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Grading Permit

The following information is for homeowners, design professionals, and contractors to help with the preparation and processing of grading within the City of San Diego. The information and references provided serve as guide for the overall requirements associated with Grading requirements. It is the responsibility of the prospective owner/permittee to conduct the research necessary and to consult directly with City staff in the Development Services Department for a specific project. Each project site has unique characteristics that may require certain approval(s) to be obtained prior to moving forward with a construction permit.

Construction changes to an existing Grading Permit, Site Reconnaissance and Testing applications, and As-Graded Soils Reports should also be submitted in this location.


To determine if a Development Permit Approval(s)/Discretionary Approval(s) is/are required, prior to proceeding with applying for a construction permit (i.e.: grading permit, building a fence, patio or deck structure, or removal of any vegetation), it is important to evaluate and verify if the project site is within environmentally sensitive lands (ESL) that contain steep hillsides, sensitive biological resources, coastal beaches, sensitive coastal bluffs, or Special Flood Hazard Areas.  Residences next to canyons are highly likely to have these ESL conditions.

You may apply for a preliminary review to determine if the project site contains environmentally sensitive lands and whether a development approval is required prior to applying for a grading permit. To help determine the feasibility of your development project and the required development permit approvals please see PDF icon Information Bulletin 513 for preliminary review process.  However, a design professional is highly recommended to assist you in identifying if ESL conditions exist for your project site.

Discretionary Permit Approvals:

Prior to proceeding with applying for a Grading Permit, it is important to determine if any Discretionary Approval(s) will be required. Learn more about Discretionary Permits.

Submittal Requirements:

PDF icon Project Submittal Manual - Section 3 Matrix of construction permits for grading and public right-of-way

Extension of Time:

Grading permits are provided with an initial duration of two years, which begins at the time of permit issuance, unless otherwise conditioned in the City Municipal Code. Until the pre-construction meeting has been conducted with the assigned RE, the permit will not be considered as “active/initiated”. Should extenuating circumstances exists which require additional time to complete the approved scope of work, extensions maybe provided. Two extensions, allowable per the City Municipal Code, are considered. Each extension provided are in 6-month (180 days) increments. No additional extensions maybe offered. A nominal processing fee will be applied for each extension request to be paid by the applicant, should the request be approved.

For the Municipal Code stipulation on Extension of Time for a Grading Permit please refer to PDF icon San Diego Municipal Code, Section 129.0651


Clearing: The cutting and removal of existing vegetation without disturbance to the soil or surface, or destruction of the root system.

Environmentally sensitive lands: Land containing steep hillsides, sensitive biological resources, coastal beaches, sensitive costal bluffs, or Special Flood Hazard Areas.

Excavation: The act, process, or result of earthen material or substance being removed, cut into, dug, quarried, uncovered, displaced, or relocated

Existing grade: the grade of a premises that existed before any development occurred or the grade of an existing pad that was approved by a tentative map. See Section 113.0228 for additional information on determining existing grade.

Fill: Any soil, excavated or dredged material, riprap, rock, concrete, construction debris, pilings, sand, or other material or substance that is added to any location on a premise.

Grade: The elevation of the surface of the ground.

Grading: Any earthwork that involves grubbing, excavating, embanking, or filling.

Grubbing: The removal or destruction of vegetation by disturbing the root system or soil surface. Activity that can range from reshaping a hillside for a new subdivision to terracing a backyard slope.

Proposed Grade:  The grade of a premises that will result after all development has been completed.

Steep hillsides: All lands that have a slope with a natural gradient of 25 percent (4 feet of horizontal distance for every 1 foot of vertical distance) or greater and a minimum elevation differential of 50 feet, or a natural gradient of 200 percent (1 foot of horizontal distance for every 2 feet of vertical distance) or greater and a minimum elevation differential of 10 feet.

Please refer to San Diego Municipal Code PDF icon Chapter 11, Article 3, Division 1 (Definitions) for more land development terms.  


A Grading Permit is required for any grading work specified in Chapter 12, Article 9, Division 6 (Grading Permit Procedure). Obtaining a grading permit allows the City of San Diego and other agencies to:

  • Ensure the proposed grading plan complies with applicable Local, State and Federal codes and regulations.
  • To ensure the proposed grading is performed safely and that there are no unexpected impacts on the adjacent property or surrounding environment.

Per the City's Land Development Code, a grading permit is required 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
  • any activity that disturbs soil or vegetation in environmentally sensitive land
  • 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
  • activity that impacts sensitive resources in the coastal zone
  • if the grading is within privately owned open space easements or City-owned open space
  • restoring damage caused by illegal grading
  • grading of any non-environmentally sensitive land of 1 acre or more
  • grading that changes the existing drainage pattern
  • fill with more than 5 percent broken concrete, asphalt, masonry or construction debris
  • fill material with any single piece larger than 12 inches in any direction
  • grading on a property with a historical resource
  • geotechnical investigations, well drilling, or agricultural activity on environmentally sensitive lands or on properties with historical resources
  • grading within a 100-year flood plain. Please visit FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer to determine the Flood Plain category for your project site.


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.

Please refer to PDF icon Chapter 12, Article 9, Division 6 (Grading Permit Procedure)  and Section 3 of the submittal manual for additional information.

Compliance with State MS4 Program "Clean Water":

Without proper safeguards, grading can cause water pollution. When grading is being performed, the owner/permittee is responsible for preventing "dirty water" from running off the project site and entering the City’s storm drain system. 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 a grading permit is issued, the City and/or the State's Regional Water Quality Control Board may impose conditions.

The City of San Diego Transportation & Storm Water Department maintains the policies and guidelines in support of the State Regional Water Quality Control Board Clean Water Program.  For information on these policies and guidelines please visit the Storm Water Division web page.

If the project does not require a permit, preventing sediment and other pollutants from entering the City’s storm drain system is still required.

Please refer to Think Blue for more information.

Fee Schedule: