Grading Plan Application User Guide


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  • WHAT IS A GRADING PERMIT?

    A Grading Permit is a type of permit that is required for the movement of earth material, including excavating, filling, or any combination thereof.  The San Diego County Grading Ordinance contains design criteria that grading permit applications must comply with, including regulations for slope design, setbacks, drainage, erosion prevention, and planting requirements.  Grading permits require review for conformance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to determine if the project will impact the environment.  Typical topics reviewed for CEQA include biological resources, cultural resources, noise, and traffic.   

    There are several types of grading permits, which are summarized below.  Depending upon the type of grading permit required, our Land Development or Building Services Division will review and process the application.  Major grading permits require that bonds/securities and agreements be submitted to the County prior to approval. 

    PDS is committed to helping customers navigate the grading permit process and ensuring customer satisfaction. When issues arise, applicants can request a Project Issue Resolution (PIR) Conference at any time in the process to discuss issues with Executive Management and County project staff.

  • WHEN DO YOU NEED A GRADING PERMIT?

    The San Diego County Grading Ordinance contains criteria on what types of activities require a grading permit.  A summary of the most common of these scenarios is listed below:

    • When quantities of excavation or fill result in the movement of material exceeding 200 cubic yards.
    • When an excavation or fill is greater than eight feet in vertical height.
    • When grading activities alter the surface of the land within a watercourse, affects the flow or capacity of a watercourse, affects any stormwater structure within a watercourse, or place fill or encroachments within a mapped floodway.

    In some circumstances, our Grading Ordinance exempts specific work from requiring a grading permit (Section 87.202).  Work that is exempt from a grading permit must still comply with the requirements of grading ordinance, including requirements related to the maximum slope, required setbacks, erosion prevention, and planting requirements.

    The following is a summary of activities that are exempt from requiring a grading permit:

    • An excavation below finished grade for basements and footings of a building, retaining wall, swimming pool, septic tank, leaching system, or other structure authorized by a valid building permit.
    • Refuse disposal areas or sanitary fills operated and conducted in accordance with a use permit.
    • Emergency grading to prevent immediately threatened injury to persons or property. This grading must be authorized in advance in writing by the County.
    • Grading or reclamation work according to a use permit or reclamation plan approved for a surface mining operation.
    • Routine road maintenance activities, such as smoothing, texturing, and filling of small rills and potholes, provided they do not involve landform changes and are conducted entirely within the existing disturbed footprint of an existing road.
    • Under Ordinance 87.202e exemption. (e) Grading incidental to the construction or installation of facilities by a public entity or utility.  Public entity includes the State of California, the Regents of the University of California, the Trustees of the California State University and the California State University, a county, city, district, public authority, public agency, and any other political subdivision or public corporation in the State.

    To determine if your project requires a Grading Permit or qualifies for one of the exemptions listed above, or you would like an Initial Consultation, please contact our Land Development Counter at (858) 694-2055. 

  • WHAT TYPES OF GRADING PERMITS?

    There are several different types of grading permits, as summarized below.  Each type of application has different submittal requirements, as explained in the second part of this guide.  PDS staff is available to assist you in determining the correct application for your project.  To find out more information or determine which process is correct for your project, please call or visit the Land Development Counter.  

    1.    Agricultural Grading (Minor and Major) – A project may qualify for an agricultural grading permit if the graded area is to be used exclusively for agricultural production and meets the requirements within Section 87.205 of the Grading Ordinance.

    2.     Minor Grading – Minor grading must comply with Section 87.206 of the grading ordinance.  There are two different processing scenarios for minor grading permits:

    • Minor Grading permit issued by the PDS Building Services Division: Minor grading permits are processed by the Building Services Division when the application is processed with a plan check for a single-family dwelling or accessory structure.  In summary, the grading cannot exceed 2,500 cubic yards or require more than 200 cubic yards of import of export.  It must be on a single lot or within an access easement serving the lot, cannot affect any surface water body, cannot require the construction of any new drainage structures or facilities, and cannot have a cut or fill bank over 20 feet.

    There are currently 2 minor grading self-certification program, please click on the links below to access the program documents and application for each of the following:

    Self-Certification Minor Residential Grading

    Self-Certification Minor Residential Grading (no house),

    • Minor Grading permit issued by PDS Land Development – Minor grading permits processed through our Land Development Division have the same requirements listed above for those processed by our Building Services Division.  Grading quantities for these types of grading permits cannot exceed 5,000 cubic yards, and cut or fill banks cannot exceed 25 feet.

    3.     Major Grading – If the proposed grading does not qualify for a minor grading permit or agricultural grading permit and is not eligible for an exemption, a major grading permit is required and must comply with the requirements of Section 87.208 of the Grading Ordinance. This permit requires a public notice, which County staff will distribute to the area surrounding the project site.

    4.     Temporary Stockpile – Applications to temporarily store material on a lot must obtain a temporary stockpile permit.  These applications must comply with Section 87.218 of the grading ordinance.  Among other requirements, applications for temporary stockpiles cannot exceed 7,000 cubic yards, must cover an area less than one acre, and must be on a single lot.  Also, they cannot be on or affect any surface water body or divert existing drainage, cannot have a fill bank in excess of six feet, and cannot exceed 18 months.

  • CONSISTENCY WITH POLICIES AND REQUIREMENTS

    Before a grading permit can be approved, it must be reviewed and found in conformance with several requirements.  The following list contains the most typical ordinances and laws grading permits will be reviewed with during the permit process: 

    • Watershed Protection Ordinance (WPO) – through implementation of California Regional Water Quality Control Board Order No. R9-2013-0001, referred to as the MS4 Permit, the WPO requires a Storm Water Quality Management Plan (SWQMP) for all projects that require a development permit.   There are two project types for SWQMPs, standard (simple) and priority development (a complex technical study).  Please refer to the County of San Diego BMP Design Manual for more information.  The Storm Water Intake form in Appendix A of the BMP Design Manual can be used to determine which type of SWQMP will be required.
    • Grading Ordinance – Grading permit applications must comply with the San Diego County Grading Ordinance.   Among other requirements, landscape and irrigation plans are required for all cut or fill slopes greater than 3’ in height. 
    • CEQA – Prior to approval, the project will be reviewed with and must be found to comply with CEQA and the appropriate environmental document must be prepared.  In some circumstances, mitigation measures may be required to address impacts.         Biological Mitigation Ordinance (BMO) –All grading plans will be reviewed for conformance with the BMO.  The BMO contains requirements that determine when mitigation is required for impacts to vegetation. The BMO also contains several exemptions, that may apply to single family residences.  A link to the BMO is provided below. 
    • Discretionary Project Approvals (i.e. Tentative Maps, Major Use Permits) – Grading permits related to discretionary permit approvals are required to be consistent with the approved plans and satisfy the conditions before a permit can be issued. 
    • Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance – If an application is determined to potentially impact a floodplain or floodway, it will be routed to the Department of Public Works Flood Control Division for review.  In some circumstances, a Certified Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR) may be required for grading within FEMA and County flood plains and floodways.
  • APPLICABLE ORDINANCES

    In addition to the grading ordinance, there are several other ordinances that a proposed grading permit may need to comply with.  Below is a list and link to some of the common ordinances that apply to grading permits:

    In addition to the Ordinances listed above, grading permit applications must conform with adopted County design manuals and standards.  The most common design manuals and standards are listed below:

     
  • OTHER JURISDICTIONS & DEPARTMENTS

    During the review process, PDS will route the proposal to various departments, depending upon the proposed project and potential impacts. A determination will be made by PDS on which Departments and jurisdictions will need to review the project during the first review.  Depending upon the specifics of the project, outside agency approval can also be required. Some examples of other departments and jurisdictions that may be involved in the permit process include:

    Internal:

     

    • The Department of Public Works: Private Development Construction Inspection, Flood Control, Field Operations, Materials Lab, Special Districts for Private Road Districts (PRD), Wastewater Engineering, Traffic Engineering, Watershed Protection, and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Divisions. 
    • Department of Environmental Health and Quality
    • Department of Parks and Recreation

     

    External:

    • Regional Water Quality Control Board
    • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
    • State Water Resources Control Board
    • Local Fire District
    • CalTrans
    • United States Fish and Wildlife Service

     

  • APPROXIMATE COST AND TIMELINE

    PDS strives to process all permits efficiently to keep costs down and to work with the community and applicants to resolve issues. The cost and timeline for processing a Grading Permit may vary based on technical studies and the complexity of the review.

    The timelines for permit issuance can vary based on the number of iteration reviews, as well as various factors, such as the resubmittal times of applicants, and the overall complexity of the project review.

    Our Final Engineering Permit Review and Cost Guide provides an estimate of the total costs required for the County to process a permit based on the scope of the specific project review. Applicants can also submit for an optional initial consultation meeting to obtain more detailed cost, scope, and time estimates.

How Do I Submit a Grading Permit


To identify what type of permit is required for your project, visit our Building Services Land Development Counter at 5510 Overland Ave, San Diego, CA 92123, call us at (858) 694-2055 or visit our website.


This step is Optional:

Submit a request for an Initial Consultation meeting. This process is available to and recommended for applicants wanting input on requirements, design, and cost and time estimates before submittal.          


Complete all required forms, plans, documents, and studies as  required by the grading plan application checklist. 


Identify the required fee/deposit required for the application.


Make an appointment to submit the complete application and initial deposit in-person at the Land Development counter, or submit the complete application by email to the LD Permit Counter.  Complete all required forms, plans, documents, and studies as required by the grading plan application checklist. 


A PDS Land Development Engineer will be assigned to the project and will contact you once the review is complete.


Submittal Requirement's Introduction

The tables below indicate the forms and deposits that must be submitted for each type of grading permit application.  Please review this information and complete and submit the submittal checklist and required documents listed below.

For in-person submittals, please make a submittal appointment through our website . Please bring the completed checklist, all completed forms and application materials, and a check for the correct amount Land Development Counter located at 5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 110 (First Floor).  Appointments are available Monday – Friday at 9:00 a.m. or 10:0 a.m. (Except County Holidays).

PDS is happy to assist you with any questions you may have on this process. Please call our Land Development Counter at (858) 694-2055 or email ldpermitcounter@sdcounty.ca.gov with any questions.

Part 1: Forms

This table indicates the required forms that must be submitted for each Grading plan application type. 

Application Type

Application 
PDS-811

Stormwater Documents

Public Notification Package

PDS-820

PDS-646

PDS-620

PDS-252

PDS-827

PDS-828

PDS-829

Agricultural Grading

x

x

 

x

 

x

x

x

x

 

Minor Grading*

x

x

 

x

  x x

 

 

 

Major Grading

x

x

x

x

x

x x

  

 

 

Stockpile

x

x

x

x

 

x x

 

 

x

* All grading processed through the Building Division will need to complete that application and for Self-Certification see that site for requirements (here)

Additional documents and studies may be requested after the first review of the application. A project manager will be assigned to your application and will contact you early in the process to discuss additional studies or documents that may be required.  

Part 2: Fee and Deposit Schedule

Application Type

 

Fee/Deposit

Agricultural Minor Grading

$5,111

Deposit

Agricultural Major Grading

$9,145

Deposit

Building Major Grading*

Plan Check $967 /Permit $720

Fee

Minor Residential Grading Self-Certification*

Plan Check $440 /Permit $699

Fee

Minor Grading

$5,111

Deposit

Major Grading

$9,145

Deposit

Stockpile Permit

$5,111

Deposit

  • Any Project that is on Septic will pay a Flat fee of $482 for the Department of Environmental Health and Quality (DEHQ) review.
  • If the project is being submitted to address a Code Compliance case, the applicant must pay an additional $600 deposit in addition to the deposits and fees listed above and the owner/applicant must obtain the required stamps from their Code Compliance Officer prior to submittal.
  • Deposit accounts are charged based on the time staff spends reviewing the project.  Depending upon the staff time needed to review the project, an additional deposit may be required.
  • Fees are one-time only payments to cover staff review of the application.   
  • For all grading processed through the Building Division, the above fees are for reference only. For all fees associated with this permit please contact the Building Division Hotline (858) 565-5920.

Part 3: Grading Permit Submittal Checklist

For an application to be accepted, the forms and documents listed in part one (forms) must be submitted along with the required deposit or fee listed in part 2 (fee and deposit schedule).  Please place a checkmark by each form being submitted and bring this page with you when you submit your application.  

    Type of application being submitted: _______________            

  • Land Development Application (PDS-811)
  • Fee/Deposit: ________________
  • Application Deposit Acknowledgement and Agreement (PDS-126)
  • Grading plan
  • Grading Plan Pre-Screen Submittal Checklist (PDS-820)
  • USB Drive Containing PDF of each document listed in this checklist (PDS-839)
  • Stormwater Intake form and stormwater  document (Standard or PDP SWQMP): Intake form and Standard Project SWQMP  or PDP SWQMP
  • Public Notification Package, (Required for major grading with no previously approved discretionary action)
  • Conditions of Approval, if applicable
  • Right of Entry/Hold Harmless (PDS-620)
  • Gnatcatcher (PDS-252)
  • SFD Environmental Review Questionnaire  (PDS-646)
  • Agricultural Environmental Review Questionnaire (Submit with Agricultural grading only) (PDS-827)
  • Agricultural Grading Statement (Submit with Agricultural grading only) (PDS-828)
  • Proof of Legally Disturbed Area (Submit with Stockpile grading only)
  • Stockpile Certification (Submit with Stockpile grading only) (PDS-829)
  • Transmittal letter from EOW listing all items being submitted
  • Drainage Study (2 copies)
  • Copies of Hydrology and Hydraulic Calculations (2 copies)
  • Copies of Grading Plan Cost Estimate
  • Soils Report less than 3 years old and applicable to the project (2 copies)
  • Copies of TM/Final Map/Parcel Map (if applicable) (2 copies)
  • Copies of Resolution of Approval or Notice of Decision within project conditions (2 copies)
  • Preliminary Title Report, less than 3 months old (2 copies)