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Types of Planning Permits

We issue a variety of permits that cover different project types.

Learn about our Planning Permits in detail using the Planning Application Guide.

Types of Planning Permits

Planning Permits are unique because some of them allow public input while others don't. This matters because your proposed project may have a public notice. Further, anyone might be able to appeal the decision made on your project. 

Each permit may have other triggers than those listed below. Learn more about each permit in Title 22, Article 4 of our Development Code. Learn more about Coastal Permits in our Local Coastal Program

There are three main categories of Planning Permits.

  • Ministerial Permits
  • Discretionary Permits
  • Permits that require legislative action by the Board of Supervisors.

Ministerial Permits

These permits follow a checklist of standards and don't allow for much personal judgment. If your project checks all the boxes, then you get the permit. These are not appealable and often don't involve public noticing or public hearings. Types of ministerial permits:

  • Accessory Dwelling Unit permits cover secondary units over 800 square feet in size.
  • Sign Permits cover signs that meet our standard sign criteria.
  • Large Family Day-care Permit covers day-cares for 8 to 14 children.
  • Homeless Shelter Permit covers homeless shelters.
  • Certificate of Compliance identify whether a lot is legal.
  • Final Map approval covers parcel map checks.

Discretionary Permits

These are more complex, like Design Reviews. They apply the exercise of judgement or deliberation for a decision. These permits may involve public noticing or public hearings. Anyone can appeal these decisions. Types of discretionary permits and projects that require them include:

  • Coastal Permits cover projects located in the Coastal Zone.
  • Design Review covers projects with more than 3,500 square feet, detached structures located in setbacks and more. 
  • Floating Home Exception covers floating homes that exceed length, width and size standards.
  • Lot Line Adjustments cover the adjustment of line lots between two to four existing adjacent parcels.
  • Sign Reviews covers signs that don’t meet our standard sign criteria.
  • Site Plan Review covers projects in the San Geronimo Valley, all docks, and projects in tidelands.
  • Temporary Use Permits cover certain temporary uses.
  • Tentative Maps cover subdivisions.
  • Use Permits cover uses that aren’t permitted outright by the zoning.
  • Variances cover projects that don’t meet setbacks, height, or floor area ratio standards.

Permits Requiring Legislative Action

These are another type of discretionary permit. They can involve big changes, like when the zoning of a neighborhood gets altered. Only the Board of Supervisors can approve them and often involve important policy discussions. They're not very common but are the most complicated type of project. 

Types of legislative action permits and the projects they cover:

  • Master Plans cover subdivisions in planned zoning districts.
  • Rezonings cover changes to zoning designations.
  • Plan Amendments cover changes to policy documents like Community Plans or the Countywide Plan.


Page updated May 16, 2024