The state’s Planning and Zoning Law requires that each county establish a Planning Agency to carry out specified planning functions. The agency functions may be delegated to a department, one or more planning commissions, administrative bodies or hearing officers, the legislative body itself, or any combination thereof. Recognizing the diversity among county planning operations, “Planning Agency” is a generic term that applies to whichever body performs the designated planning functions.
Counties have established Planning Commissions consisting of five members who are appointed by the Board of Supervisors. These commissions report directly to the Board and make recommendations regarding important land use decisions. The legislative body (i.e., Board of Supervisors) retains the ultimate authority on all land use decisions. The Planning Department of a county provides staff support to both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, advising them on important issues facing them in relation to land use decisions.
The Planning Agency must prepare, periodically review, and revise the county general plan. Implementation of the plan occurs through zoning and subdivision ordinances and specific plans, as well as annual review of capital improvement programs for consistency with the general plan. The Planning Department must also promote public coordination of the plan with public agencies. Another important role is consulting and advising with public officials and agencies, utilities, civic groups, educational and professional organizations, and citizens concerning implementation of the general plan.
Planning departments serve a very important purpose in reviewing applications for proposed development. Staff must advise elected officials of various implications of such development including whether the proposed project is consistent with the applicable general plan or an amendment must be sought. Further, Planning Agencies must follow the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as an integral part of the planning process. This act requires that potential impacts of government agencies’ actions, including approval of private sector projects, be disclosed, comprehended, and mitigated by the agency before they act.
Planning Agencies often perform other functions, including conducting studies and preparing plans for the county. Some counties combine other governmental functions with the planning agency: public works, building departments, redevelopment agencies, code enforcement, transportation planning, parks, economic development, LAFCO, COG, and solid waste management authority.