Top Banner Image

Environmental Design Library @ UC Berkeley

About Hours Giving Contact us

Finding General Plans

Finding General Plans is a bibliographic research guide to locating general plans, especially for California and the San Francisco Bay Area, in the UC Berkeley libraries. It supports a number of UC Berkeley city planning classes, including CP 110 (Introduction to City Planning), CP 118AC (The Urban Community), and CP 200 (History of City Planning). This guide also provides Web links to many full text resources. For additional assistance please consult the reference staff of the Environmental Design Library, 210 Wurster Hall.

About General Plans
Finding General Plans
Special Collections
Campus Libraries
General Reference Sources
California Reference Sources
SF Bay Area City Plans
SF Bay Area County & Regional Plans

UC Berkeley faculty, registered students, and staff who are off campus may use items marked UCB Only or UC Only by using The Library's off-campus access services.

Compiled by Deborah Sommer. Content reviewed: 4 June 2009

About General Plans

What is a general plan? General plans have many synonyms, among them comprehensive plan, development plan, land-use plan, master plan, and urban plan. Simply stated, a general plan is "the official statement of a municipal legislative body which sets forth its major policies concerning desirable future physical development..." (Kent, The Urban general plan, 1964). As further elaborated in Planning made easy (Toner, et al., 1994), a general plan is:

Note that in California state law requires that each general plan contain the following seven elements: circulation, conservation, housing, land use, noise, open-space, and safety, as defined in the California Government Code (Title 7, Division 1, Chapter 3, Article 5, Section 65302). Optional elements often adopted include economic development, infrastructure, public services and facilities, and recreation. Both required and optional elements may be published as a single document or as individual items or both. To identify the elements included in the general plan of a specific California jurisdiction, consult The California planner's book of lists, California Office of Planning and Research. For a straightforward introduction to the general plan in California, see A Citizen's guide to planning (California Office of Planning and Research, 2001).


Finding General Plans

General plans are available in various libraries on the UC Berkeley campus. In addition to searching the catalogs and using journal indexes to locate information about general plans, you may wish to browse the Environmental Design Library stacks under these call numbers: HT168 and NA9127, keeping in mind that some titles may be in use. Plans are organized within these call number areas alphabetically by name of jurisdiction. Information on general plans is increasingly available on the Web. Note: For general plans in the Institute of Governmental Studies Library (IGSL) collection search Melvyl catalog. For older pre-1983 materials not listed in Melvyl check the card catalog at IGSL. Also consider an online search via the IGSL's California Local Planning Documents Database.

Using the Catalogs

These subject headings will be useful in finding general plans listed in the OskiCat and Melvyl catalogs. Remember that you may combine terms, e.g., subject berkeley california city planning AND subject housing policy berkeley.

[place name]--City planning
[place name]--Economic conditions
[place name]--Social conditions
Central business districts--
[place name]--Planning
City planning--[place name]
Community development, Urban--
[place name]
County planning--[place name]
Housing development--[place name]
Housing policy--[place name]
Infrastructure (Economics)--[place name]
Land use--[place name]--Planning
Open spaces--[place name]--Planning
Real estate development--[place name]
Recreation--[place name]--Planning
Regional planning--[place name]
Transportation--[place name]--Planning
Urban renewal--[place name]
Waterfronts--[place name]--Planning

The following subject headings are examples of ways to search for specific areas or neighborhoods within a city:

Aquatic Park (Berkeley, Calif.)
Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.)
Embarcadero (San Francisco, Calif.)
Hunters' Point Naval Shipyard
Mission Bay (San Francisco, Calif.)
San Antonio District (Oakland, Calif.)
Telegraph Avenue (Oakland, Calif.)
West Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.)
Yerba Buena Center (San Francisco, Calif.)


Finding Journal & Newspaper Articles

Journal articles can provide supplementary information regarding the political process, community issues, and special interests that surround the creation of a general plan. For listings of California newspapers online see California Newspapers (News Link), organized by place within broad categories (e.g., dailies, business, alternative). These indexes are also available from The Library's home pageFind Information ArticlesArticle Databases A-Z.


Selected General Reference Sources


Selected California Reference Sources

For more general information on California planning see the research guide California Planning online.


Selected San Francisco Bay Area City General Plans

Use abagOnline (Association of Bay Area Governments) to check for more San Francisco Bay Area city websites.

Berkeley - Berkeley Planning & Development Department


Oakland - Oakland Community & Economic Development Agency


San Francisco - San Francisco Planning Department


Selected San Francisco Bay Area General Plans

Use abagOnline (Association of Bay Area Governments) or the California State Association of Counties to check for San Francisco Bay Area county websites. Listed here is a selection of recent general plans from the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties.

County Planning Agencies & Plans


Regional Plans


Special Collections

California Local Plans Collections

The Environmental Design Library collects plans for major California cities and communities within the San Francisco Bay area, as well as plans for other major California and U.S. cities. Between 1948 and 1963 the library also collected general plans across the U.S. and California. These plans are cataloged in the library's catalogs; most titles are available for circulation.

The Institute of Governmental Studies Library (IGSL) maintains the most comprehensive collection of California city and county planning documents on the UC Berkeley campus. Ranging from the 1940s to the present, the collection is fully cataloged and does not circulate. Since 1983 catalog records have appeared in the Melvyl catalog; earlier catalog records are in the Library's card and book catalogs.

The California Local Planning Documents Database is an online index of California general plans owned by IGSL. The database may be accessed at IGSL or via the Web. Current planning documents are the primary focus of the database, which may be searched by jurisdiction or place name, element (i.e., housing, open space), and year adopted. Includes addresses of planning agencies.


"701" Comprehensive Planning Reports

This large and diverse collection of general plans in the Environmental Design Library spans the period from 1954 to 1976 when the U.S. Federal Planning Assistance Program of the Housing Act of 1954 (P.L.83-560), Section 701 of Title 7, susbsidized the preparation of comprehensive plans and required their distribution to 13 U.S. urban planning depository libraries, including the Environmental Design Library. More than 20,000 reports, issued by state and local agencies, were distributed. Almost all the "701" reports--except San Francisco Bay Area plans--are stored in the Northern Regional Library Facility (NRLF) and may be paged on request.

For a history of the "701" federal planning assistance program, see The Foundations of federal planning assistance, by Carl Feiss, IN: Journal of the American Planning Association, v.51:2, spring 1985, pp.174-184. Includes a chronology (1955-1981) of the Program's appropriations and bibliographical references (EnvDesign NA9000 A48 Bound periodicals).


More Special Collection Resources


Campus Libraries

These libraries have significant collections of general plans. Community libraries are also excellent sources of local planning documents.