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Zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Plans and Ordinances page.
Setbacks are required distances between the vertical walls of buildings and property boundaries. Generally, they are described as front, rear and side yard setbacks. Setbacks vary from zero to fifty feet depending on the zoning classification for the property. Typically, the front yard faces the road. However, irregularly shaped parcels or parcels that abut more than one road can have unique setback requirements.
The county’s web Geographic Information System (GIS) displays parcel and zoning boundaries. This system can be used to determine the zoning for a property.
Setbacks and zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Plans and Ordinances page.
Typically, there are more permit requirements in the coastal zone. The additional requirements protect coastal resources such as beaches, public access, dunes and recreational opportunities.
Accessory dwelling units (ADU), formerly known as secondary dwelling units, are permitted in many residential zoning districts. All new accessory dwelling units require a building permit from the Building Inspection Division and may require other permits from the Current Planning Division, Environmental Health division, or Public Works. In general, accessory dwelling units are encouraged in the R-1 and RS-5 Residential Single Family zoning districts.
Tree removal involves numerous considerations including fire safety, neighborhood character, and protection of sensitive resources such as habitat. Removal of trees greater than 12 inches in diameter may require a permit from the Current Planning Division. In general, it is easier to remove trees from a property in the inland areas than in the coastal zone. For example, in residential zones, trees may be removed within 30 feet of a building pad as long as the removal does not impact a sensitive resource. However, if the residence is in the coastal zone, permits are required from the Current Planning Division. Tree removal three acres or larger in size, or in Timber Production Zones, require timber harvest plans and are regulated by the state agency Cal Fire.
Tree removal requirements depend on many factors. Contacting the Planning and Building Department prior to tree removal is recommended.
The best available mapped flood information is provided by Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) which are maintained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county’s web Geographic Information System (GIS) shows parcels and the flood hazard information from these maps. You may also review these maps at the Planning and Building Department.
FIRM maps have four flood hazard zones. In FIRM Flood Zone A, the property is within the mapped 100-year flood plain. This means the property is expected to flood once every 100 years on average. In FIRM Flood Zone B, the property is within the mapped 500-year flood plain. This means the property is expected to flood once every 500 years on average. In FIRM Flood Zone C, the property is within the mapped area of minimal flooding. If the parcel is located in FIRM Flood Zone D, the property is within an area of undetermined, but possible, flood hazards.
For small scale projects such as new roofs or new electrical service, building permits can be issued the same day. These are commonly known as over the counter permits and are issued within thirty minutes or less. For other larger scale projects, building permits usually take two to three months for a typical project, and follow seven basic steps.
1) Application Submittal - At a minimum, a property owner submits a project description and plot plan to the Building Inspection Division for review. Complete construction plans are often submitted but not required at this step.
2) Preliminary Investigation - Building Division staff review the submittal for site suitability and other permit requirements. Application fees are collected at this time.
3) Pre-site Inspection - In coordination with the applicant, a Building Inspector visits the project site to confirm the features shown on the plot plan. The applicant is provided a copy of the pre-site inspection report from the Building Inspector.
4) Referrals - Once the plot plan is complete and construction plan have been received, the application is sent to other reviewing agencies such as the Environmental Health Division and Public Works Department.
5) Construction Plan Review - A Plan Checker reviews the construction plans for conformance with state building codes. This step often involves revisions to the construction plans.
6) Permit Issuance - After the referrals are returned by the reviewing agencies and construction plans have been approved, the permit may be issued to the applicant. Any final plan check and permit issuance fees are collected at this time.
7) Inspections - During construction, Building Inspectors regularly visit the project site to assure conformance with the approved construction plans.
While the county’s web Geographic Information System (GIS) is not a substitute for a complete records check, it does display a significant amount of information on specific parcels. For example, this system can be used to research if a property is in the coastal zone and show which zone classification and land use designation apply.
There are many important considerations for buying a property. The legal status of the parcel, unpermitted structures, environmental and geological development constraints, and the existence of easements or life estates are a few examples of issues that can make property transactions complex. Rigorous due diligence is advised before purchasing any property.
Prospective purchases can use the Information Request service to learn what records the Current Planning Division has for a property. Please see our Brochures and Forms page for more information about the Information Request service.
Typically, if a use is principally permitted in the zoning code, the use does not require a permit from the Current Planning Division. Construction of structures still require a building permit. However, if the project is located in the coastal zone, a discretionary permit from the Current Planning Division is generally required, even if a use is principally permitted.
Uses that are conditionally permitted in the zoning code always require a discretionary permit from the Current Planning Division. Examples of discretionary permits include Coastal Development Permits, Conditional Use Permits and Special Permits.