Merced County California

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The General Plan is intended to provide for orderly growth and convey the community's values and expectations for the future.

Click on the links below for more detailed information on the General Plan Update:

What's a General Plan?

The General Plan acts as the “constitution” for guiding decisions on growth and development. It expresses the County’s vision for the future and incorporates public policy relative to the distribution of future public and private land uses.


What's covered in a General Plan?

The General Plan comprises goals, policies, and implementation programs, based on the current and future needs and available resources. Once adopted, the Plan becomes the principal tool for the County to evaluate public and private development projects and infrastructure improvements. 


State law requires that each county and city have an adopted general plan “for the physical development within its jurisdiction and any land outside its boundaries which bears relation to its planning”. The General Plan is presented as a collection of chapters or “elements” of which seven are mandatory:

  • Land Use
  • Circulation
  • Housing
  • Conservation
  • Open Space
  • Noise
  • Safety

The County has chosen to separate some of the contents of these elements into separate elements, and has added two non-mandated elements. A review of the Draft General Plan table of Contents in “Part II: Countywide Goals, Policies and Programs” will reveal the following list of 11 elements contained in the Draft General Plan:

  • Economic Development
  • Land Use
  • Agricultural Element
  • Transportation and Circulation
  • Housing
  • Public Facilities and Services
  • Natural Resources
  • Recreation and Cultural Resources
  • Health and Safety
  • Air Quality
  • Water

The Housing Element was adopted in 2010 following a State imposed update deadline.

General Plan's Relationship to Zoning

The General Plan is the overarching policy guide for the county. The zoning ordinance is the primary tool used to implement General Plan policies. In contrast to the long-term outlook of the General Plan, zoning classifies the specific, immediate uses of land. The success of a general plan, and in particular the land use element, rests in part upon the effectiveness of a consistent zoning ordinance that translates long-term policies into everyday decisions (OPR, 2003). For more information on zoning, please click on the link A Citizen's Guide to Planning.

Why is an update needed?

The last comprehensive update to the Merced County General Plan was completed in 1990. The current plan has outdated information, assumptions, and projections. General plans typically look 15-25 years into the future. This process also provides a chance for the community to evaluate the existing plan, current trends and issues, and update policies where necessary in order to adequately meet the future needs of the County.


How does the General Plan affect development?

The General Plan establishes policies for regulating new development projects within the unincorporated portions of the county. These policies are then translated into implementation tools (such as the zoning ordinance, subdivision regulations, and design guidelines) to assure that the County's vision is implemented. It also serves as a policy guide for how the county will interact with the six cities within the county regarding their growth and future expansion plans.


Additional resources

For more information on planning, the structure and legal requirements of a General Plan, or to see a list of planning related terms and acronyms, please view the following sites:


General Plan Guidelines

Published by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, outlines the structure and legal requirements for general plans in California.

A Citizen's Guide to Planning

Published by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research.


Local Government Commission Publications

The LGC provides many free resources including newsletters and publications, fact sheets, model projects, and articles.


The California General Plan Glossary

Published by the California Planning Roundtable.

Merced County 2222 M Street Merced, CA 9543 Ph. (209) 385-7434 Toll Free (800) 226-6452
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