Grading, Clearing and Watercourses Ordinance Amendment

Project Contact: Angelica Truong | | (619) 323-8950

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PUBLIC DISCLOSURE (December 2, 2021 - January 14, 2022)


On May 19, 2021 the Board directed staff to update the Grading, Clearing, and  Watercourses Ordinance (Ordinance) to pursue the ordinance update in two parts:

Part 1: Consolidate the agricultural regulations into a single chapter within the Ordinance while maintaining existing  requirements, to clarify language and add missing definitions, and to separately explore comprehensive agricultural clearing allowances under the North County Plan currently in development and the future East County Plan modeled after the South County Plan.

i.      Timeframe: Up to 16 months, Due back to BOS September 2022

ii.      Cost: No additional costs as $100,000 is available from using the existing budget allocation

Part 2:  The Board also provided direction to amend the Agricultural Clearing and Grading Permit Process to pursue an ordinance update to address agricultural and residential clearing and grading requirements, thresholds, and permit process (agricultural operations and residential development).

i.      Cost: Refer to budget $985,000 in FY 2021-22

ii.      Timeframe: 3 - 4 years, work could begin in FY 21/22: The timeframe will include extensive outreach to the public and stakeholders, drafting amended Ordinance language, CEQA review, preparation of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Report, and returning to the Board for updates and approval.

The Minute Order for the May 19, 2021 Board Hearing is available here: Minute Order



As part of the ‘County’s commitment to addressing the affordable housing crisis in the unincorporated area of San Diego, the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) accepted the Report of Options to Improve Housing Affordability in the Unincorporated Area (Report) on October 10, 2018. As part of this meeting, the BOS took Action 2.2, which directed staff to complete an update through a bifurcated approach separating agricultural clearing permits from the grading for residential housing projects. 

During the October Board hearing, agricultural stakeholders commented that streamlining the process for Agricultural Clearing Permits is needed, resulting in the Board’s direction to focus on agricultural clearing first. Agricultural stakeholders expressed that the current Ordinance is confusing because definitions are unclear, and agricultural clearing regulations are dispersed throughout four chapters of the Ordinance. Furthermore, stakeholders noted that Agricultural Clearing Permits are costly and can take up to two years to receive due to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance and mitigation requirements. Other members of the public and regional, State, and federal agency staff commented that potential impacts to sensitive resources and stormwater best management practices could result from efforts to ease agricultural clearing requirements.

The County of San Diego (County) Grading, Clearing, and Watercourses Ordinance (Ordinance) was initially adopted in 1996 to establish regulations and procedures for permitting earth movement (grading) and removing vegetation (clearing) to ensure public safety by preventing slope failure, foundation failure, expansive soil damage, and erosion and drainage problems. The Ordinance explicitly requires compliance with all applicable federal and State requirements and defines “grading” as any excavating, filling, or a combination of the two. The Ordinance limits grading that impacts sensitive habitat and other biological resources. It defines "clearing" as removing or destroying natural vegetation by any means, including brushing and grubbing. The Ordinance does not define “brushing,” but it essentially is the removal or destruction of vegetative brush, scrubs, and bushes above the root or to include the root, and grubbing is the removal of trees/stumps at the root.

The ‘County’s current Ordinance can be found here


Public Webinars Held

  • Thursday, October 8, 2020 at 11am – 12:30pm
  • Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at 6pm – 7:30pm
  • Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 6pm – 7:30pm

Ordinance Background

  • The Grading Ordinance was initially adopted in 1966.
  • In 2003, the ordinance underwent comprehensive amendments that combined County Code, relating to regulations, permits, and procedures for grading, clearing and watercourses.
    • CEQA analysis for the ordinance adoption was completed through a Mitigated Negative Declaration – because no or limited regulations were changed.
  • Currently, the Ordinance sets regulations for:
    • Land disturbances when grading or clearing, per the definitions within the ordinance, are performed.
    • Any hazardous conditions that may arise when land disturbances related to grading or clearing are performed.
    • Storm damage precautions when land disturbances related to grading or clearing are performed.
    • Maintaining protective devices that are required per the approved grading plans.
    • Protecting utilities and adjacent properties during grading and clearing activities.
    • Surface mining operations.
    • Protecting sensitive species when performing grading or clearing activities.