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Environmental & Resource Protection
Grading Project Requirements

Your grading project must meet all requirements of the County Code (Chapter 16.20), the General Plan and the most current version of the California Building Code (CBC) as adopted by the County of Santa Cruz.

Grading projects vary considerably throughout the County, as do the properties where grading is proposed. It is impossible to list all of the specific requirements here. You are encouraged to visit the Zoning Counter prior to preparing your grading application to determine whether any special rules or constraints apply to your property. These might include: location in the Coastal Zone, location within a designated scenic area, or the presence of an environmentally sensitive resource such as a stream, riparian area, or habitat for rare or endangered species.

General requirements applicable to most grading permit applications include:

  • All plans must comply with the design standards contained in the Grading Ordinance. These technical standards cover slope angle, fill placement, road standards and related issues. (If your project is for construction of a road, you should contact the responsible Fire Department to determine their road requirements before preparing your grading plans.)
  • The project should be designed to maintain the natural contours of the site and to minimize grading to the greatest extent possible. Projects that propose significant alterations to natural topography, instead of minimizing the amount of earthwork (for example, utilizing retaining walls or grade beam or stepped foundations), may be denied. This issue becomes especially important in visually prominent areas in the Coastal Zone.
  • The project must also conform with the County Erosion Control Ordinance. This ordinance contains standards prohibiting obstruction of natural drainage courses and generally prohibiting the construction of new roads on slopes greater than 30 percent. This ordinance also requires soil erosion to be minimized and controlled at all times, and requires preparation of a specific Erosion Control Plan.
  • Grading activity is generally not approved during the rainy season, October 15th to April 15th. Grading during this period requires specific approval, and is subject to strict limitations. You should plan to conduct your grading operations during the period between April 16th and October 14th.
  • Grading permits to construct a building site or an access road to serve a building site cannot be issued until the building permit for the structure is also issued.