Go To Search

General Plan Update
About Vista2035

Study Area

The City of East Palo Alto is embarking on a significant planning effort, undertaking a multi-year effort to develop a new General Plan and Westside Area Plan, conduct the environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and ultimately adopt new development regulations, including zoning and subdivision provisions.

A General Plan is a policy document required by state law that provides long-range guidance for land use, development and other City issues such as affordable housing and employment. Called Vista2035, the East Palo Alto General Plan Update will serve as a blueprint of the City’s vision for the future. The policy document will replace the 1999 General Plan that was adopted as an update to the City’s first General Plan, which was completed in 1986.

The project consists of the following components:

  • General Plan. All chapters in the existing General Plan will be comprehensively updated. The updated General Plan will have a stronger focus on public health, economic development and sustainability.
  • Westside Area Plan. The Westside Area Plan will provide more detailed policy guidance and regulations for the area west of U.S. 101. The areas covered by the community plan are Woodland, Willows and University Circle. For more information on the Westside Area Plan, click here.
Zoning Code. The City’s existing zoning code is a byproduct of the San Mateo County zoning code. The City’s zoning has never been comprehensively updated. As part of the project, the zoning code and subdivision regulations will be updated and brought into conformance with the new General Plan. The update will occur either immediately after or concurrent with the preparation of the General Plan update.
Environmental Impact Report. The team will prepare an Environmental Impact Report that analyzes and discloses the potential impact of the General Plan update, Westside Area Plan and zoning code on the environment. This process is required by the State’s California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
Public Outreach. A multi-faceted public outreach program is critical to the success of the project. There will be advisory committees, public Town Hall meetings, neighborhood meetings, focus groups, surveys, a project web site, and other outreach.


The project began in the fall of 2013 and the process is expected to take approximately 2½ to 3 years.  The following describes the primary phases of work with estimated timeframes for each phase.

  • Phase 1: Existing Conditions Reports.  The first part of the project is to document the existing conditions in the City. This task will include collecting City data, reviewing existing City documents and policies, and meeting with the community. The result will be a detailed Existing Conditions Report.
  • Phase 2: Visioning.  Working closely with the community, the consultant team will develop a long-term vision for the City.
  • Phase 3: Alternatives and Policy Development.  During the existing conditions phase, a series of issues and opportunities for the City will be uncovered. During phase 3, the team will identify policy and design alternatives to address the key issues facing the City. Examples of issues that may be addressed include traffic congestion on University Boulevard, the lack of park space, and crime.  This phase will also include identifying areas of the community where land use and physical change are possible and then develop alternative scenarios for how these areas could transform over time.
  • Phase 4: Plan Preparation.  During this phase, the General Plan and zoning code will be written and reviewed by staff and then presented to the community.
  • Phase 5: Environmental Review. Concurrent with the preparation of the General Plan, the team will prepare an EIR that analyzes the potential impacts of future growth in East Palo Alto.  The EIR will be released for public review at approximately the same time as the General Plan and zoning code
  • Phase 6: Review and Adoption. The General Plan, zoning code and EIR will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and City Council. The final document will be adopted by the City Council.

An aggressive public outreach and participation program will be conducted throughout the entire project.

What is a General Plan?

A General Plan is a policy document required by state law that provides long-range guidance for land use, development and other City issues such as affordable housing and employment. Called Vista2035, the East Palo Alto General Plan Update will serve as a blueprint of the City’s vision for the future.

The General Plan Update is a project that will comprehensively revise the 1999 General Plan. All of the required seven general plan elements, associated maps, goals, policies, measures and/or actions that define the City’s vision for the next ten to twenty years will likely be revised. While the revision will likely include a vision to increase jobs and accelerate the education and vocational training of residents, the 2015 General Plan will not include these goals in a separate Economic Development Element, as was done in the 1999 General Plan.

What is Included in the General Plan?

The scope of work includes the drafting of a new General Plan that includes a chapter on health and a Westside Area Plan.  Additionally the scope requires the rewriting of the required seven general plan elements, including 1) Land Use, 2) Circulation, 3) Housing, 4) Noise, 5) Safety, 6) Open Space, and 7) Conservation. Because of the importance that the Strategic Growth Council which is funding this project, places on plan implementation and measurable variables, the general plan update also includes the development of new zoning and subdivision regulations, and the use of twenty-six indicators.

State law establishes the basic components of a General Plan and how these components are to be interwoven to create a “long term”, “comprehensive”, “integrated, internally consistent and compatible statement” of goals and policies that reflect local conditions and circumstances. The law requires that a General Plan address seven subject areas, known in the law and by practice, as “elements”, and that each element establish goals, policies and implementation programs and time frames for the subject matter in each element. The mandatory elements are:

  • Land use. The land use element is a guide for the public, planners, and decision makers as to the pattern of development for the City at build out.
  • Circulation.  This element plans for the orderly circulation of people, goods, energy, water, sewage, storm drainage, and communications such as WIFI.
  • Housing. The housing element seeks to accommodate the existing and anticipated housing needs for all incomes, groups with disabilities, and the homeless.
  • Open space. The open space element provides a comprehensive and long-range preservation of ‘open space land’, i.e. unimproved land or water devoted to open space.
  • Conservation.  The conservation element guides conservation, development of natural resources, i.e. Forests, Wetlands, Fisheries, Soils, Rivers, Harbors, Wildlife, Minerals, etc.
  • Noise.  This element seeks to limit the community’s exposure to excessive noise
  • Safety.  The safety element seeks to reduce the risk of death, injuries, property damage, and economic and social dislocation from natural and manmade hazards.

Beyond the mandatory elements of the General Plan, there is a great deal of flexibility to address local conditions and circumstances through additional elements. Many General Plans contain elements that address the local economy, urban design, bicycle and pedestrian needs, parks and recreation, social services, public health, sustainability and other topics. There is also a great deal of flexibility in creating the format of the General Plan so that certain topics can be better integrated.