A General Plan is a comprehensive plan that guides the growth and development of a jurisdiction. It is created by local government officials in collaboration with community members and provides a long-term vision for the future of the community.

The General Plan consists of several elements, including land use, transportation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, safety, and circulation. Each element outlines policies and goals for the jurisdiction in that particular area.

The land use element of the General Plan is particularly important because it determines how land within the jurisdiction can be used. For example, it might designate certain areas for residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational use. The transportation element, on the other hand, outlines plans for improving the transportation infrastructure, such as roads, public transit, and bike paths.

The General Plan is used as a guide for making decisions about zoning, development, and infrastructure investments. For example, if a developer wants to build a new housing development, the jurisdiction will refer to the General Plan to ensure that the proposed development aligns with the jurisdiction's long-term vision for growth and development.

Overall, the General Plan is an important tool for ensuring that a jurisdiction grows and develops in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and responsive to the needs of the community. By outlining specific policies and goals, the General Plan provides a framework for making decisions that will shape the community for years to come.

The Town of Atherton General Plan is divided into six elements. Each element contains background information that has been collected and analyzed to establish goals and policies that are intended to guide development and Town actions in a particular manner. Community involvement plays a major role in establishing the goals and policies of the General Plan because the goals and policies reflect the views and concerns of the citizens and attempt to achieve their vision of the Town.

The 2019 General Plan Update

The primary intent of the comprehensive General Plan 2019 update was to comply with the minimum guidelines prescribed by the State OPR adopted 2017 General Plan Guidelines, as well as to update some existing policies, data references, and maps within the 2002 General Plan to reflect current conditions and Town policies. It is important to note that there were no changes to any land uses as part of the update.


Adopted in November 2002, the Atherton General Plan is intended as a map for the Town to guide the growth and development. The General Plan is a comprehensive document articulating policies and guidelines for developing and preserving the quality of life in Atherton. General Plans typically contain goals, objectives, policies and programs all intended to support the Town's desire to develop in a particular manner and to attain a community vision. 

An update to the Housing Element, prepared in accordance with State law, was adopted by the City Council on March 18, 2015 with the next State mandated update to occur in 2022. All other elements of the General Plan have not been updated since 2002. Atherton is essentially built out in accordance with the policies stated in the General Plan. The Sphere of Influence as adopted by the San Mateo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) is coterminous with the current Town Limits. The vast majority of all of the existing parcels of land have been developed with land uses consistent with the General Plan. All of the streets and highways described in the General Plan are developed to their planned capacity. The entire infrastructure needed to serve the planned land uses and population is in place with sufficient capacity to accommodate the planned land uses and population. However, there are some policies, data references, and maps within the General Plan that should be updated to reflect current conditions and Town policies.

What Efforts Have Been Done So Far To Update The General Plan?

Planning Commission Study Sessions

From December 2017 to December 2018, Planning Staff presented administrative draft updates to each of the five General Plan Elements being updated to the Town’s Planning Commission in a study session format at public meetings.  The intent was to obtain preliminary feedback from the Commission and the community.  No formal action was taken, nor was any decision made by the Planning  Commission.  The Commission and community gave Planning staff direction on suggested further enhancements/refinements to consider.  A link to each of the Planning Commission study sessions is provided below:

  1. Open Space and Conservation Element Administrative Draft Update 
  2. Land Use Administrative Draft Update 
  3. Community Safety Element 
  4. Circulation Element Administrative Draft Update 
  5. Noise Element Administrative Draft Update 

Community Workshop

On February 13, 2019 the Town held a community wide workshop to present the administrative draft of the General Plan update, answered questions, and received further comments and feedback. 

A copy of the workshop presentation

Administrative Draft of the General Plan, February 2019

Environmental Review 

As required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an environmental document has been prepared to evaluate any environmental impacts the General Plan update may have. An Initial Study has been prepared and has identified that any potential significant effects on the environment can be mitigated, thus a Mitigated Negative Declaration was prepared. The public review period for the IS/MND was from April 4-24, 2019.

Draft IS/MND


The Planning Commission conducted discussion on the IS/MND and Administrative Draft General Plan at the April 24, 2019 Planning Commission meeting. 

April 24, 2019 Planning Commission Packet

On May 22, 2019, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing and passed Resolution 2019-01 certifying the IS/MND and recommending the City Council adopt the 2019 General Plan.

May 22, 2019 Planning Commission Packet

On June 19, 2019 the City Council conducted discussion of the Draft 2019 General Plan Update.

June 19, 2019 City Council Meeting Packet

On September 18, 2019 and November 13, 2019, the City Council conducted further discussions of the Draft 2019 General Plan Update.


On January 15, 2020, the City Council will hold a Public Hearing at 7:00 p.m. in the Pavilion at Holbrook-Palmer Park, 150 Watkins Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027 on the Draft 2019 General Plan Update. At the conclusion of the Public Hearing the City Council may consider adopting the IS/MND, the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program and the 2019 General Plan Update.


General Plan Elements

State Law

Section 65300 et seq. of the California Government Code requires that each planning jurisdiction (i.e. city or county) shall prepare, and the legislative body shall adopt, a comprehensive, long-term, general plan for the physical development of the city. Section 65302 requires that each general plan shall consist of a statement of development policies and shall include a diagram or diagrams and text setting forth objectives, principles, standards and plan proposals.

The State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) adopted General Plan Guidelines in 2017 for use by local jurisdictions in the preparation of their general plans. The Guidelines are permissive, not mandatory and are quite extensive. An analysis of the Atherton General Plan compared to the general criteria included in the Guidelines shows that the existing General Plan is in substantial compliance with the adopted OPR Guidelines with a few exceptions.

The Atherton General Plan is divided into six elements: 1) Land Use; 2) Circulation; 3) Housing; 4) Open Space and Conservation; 5) Noise; and 6) Community Safety. 

1. Land Use Element: The Land Use Element delineates in written and graphic terms Atherton's goals, objectives and policies concerning future land uses within the Town's jurisdiction. The Element sets forth the distribution, location and extent of residential, open space and public land uses.

2. Circulation Element: The Circulation Element describes facilities and policies for the movement of people and goods throughout the Town. It includes a plan of roadways, in addition to facilities for pedestrian, bicycle, and rail transportation. Since Town policy seeks to preserve all streets and highways as scenic routes, this Element also serves as the Scenic Roadways Element of the General Plan.

3. Housing Element: The State of California requires that all cities within the San Francisco Bay Area update the Housing Elements of their General Plans on a regular basis. The purpose of the Housing Element is to evaluate existing and project future housing needs of all economic segments of Atherton. The Element evaluates existing policies and programs aimed at the preservation, improvement and development of housing and development of new policies and/or programs with the same goal. 

The Housing Element includes an analysis of housing needs, statements of goals and policies, a schedule of programs and actions and an estimate of the number of housing units the Town expects to be developed, improved and maintained in the local housing stock. Programs and policies included in the Element are evaluated and modified where necessary to reflect changing market conditions and policy priorities.

4. Open Space and Conservation Element: The Open Space and Conservation Elements have been consolidated into a single document. These elements relate closely to the Land Use and Circulation Elements and address the preservation of natural resources, managed resources, outdoor recreation, and public health and safety.

5. Noise Element: The Noise Element describes the present and future noise environment of Atherton in an effort to prevent intrusion by harmful and annoying sound levels. Major noise sources are identified, the effects of noise on the community are discussed, and strategies for minimizing unwanted noise are outlined. 

6. Community Safety Element: The Community Safety Element describes natural and man-made disasters which may pose a hazard to the residents of Atherton. The Element sets forth general policies for responding to threats to public safety. The Element is not intended to serve as the Town's Emergency Response Plan.