 1,850 units in a mixed/multiuse environment, this transit-supportive place will also serve as a key activity center, which will help revitalize the city, create a central gathering place, and strengthen the core of the community. To facilitate the right type of development around transit, the City’s General Plan has several policies in place:

  • LU-5.2 El Monte Gateway. Facilitate transit-oriented developments with a range of residential, commercial, hotel, and recreational uses in the Downtown that serve as destination points for the region and catalyst for the revitalization of and investment in downtown
  • LU-5.3 Housing. Facilitate development of mixed/multiuse housing, including transit-oriented development that provides housing options for persons of all ages and income levels that enhances the customer base for downtown business and activities
  • LU-5.4 Business Association. Engage the Downtown El Monte Business Association to participate in the district’s transition; redefinition of its physical, economic, circulation, and other improvements; and assistance in long-term implementation of its vision

These policies have generated support for a new Downtown Specific Plan, which is currently being written. Putting the General Plan to work, the Specific Plan will include proposed alternatives and urban design ideas, as well as funding details and other next steps to enable transit-oriented development.

See more Pages 22 to 25