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Development Services

Grading Permit

This permit is required for any grading, public right-of-way improvement, construction changes to an existing grading or public improvement permit, site reconnaissance and testing and as-graded soils reports. It is the responsibility of the applicant 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.

Plan Your Project

What You Should Know

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 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 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

To apply for a grading permit, you will need to submit grading plans using an approved Construction Plan Template. Depending upon the scope of your project, you may also need the following:

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.

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 of San Diego 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 exist which require additional time to complete the approved scope of work, extensions may be provided. Two extensions, allowable per the City of San Diego Municipal Code, are considered. Each extension provided is in 6-month (180 days) increments. No additional extensions may be 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 San Diego Municipal Code, Section 129.0651.


Information Bulletin 502 - Fee/Deposit Schedule for Grading/Right-of-Way Permits & Mapping Actions 


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 affects the neighboring property. 

Compliant Outdoor Expansion

Apply for a Permit

Step 1

Step 2

Read the PDF icon requirements for PDF file uploads.

Not following the PDF requirements will delay project review and approval.

Step 3

Obtain or Complete the following documents:

Step 4

Your PDF documents MUST meet our upload requirements. See Step 2 for more info.

Validate your PDF documents with Scout™

Step 5

Apply for the permit

You will be required to upload the completed documents from Step 3.

Additional Resources


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 coastal 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 premise 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 the 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. The activity can range from reshaping a hillside for a new subdivision to terracing a backyard slope. 

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

Steep hillsides: All lands that have a slope with a natural gradient of 25% (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% (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 Chapter 11, Article 3, Division 1 (Definitions) for more land development terms.