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Grading

Q & As

Why do I need a grading permit?

Obtaining a grading permit allows the City of San Diego and other agencies to ensure your grading plan complies with the codes, that it is performed safely and that there are no unexpected impacts on the adjacent property or surrounding environment.

When do I need a grading permit?

Per the City's Land Development Code, a permit is needed:

  • for homeowners who live on a canyon, and wish to modify the slope.
  • if grading is being performed as a condition of a development permit.
  • for any activity that disturbs soil or vegetation in environmentally sensitive land.
  • for excavation of a hillside with a 25 percent or greater slope, or involves excavation or fill that results in a slope grade of 25 percent or more (4 feet horizontal, 1 foot vertical), and more than 5 feet in depth or height.
  • for activity that impacts sensitive resources in the coastal zone (see map C-720).
  • if the grading is within privately owned open space easements or City-owned open space.
  • for restoring damage caused by illegal grading.
  • for grading of any non-environmentally sensitive land of 1 acre or more.
  • for grading that changes the existing drainage pattern.
  • for fill with more than 5 percent broken concrete, asphalt, masonry or construction debris.
  • for fill material with any single piece larger than 12 inches in any direction.
  • for grading on a property with a historical resource.
  • for geotechnical investigations, well drilling, or agricultural activity on environmentally sensitive lands or on properties with historical resources.
  • for grading within a 100-year flood plain.

When don't I need a grading permit?

Exemptions per the Land Development Code include:

  • excavation (not fill) under the footprint of a building, retaining wall, or swimming pool, if construction is authorized by a valid building permit and the excavated material is discarded in a legal disposal site.
  • gravel pits, mines and other operations covered by Conditional Use Permits.
  • grave excavation in permitted cemeteries.
  • dirt disposal areas licensed by the City of San Diego, provided the dirt dumped does not interfere with drainage, or increase the stress or otherwise affect neighboring property.

Who should I contact to determine if I need a grading permit?

Make an appointment with the Development Services Department at 1222 First Ave. in downtown San Diego, by calling (619) 446-5300.

How do I get a grading permit?

You need to hire a civil engineer to prepare a grading plan (that includes research of the restrictions on your property), and to assist in completing the permit application. Professional engineers can be found in the Yellow Pages and professional directories. You may also request a Preliminary Review with City staff. This service (for a fee) will provide you and your consultants with information on the regulations with which your project must comply. For more information on this review process, see Information Bulletin 513, available on the internet at www.sandiego.gov/development-services.

Is environmental review required for my project?

You will need an environmental review if you are grading within environmentally sensitive areas including canyons, mesas, slopes, flood plains, coastal zones and hilltops, or within proximity to historical resources such as archeological sites. Most environmentally sensitive areas have been surveyed and identified.

The City may request that you hire a consultant to analyze the property. Contact the City to determine requirements. Make an appointment by calling (619) 446-5300.

What rules apply to homeowners that live adjacent to canyons?

You are not exempt from the City’s grading requirements just because you own the slope or a portion of the slope. Before you build a fence, patio or deck structure, or remove any plants, please check with the Development Services Department to determine if your property is environmentally sensitive.

What if I don't get a required permit?

You will be subject to serious code enforcement actions. Excavation, grading, clearing or grubbing without a permit is a major violation of the San Diego Municipal Code. You could be fined up to $250,000, and/or prosecuted by the City Attorney’s Office. In addition, the City may issue a stop-work action on the project, withhold issuance of current and future development permits and require restoration of the site. Additional fines, penalties and mitigation may also be imposed by state and federal agencies.

Can grading cause water pollution?

Yes, without proper safeguards it can. When you grade, you are responsible for preventing "dirty water" from running off your property. Dirty water includes that which contains sediment, soils and chemicals. Sediment from grading cannot be allowed to wash from the site into the city's storm drain system or any nearby body of water. When your grading permit is issued, the City or the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board may impose conditions. If your project doesn't require a permit, you must still prevent sediment and other pollutants from entering the city storm drain system. Keep your dirt on site.

How do I find out if grading in my community is being performed legally?

For large-scale grading projects, call the Engineering and Capital Projects Field Engineering Division at (858) 627-3200. For residential projects, call the Development Services Department at (619) 446-5000. Staff can check to see if there's a valid permit. If there is not a valid permit, call the Code Enforcement Division at (619) 236-5500.