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Frequently Asked Questions about Grading and Storm Water

What is grading?

Grading is the removal or deposition of earth material by artificial means. Earth material is defined as any rock or natural soil or combination thereof. Grading is generally a combination of excavation (cuts) and placement (fill) of soil. Common examples of grading include, but are not limited to, construction of driveways, building pads, site improvements or reservoirs, and restoration/stabilization of hillsides, slopes or stream banks. Grading does not include routine farming practices. (S.C.C. §11.26.020)

What is a grading permit?

A grading permit is authorization by a regulating body to perform grading work. The regulating body in the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County isPermit Sonoma. The process by which a grading permit is issued involves a review of grading permit application contents for compliance with S.C.C.

Who can apply for a grading permit?

A grading permit application may be filed by the property owner or easement holder of the project site (easement holder), an authorized agent of the property owner or easement holder, or any other person with the written consent of the property owner or easement holder. (S.C.C. §11.10.020.C)

Why are grading permits required?

Grading permits are required in order to:

  • Maintain standards for grading activities.
  • Prevent and minimize hazards to life and property.
  • Protect life and property from flooding and drainage hazards.
  • Protect the safety, use, and stability of public rights-of-way and watercourses.
  • Protect against the destruction of archeological and biotic resources.
  • Protect against soil loss and pollution of watercourses.
  • Protect streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands.

When is a grading permit required?

A grading permit is required prior to commencing any grading or related work, including preparatory site clearing and soil disturbance, except where exempted from permit requirements by S.C.C. §11.04.010.A. A grading permit is required when any of the following conditions apply:

  • Cut or fill exceeding 50 cubic yards.
  • Cut or fill greater than 3 feet in depth.
  • Cut creating a cut slope greater than 5 feet in height and steeper than 2 units horizontal to 1 unit vertical.
  • Fill intended to support a structure or surcharge greater than 1 foot in depth or placed on terrain with a natural slope steeper than 15 percent.
  • Fill placed within a Special Flood Hazard Area or the Flood-Prone Urban Area (PDF).

What is required to apply for a grading permit?

The following items must be submitted to Permit Sonoma to apply for a grading permit:

For more information regarding grading permit application submittal requirements, please refer to the Grading Permit Required Application Contents GRD-004 information and the Drainage Report Required Contents DRN-006.

Who can prepare grading plans, drainage reports, or specifications for a grading permit?

It depends on the type of grading designation. Generally, simple grading work is designated as “Regular Grading” while more complex grading work or grading work within specific hazardous locations is designated as “Engineered Grading”. See Table 1 below for specific grading designations and thresholds. Grading plans, drainage reports, and specifications for work designated as Regular Grading may be prepared by the property owner or a licensed professional with a valid license in the State of California acting within the scope of their license. A licensed professional is an architect, civil engineer, landscape architect, professional geologist, or registered professional forester. Grading plans, drainage reports, and specifications for work designated as Engineered Grading must be prepared by a civil engineer with a valid license in the State of California. (S.C.C. §11.04.010.B &§11.26.020)

Table 1: Grading Designations and Thresholds

ParameterRegular Grading ThresholdsEngineered Grading Thresholds
Volume
(cut or fill)
Does not exceed 5,000 cubic yardsExceeds 5,000 cubic yards
CutNo greater than 3 feet in depth and does not create a cut slope greater than 5 feet in heightGreater than 3 feet in depth or creates a cut slope greater than 5 feet in height
FillNo greater than 3 feet in depthGreater than 3 feet in depth
Fill in the Flood-Prone Urban Area (PDF) or any special flood hazard areaDoes not exceed 50 cubic yardsExceeds 50 cubic yards
Natural slope of grading areaNo steeper than 15 percentSteeper than 15 percent
Geologic Hazard Area Combining DistrictGrading area is not in the Geologic Hazard Area Combining DistrictGrading area is wholly or partially in the Geologic Hazard Area Combining District
Geologic hazardsGrading area contains no geologic hazardsGrading area contains geologic hazards

When is a civil engineer required?

A civil engineer is required when grading work is designated as “Engineered Grading”. See Table 1 below for specific grading designations and thresholds. A civil engineer with a valid license in the State of California is required to prepare grading plans, drainage reports, and specifications for work designated as Engineered Grading. (S.C.C. §11.04.010.B &§11.26.020)

When is a soils report required?

A soils report prepared by a soils engineer is required when there is a specific deviation from certain grading standards of S.C.C. A soils engineer is a civil engineer experienced and knowledgeable in the practice of soils engineering such as a geotechnical engineer. (S.C.C. §11.26.020)

Table 1: Grading Designations and Thresholds

ParameterRegular Grading ThresholdsEngineered Grading Thresholds
Volume
(cut or fill)
Does not exceed 5,000 cubic yardsExceeds 5,000 cubic yards
CutNo greater than 3 feet in depth and does not create a cut slope greater than 5 feet in heightGreater than 3 feet in depth or creates a cut slope greater than 5 feet in height
FillNo greater than 3 feet in depthGreater than 3 feet in depth
Fill in the Flood-Prone Urban Area (PDF) or any special flood hazard areaDoes not exceed 50 cubic yardsExceeds 50 cubic yards
Natural slope of grading areaNo steeper than 15 percentSteeper than 15 percent
Geologic Hazard Area Combining DistrictGrading area is not in the Geologic Hazard Area Combining DistrictGrading area is wholly or partially in the Geologic Hazard Area Combining District
Geologic hazardsGrading area contains no geologic hazardsGrading area contains geologic hazards

How much does a grading permit cost?

The cost of a grading permit is generally comprised of plan check fees and permit fees. Plan check fees are assessed when a grading permit application is submitted and represent the cost of Permit Sonoma staff to review the application contents. Permit fees are assessed after plan check is complete and the grading permit is ready to be issued and represent the cost of Permit Sonoma staff to implement the grading permit and perform inspection duties.

Most grading permits generally cost between $2000 and $4000 but the total cost of a grading permit depends on a variety of factors including the quantity of proposed earthwork, the complexity and location of the proposed work, and the quality of the grading plans and drainage reports. For more information regarding grading permit fees, see the current fee schedule or consult a permit technician.

See Grading Fees (PDF: 112 kB)

How is a grading permit issued?

The grading permit process is usually initiated by a property owner or their authorized agent by submitting a complete grading permit application package to Permit Sonoma For more information regarding grading permit application submittal requirements, please refer to the Grading Permit Required Application Contents (GRD-004). Permit Sonoma staff reviews the grading permit application contents for compliance with S.C.C., local regulations, and conditions of approval, if applicable. Revisions and/or clarifications may be requested by Permit Sonoma staff usually through plan check comments. The applicant addresses the plan check comments and resubmits revised documents to Permit Sonoma staff. This is typically an iterative process until all required plans, reports, and specifications meet all applicable regulations and conditions of approval. Fees are assessed based on the current fiscal year fee schedule and depend on the scope and nature of the proposed work.

How long does it take to issue a grading permit?

Grading permits are not issued within any specific established or required time frame. The time required to review and approve grading permit application contents varies and depends on the scope and nature of the proposed work, the manner in which information is presented in the grading plans and specifications, the volume of grading permit applications received by Permit Sonoma, and availability of plan check staff. Each grading permit application is reviewed in order received. Small or simple projects with clear and accurate plans and specifications generally take less time to review and approve. More complex projects or grading permit applications with unclear or inaccurate plans and specifications take more time to review and approve. The goal of plan check staff is to provide the applicant with initial plan check comments within six weeks from the time a complete application is submitted and plan check fees are paid.

The review process is iterative and requires the applicant to respond to comments made by Permit Sonoma staff. The comments made by Permit Sonoma staff are typically requests for more information but may include revisions to the project to comply with S.C.C. Once all comments are adequately addressed, the applicant submits revised grading plans and/or specifications directly to the reviewer. This process continues until the grading plans and specifications comply with S.C.C. and are approved by Permit Sonoma staff. Grading plans should have sufficient detail and clarity to meet county standards and to facilitate plan checking, construction, and inspections.

How can I find out the status of my grading permit application?

Applicants may check the status of their grading permit application online by visiting the Permit Sonoma Online Permitting Tool. Applicants may also visit Permit Sonoma’s Engineering customer service cubicle in person or call at (707) 565-2268 during normal Public Lobby hours.

What happens after a grading permit is issued?

Work approved under an issued grading permit may begin after a pre-construction consultation is conducted. An issued grading permit is valid for a term of three years from the time the grading permit is approved and all outstanding permit fees are paid, unless otherwise determined by Permit Sonoma staff. The grading permit, job card, and approved grading plans must be present and accessible by Permit Sonoma inspection staff at the project site at all times during active work. All grading permits include work that must be inspected and approved by Permit Sonoma inspection staff.

A Grading Permit Required Inspections GRD-008 (PDF: 39 kB) form is attached to the approved grading plans which identifies the type of inspections required to be performed by Permit Sonoma inspection staff and, when applicable, by the project civil engineer and/or soils engineer. The type and amount of required grading inspections varies depending on the scope and nature of proposed work. Once all work approved under an issued grading permit is completed, a final inspection must be conducted in order to final the grading permit. Starting grading work, including preparatory site clearing and soil disturbance, prior to the issuance of a grading permit is a violation of county code and may subject the property owner to penalties and fines.

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