“A society grows great when old people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. (Greek Proverb)

The update to the Planning Commissioner Handbook is intended to help planning commissioners understand the planning process and terms and provide a window into planning challenges on the horizon. As a planning commissioner it may take years to see the results of your work. The burden of a commissioner is heavy, the learning curve is steep, and the praise is fleeting. Meetings can be long, and seldom do you get credit for the time you spend mastering your volunteer position. Even so, your decisions are vital to your community. 

The handbook describes the major plans and policies that comprise the framework of local planning, as well as typical players in the process and the basics of reviewing applications for development. While considered a reference, the handbook is only one place to look for information and you may find that talking with other commissioners will fill in gaps in knowledge. Of course, when in doubt, ask your staff.

The intersection of property rights and regulations is seldom pleasant and meetings where this happens can be loud, accusatory, and difficult. People are rightfully passionate about where they live and meetings where passions overwhelm manners are where your knowledge and commitment to a better future are the most valuable. We hope that this handbook helps you prepare for those meetings. 

By serving as a commissioner, you are the guardian of the personality and vitality of your community. To do this you must digest enormous amounts of information, negotiate delicate situations, and make informed recommendations, all while staying above the emotions that sometimes envelope development projects. We know that this is no easy task. 

Few voluntary, non-elected appointments have the kind of authority granted to a planning commissioner. Fewer still will affect the future of a community to such a great extent. While it may occasionally feel like a thankless job, please know that we at the Institute for Local Government applaud your service. Your staff appreciate every effort you take to understand the process and enjoy helping you with this. 

Thank you for working together to plant trees.


Thank you to our working group

Veronica ​Beaty, CalRural Housing

Ma’Ayn Johnson, Southern California Association of Governments

Amy Bodek, Los Angeles County

Trevor Keith, San Luis Obispo County
Helen Campbell, Office of Planning and Research Julia Lave Johnston, CalCOG & American Planning Association
Sonrisa Cooper, Greenlining Institute Paul McDougall, Department of Housing and Community Development
Erik DeKok, Office of Planning and Research Sohab Mehmood, Department of Housing and Community Development
Bryan Dopp, City of Rancho Cucamonga Chelsey Payne, Ascent Environmental
David Early, PlaceWorks Isaac Rosen, Best Best & Krieger LLP
Steven Flower, Richards Watson & Gershon Michael Sigala, Sigala Inc.
Jennifer Gastelum, PlaceWorks Mark Teague, PlaceWorks
Supervisor John Hidahl, El Dorado County Kathy Weremiuk, City of Palm Springs
Bill Higgins, CalCOG  

Thank you to our funders and partners