General Plan

"General Plan" Newspaper style cover


The Santa Clara County General Plan, 1995-2010, was adopted December 20, 1994.  Published documents include General Plan Books A and B, the 2000 Stanford University Community Plan, and the three maps linked below. 

General Plan: Book A

General Plan: Book B

General Plan Land Use Map

1.  Introduction and Overview
2.  Countywide Issues & Policies
3.  Rural Unincorporated Area
4.  Urban Unincorporated Area
5.  South County Joint Area Plan
6.  Appendices

Regional Parks & Scenic Highways Map

Countywide Trails Master Plan Map

General Plan Updates Recently Adopted:

Housing Element Update

Previous Housing Elements

Health and Environmental Justice Element Update

Safety Element Update

Local Serving Areas (RLU 57)

Eff. Nov 19, 2015
GP Replacement Pages

Roles and Major Focus Areas

The General Plan contains goals, strategies and policies for three major focus areas:

  • as a countywide general plan

  • as a plan for the rural unincorporated areas outside cities, and

  • as a plan for the remaining unincorporated areas (called pockets and islands) within cities' urban service areas.

The 2000 Stanford University Community Plan, adopted December 2000 and updated by the Board of Supervisors on October 2023, is also a part of the General Plan and is published separately as a stand-alone document. More information can be found on the Stanford University page.

Environmental Review Documents for the 1994 General Plan

1994 Draft EIR                         

1994 Final EIR              

Fundamental Urban Development Policies

The most fundamental policy of the General Plan pertains to countywide growth management and the accommodation of urban development.  It stipulates that urban types and densities of development be located only within cities' urban service areas(areas planned for urbanization), in locations suitable for such development.  Outside cities' urban service areas, only non-urban uses and development densities are allowed, to preserve natural resources, rural character, and minimize population exposure to significant natural hazards, such as landslides, earthquake faults, and wildfire.  As a whole, the countywide growth management policies described above have historically been referred to as the "joint urban development policies," held in common by the cities, County, and County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which controls city formation and expansion.

Land Use Plan and Policies

Based on the urban development policies, the Land Use Plan and policies further define allowable land uses and development potential for all unincorporated lands. Inside urban service areas, the policy of the County General Plan is to defer to the policies of the applicable city's land-use plan in defining (a) allowable uses and (b) densities of development.  Outside urban service areas, all lands are assigned a land use designation, or classification.  Principal designations for privately-owned lands are Hillside, Ranchlands, Agriculture, and Rural Residential.  Typical densities of development range from 20 to 160 acres per parcel, depending on the designation, for lots created by subdivision.  One primary dwelling is allowed per legal lot.

Other Issues or "Elements"

In addition to the Land Use Plan element, six other major topics must be addressed by each city or county general plan: transportation, housing, resource conservation, open space, health and safety, and noise. All such "elements," as they are called in state law, have equal standing, and each addresses issues defined as important and pertinent to the local jurisdiction on the detailed subjects required to be contained in the General Plan.

General Plan as "Constitution" of Local Land Use Regulations and Controls

The General Plan establishes the overall policy framework for land use and development.  The state has likened it to a "constitution" to which all land use and development regulations must conform.  In other words, zoning districts and regulations must conform with and implement the goals and policies of the General Plan.  Subdivision regulations and all other discretionary land use approvals, including variances and use permits, must also conform with the General Plan, or they may not be legally approved.

Area Plans and Special Area Policies

The General Plan contains two "area plans" or "community plans:" the 2000 Stanford Community Plan, and the 1989 South County Joint Area Plan, which was mutually adopted also by the south valley cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy. In addition, the Land-Use element contains several sets of special area policies for certain geographic areas that are of a more limited nature than area plans.  A prominent example is the San Martin Planning Area, an unincorporated rural community located between Gilroy and Morgan Hill.


The County Board of Supervisors is the legislative body that adopts and may amend the General Plan.  An amendment must be deemed to be in the public interest, internally consistent with the other applicable goals and policies of the General Plan, and otherwise consistent with state laws.

Amendments are either publicly initiated by the Board of Supervisors or privately initiated.  Privately initiated amendment proposals are administered and reviewed in accordance with Board-approved procedures and an annual schedule.


For more information, contact:

 Leza Mikhail, Deputy Director of Planning Services
(408) 299-5773

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