The Grading Permit Process

Definition of Grading
Grading is defined by the Monterey County Grading Ordinance No. 2535 as "Any excavating or filling or combination thereof."

Grading Permit Requirements
In general, a grading permit is required when the total disturbance from a site (volume of cut and fill soil materials on a site; importation or exportation of soil materials) equals or exceeds 100 cubic yards. As a rule of thumb, one cubic yard is equal to 27 cubic feet, which is equivalent to a box measuring 3 feet on each side. An easy method for estimating 100 cubic yards is to imagine a typical master bedroom completely filled with soil materials.

All development on natural or man-made slopes of 30% or more (25% in North County areas) is limited and requires discretionary planning approval, which may involve land use permit reviews prior to grading permit consideration. Check with your assigned planner for more information.

Grading Calculations
Grading is broken down into two types: 1) CUT - soil materials that are removed from an area of land, such as an excavation and 2) FILL - soil materials that are added to an area of land, such as the placement of soil for an embankment or fill slope.
For the purpose of identification and classification, soil materials are any material identified by the  unified soils classification system adopted by the American Society for Testing and Materials.  

Grading calculations are the result of CUT + FILL as measured in cubic yards. This means that when 1 cubic yard of earth is cut, that same 1 cubic yard is used as fill elsewhere on the property or exported from the site

Monterey County views this as 2 cubic yards of earth movement.  This method is referred to as "double counting". This form of measurement takes into consideration the total disturbance of a site from its existing state.

 View "Grading Construction for Single Family Dwelling" handout.

Grading Permit Application
In order to obtain a grading permit; the grading permit application form must be completed.  Contact the Permit Centers for application forms and supplemental documents, including grading handouts related to a grading permit. The specific application required will be determined by the scope of the project.  The applicant will be asked to complete the appropriate applications, submit all required plans, documents and pay applicable fees and bonds.

In most cases, a grading permit application requires six (6) sets of grading and drainage plans which include a site plan in each set.  Supplemental information may include two (2) site specific soils report for habitable structures.  Additional documents may include geological reports, compactions reports, surveys to establish grades, property lines and location of structure, erosion control plans, best management practices (BMPs), maps and diagrams used to produce your calculations to help prevent any delays in processing your grading permit application.

 Once your grading permit application is submitted, it will be forwarded to one or more of the inter-department agencies.  These agencies will verify compliance, if applicable, with the approved planning permit, design approval, and the various codes and ordinances.

Preparation of Grading Plans
Grading plans can be prepared by professional licensed architects, civil, geotechnical, and structural engineers.  Licensed professional are required to wet stamp and sign the first page of the grading plans and provide supporting calculations for their design work.  In some cases, designers (no requirement for state licensing) can prepare regular grading plans.

All grading plans and specifications shall be prepared and signed by a professional licensed engineer when the grading is over 5,000 cubic yards or a drainage structure over five square feet in flow area is required and shall be designated as "engineered grading." "Grading involving less than 5,000 cubic yards shall be designated "regular grading" unless the applicant chooses to have the grading performed as engineered grading, or the Chief Building Official determines that special conditions or unusual hazards exist, in which case grading shall conform to the requirements for engineered grading (Grading Ordinance No. 2535, Chapter 16.08.090).

Building Codes and Local Ordinances
In California, building construction is regulated by the State of California Building Standards Commission.  The most recent codes became effective November 1, 2002.  These codes are revised approximately every 3 years.  They are the Uniform Building Code (Appendix 33 - Excavation & Grading), Uniform Plumbing Code, Uniform Mechanical Code, and National Electric Code, as amended in the California Codes. 

Planning laws are governed by the Monterey County General Plan, Local Coastal Program, Land Use Plan, Coastal Implementation Plans, Area plans and Zoning Ordinances [Title 20 (Coastal) and Title 21 (Non-Coastal)], Grading Ordinance No. 2535 (Title 16), Erosion Control Ordinance No. 2806 (Title 16), and the Monterey County Code.

Grading Permit Holds
As a grading permit application is processed, we often identify items that must be completed before the applicant permit can be issued (e.g., a copy of the current deed if the property has changed hands recently), before you start work (e.g., a final soils report), or before we can final your project (e.g., encroachment approval by the Public Works Department).  These items are called holds.  We record them in our computer tracking system and we give you a list of them.  Please remember that they must be completed before your application or permit can issue.  Contact the Permit Center for any questions on a permit hold.

Grading Permit Issuance
When your grading plans have been approved, you have completed all holds required for issuance, and paid your fees, your permit is issued and you are ready to start grading construction.

You will receive one set of approved drawings, stamped and dated along with an inspection card. The plans and inspection card should be kept at the job site at all times.  A second set of approved drawings, calculations and inspection card will be maintained with the Grading Inspection Division.

See the guide to Grading Inspection for information on requesting inspections during the construction phase of your project.

Grading Permit Validity
Your grading permit is valid for 180 days from the date of issuance.  If you do not begin construction within 180 days or call for an inspection within this period, your permit will expire. 

Each time you pass an inspection, your permit is valid for 180 days from the last inspection date.

If your permit has expired and the period has not exceeded one year, the applicant will need to renew the grading permit prior to the commencement of work and the fee is calculated to be one half the amount required for a new grading permit.  If your permit has expired and the period has exceeded one year, you must re-apply and pay a new full grading permit fee.

In most cases, you can avoid having your grading permit becoming in active or expired.  If your grading permit is nearing a time deadline, and you are not ready for an inspection, please contact a grading inspector.  The inspector can verify that work is in progress and may grant an additional 180 days to your permit inspection record.

Before You Start Grading

In most cases, grading construction projects require professional inspections, grading in-progress reports, soil compaction (fill placement), testing, and a final grading report from a professional licensed engineer verifying that the grading construction was done correctly.  To do this, the engineer must visit the site and inspect certain grading operations and perform soils tests. Therefore, you need to engage a consultant engineer before you start grading construction.  Be sure the engineer knows that the final grading report for the grading construction must verify all of the following:

  • That the grading construction was done according to the approved plans, including the location and extent of grading, and the finish slopes of cuts and fills.
  • That area where fill is placed has been properly prepared (vegetation removed, keying and benching where required).
  • The fill has achieved at least 90% relative compaction throughout its depth.
  • Where a building pad is created, the pad is "suitable for its intended use" (i.e., to support a residential structure). This is particularly important when the building is partly on cut and partly on fill.  The owner or contractor will need to submit a pad certification letter to the building inspector before you can pour your foundation.

Monterey County grading inspectors will inspect the grading construction on called inspections and they will request copies of the engineer's professional reports, letters, tests, and recommendations; insures work follows the approved grading plans, building codes and local ordinances, and assure a safe site development for public safety welfare. 

Grading Construction During The "Winter Season"
The Erosion Control Ordinance No. 2806, Chapter 16.12, defines October 15 to April 15 as the winter season. Grading construction during this time is particularly vulnerable to the weather and can lead to accelerated erosion conditions. Therefore, to grade during that time, you are required to install adequate erosion protective measures (BMPs) to minimize damage to the environment.  

The Chief Building Official may stop grading during periods of inclement weather where weather-generated problems are not being controlled adequately (Grading Ordinance. 2535 111(j), 1979.)

For More Information
For information on grading permit processing contact the Salinas Permit Center at (831) 755-5027.  Questions on required inspections for grading construction projects refer to the section on Grading Inspections and/or contact a Grading Inspector.