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Discretionary Permit

As defined in the San Diego Municipal Code, Discretionary Permits and processes are required when developments may impact the surrounding area due to a proposed use, design feature or project location. Before applying for a Discretionary Permit or review, applicants can request a PDF icon Preliminary Review.

Discretionary approvals require a decision-maker to exercise judgment and deliberation, such as granting a Conditional Use Permit to an airport or a Cannabis Outlet. In contrast, ministerial approvals determine that a request complies with a set of codified standards, such as approving a Building Permit for a house. Discretionary approvals are granted at the discretion of a City decision-maker and may require a public hearing.

The City assigns a Development Project Manager (DPM) to guide each discretionary project through the review and decision-making process. The DPM is a single point of contact that facilitates the processing of the project through the City's review process; however, the DPM is not an advocate for the project itself.

Discretionary permits may be required for the proposed use, location and/or project characteristics, and this webpage may not account for every possibility. Therefore, thoroughly research the discretionary permit types and requirements in consultation with staff and/or an industry professional to determine what permits may be required.

Common reasons for discretionary review include PDF icon proposals to modify a previously conforming use, development proposing to PDF icon deviate from zoning requirements, development projects located in PDF icon Environmentally Sensitive Lands, development involving PDF icon historical resources, and PDF icon development located in the Coastal Zone.

A project's zoning may also dictate if discretionary approval is required for a proposed use.  Use tables for City-wide base zones are located in Chapter 13, Zones. Planned District zoning can be found in Chapter 15, Planned Districts.

Important: Once a discretionary approval is granted during a public hearing, a discretionary permit is issued and recorded, and the development project is considered "entitled." Then, the project can enter into the construction phase, which will require ministerially approved permits, including building permits, grading permits, right-of-way permits and final maps.

Discretionary permits may contain conditions that the applicant must fulfill before and during the construction completion and operation of the proposed use. These include the operating hours, the need to install/repair sidewalks and provide traffic signals.


Decision Process

A decision-maker may approve or deny a discretionary permit based on issues raised during review, the written record of project documents, and public testimony. Depending on the type of permit, the decision-maker may be City staff, the Hearing Officer, the Planning Commission or the City Council. If multiple discretionary permits are required for a project, they will be decided together by the highest-level decision-maker.

The San Diego Municipal Code contains written findings that must be made to justify the City's decision on a discretionary permit. Required findings vary by permit type and project circumstances. The most common findings are:

  1. The proposed development will not adversely affect the applicable land use plan.
  2. The proposed development will not be detrimental to public health, safety and welfare.
  3. The proposed development will comply with the regulations of the Land Development Code, including any allowable deviations.

Regardless of the decision process, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of discretionary actions and avoid or mitigate the impacts, if feasible. For information on the environmental review process in the City of San Diego, see Chapter 12, Article 8, Divisions 1-3 of the San Diego Municipal Code.

Please refer to the San Diego Municipal Code for specifics regarding the decision process, noticing requirements and other relevant information.

Compliant Outdoor Expansion

Plan Your Project

What You Should Know

You will be required to select one of the following project types:

Depending upon the project scope, you will be asked to select from the following list of discretionary permit types followed by making a selection from a list of Permit Sub-Types. The permit type combined with the permit sub-type selected will generate the specific requirements for your project.

  • Coastal Development Permit
  • Conditional Use Permit
  • Development Agreement
  • Easement Vacation
  • Emergency Authorization-ESL
  • Emergency Authorization-Hist
  • Land Use Plan
  • Limited Use Permit
  • Local Coastal Program Amendment
  • Map Waiver
  • Neighborhood Development Permit
  • Neighborhood Use Permit
  • Planned Development Permit
  • Public Right of Way Vacation
  • Rezone
  • Site Development Permit
  • Special Permit
  • Street Name Change
  • Substantial Conformance Review
  • Tentative Map
  • Variance
  • Vesting Tentative Map
  • Zone Code Amendment

Submittal Requirements

  • On a site containing a structure of 45 years or more.
  • Designated historic.
  • In a historic district.

Learn more about PDF icon Designated Historical Resource Reviews and PDF icon Potential Historical Resource Reviews.

  • Most historic reviews will be required to submit a photographic survey and a building record from the Offices of the County Assessor, Recorder and Tax Collector. Learn more about requesting the building records.

Quicker Processing Opportunities

The Affordable, Infill Housing and Sustainable Buildings Expedite Program provides expedited discretionary and ministerial permit processing for eligible affordable, in-fill housing and sustainable development permits and building projects. Learn more

Fees

Compliant Outdoor Expansion

Apply for a Permit

Step 2

Prepare:

  1. Your documents and plans listed under Submittal Requirements in the "Plan Your Project" section above.
  2. PDF icon Project Contacts Information (DS-345)

NOTE: Documents must be submitted in PDF format. PDF icon View PDF requirements.

Step 4

Apply for the permit

You will be required to upload all the documents and plans from Step 2 at the time of application.  Submitting without all the requirements will result in delays.

Additional Resources

User Guides

Resources for Specific Discretionary Permits/Processes

Are you submitting a construction change to a Fire Permit that was originally submitted prior to March 1, 2021, or a deferred submittal to a Combination Permit submitted prior to July 19, 2021?