The Comprehensive Plan Amendment Process

The Comprehensive Plan presents the community’s vision for future preservation, growth and change, and is the City’s overarching land use planning document. The Plan contains seven Elements that address land use and community design, transportation, housing, the natural environment, safety, community services and facilities, business and economics, and governance topics.

The City’s existing Comprehensive Plan was last updated between 1998 and 2002, and was intended to respond to demographic, economic and environmental conditions through 2010. In late 2008, City Staff and consultants began working with the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) to review each Element of the Plan, as well as to develop conceptual plans for the California Avenue/Fry’s and the East Meadow Circle/Fabian Way areas. During their review, the PTC identified potential updates to the Plan with the goal to create a clearer, more cohesive document, including suggested format and organizational changes.

Since the PTC completed their review in 2014, regional development pressures resulting from an exceptionally strong economy have continued to exacerbate community concerns about traffic, parking, and housing affordability, among other quality of life issues in Palo Alto. In response, the City Council endorsed a new framework for the planning process to include broad community engagement, discussion and analysis of alternative futures, cumulative impacts, and mitigation strategies.

Specifically, the Comp Plan update public engagement process since 2014 has included:

  • The Summit: a gathering of over 350 concerned citizens in May 2015, including presentations, small group discussions, and informational booths.
  • The Citizens Advisory Committee: 25 community representatives charged with advising the City Council on suggested changes to the existing Comprehensive Plans programs and policies. The CAC met monthly between July 2015 and May 2017 when they completed their recommendation to the City Council.
  • PTC Meetings: The Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) plays an important role in reviewing draft Elements, as well as the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and making recommendations to the City Council. Community members are encouraged to attend all PTC meetings.
  • Council Meetings: In 2016 and 2017, the City Council reviewed draft Elements, formulating a preferred scenario in June 2017, and providing direction for revision and refinement to create a draft Comprehensive Plan. The Council will also review the EIR. The Council has ultimate responsibility for certifying the EIR and adopting the updated Comprehensive Plan, anticipated in fall 2017. Community members are encouraged to attend all City Council meetings.
  • Public review of the EIR: The EIR is a legally-required public information document to describe potential physical environmental impacts of the Comp Plan. The Draft EIR and a Supplement to the Draft EIR consider and compare six possible future scenarios. The public is invited to comment on the EIR at public hearings before the PTC and City Council as well as through written comments. The next step in the public review process will be to publish the Final EIR. The Final EIR will be presented to the City Council for certification at the same time the Comprehensive Plan Update is considered for adoption (likely in the fall of 2017).

Extended Public Review
As a city that experiences acute development pressures due to its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, community concerns about traffic, parking, and other quality of life issues are important to Palo Altans. Accordingly, the City has initiated a new community dialog to ensure that the updated Plan, entitled “Our Palo Alto 2030”, is regarded as a blueprint for preservation of natural areas, future economic and social changes, and dynamic growth management over the next two decades that reflects diverse community values through a collective community vision.
This process includes a series of phases that efficiently integrate both the community-based planning and the environmental review components of the Plan update:

  • The Lead-In phase involves collecting detailed background data to inform the community and updating the project website to post the findings.
  • The Visioning phase introduces the community to Our Palo Alto 2030, engages residents in conversations about critical challenges, determines the scope of environmental review, and develops three alternative futures for detailed study.
  • The Draft Plan and Draft EIR presents policies, programs, alternative futures (i.e. scenarios), and mitigation strategies. Extensive public input throughout the process is essential to help shape the Plan and Draft EIR for consideration by the City Council.
  • The Final Plan and EIR will incorporate substantive public comments for consideration and adoption by the PTC and City Council in 2017.

A Continuum of Engagement
During the public engagement portion of the Update process, the City offered a variety of engagement tools to create a welcoming and interactive environment for the community to share ideas and concerns about what should be addressed in Our Palo Alto 2030. These tools ranged from informal discussions with City officials and staff to online surveys and community meetings, and occurred throughout the update process, tailored to address the needs of each phase. For instance, during the Visioning phase, emphasis is placed on community meetings and online input to inform the development of alternative futures. Currently, the Update process is in the Final Plan and EIR stage, with public comment welcomed on the EIR – click here for the EIR page.

The PTC will be reviewing and recommending the Final Plan for adoption this summer; subscribe now for updates and check the calendar for a list of meeting dates.
Public engagement activities are intended to build awareness, encourage comment on vital issues, and promote participation by all Palo Altans. The City welcomes your voice at all phases of the process. If you would like City staff to speak to your neighborhood organization, service club, or other group, please click here.