Frequently Asked Questions

The Top Ten
(the 10 most common questions asked of Planning & Building Services counter staff)

  1. What can I do with my property?
  2. How can I determine the zoning for a particular parcel?
  3. Will I need a permit?
  4. How do I apply for a permit?
  5. What is the application fee for a permit?
  6. How long does it take to obtain a permit?
  7. What happens after I apply for a permit?
  8. How can I check the status of a permit application?
  9. Will my project require an Environmental Impact Report or other environmental review?
  10. What is my neighbor doing on their property?

Other General Questions

Planning Questions

Building Questions

Answers

What can I do with my property?

The use of land in unincorporated Monterey County is primarily determined by the regulations contained in the Monterey County Zoning ordinances and the policies in the General Plan. Factors such as the availability of water, septic feasibility, slope and impacts to environmentally sensitive habitats also play a role in determining how property can be used. The Uniform Building Code contains regulations to ensure that structures are structurally sound and safe for human habitation.

The first step in determining how your property can be used is to find out the zoning designation on the property, either by contacting RMA-Planning staff (755-5025) or by looking up the zoning using the Accela Citizen Access (ACA) online database.  You can look up the zoning using the street address, Assessor's parcel number, or project file number.  Additional information may be available on the County's GIS Mapping website.

The zoning ordinances contain a list of uses that are either allowed or conditionally allowed for each designation and overlay district.  Title 20 regulates development for property in the coastal zone and Title 21 regulates development for non-coastal or inland areas.  Because of the wide variety of factors that are involved in determining how a property can be used, it is important to contact RMA-Planning staff before committing any resources to the development of a  project.  This can be done by phone or in person at the front counter. 

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How can I determine the zoning designation for a particular parcel?

The zoning designation can be identified by contacting RMA-Planning staff or by looking up the zoning using the ACA online database. The zoning can be found by using the street address, Assessor's parcel number, or project file number. Zoning on a parcel generally consists of the main designation and overlay districts. For example, a property zoned MDR/B-8-D (CZ) has a base zoning designation of Medium Density Residential (MDR) with Building Site (B) and Design (D) overlay districts in the coastal zone (CZ).

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Will I need a permit?

Constructing almost any structure will require a construction permit. Some uses and structures also require planning (discretionary) permits based on Zoning Ordinance requirements, even if a construction permit is not required. Contact RMA-Building Services or RMA-Planning staff by phone or in person before starting construction to determine if permits are required.

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How do I apply for a permit?

The first step in applying for a Planning permit is to complete the Application Request Form and the attached Scope of Work Statement. If you're sure that you only need a construction or grading permit, you can skip the Planning Application Request Form and submit an application at RMA-Building Services in Salinas.

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What is the application fee for a permit?

Planning permit fees are based on the permit type. A discount of 15% is applied to projects where more than one permit is required. Building permit fees are based on a flat fee or are based on the value of construction.

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How long does it take to obtain a permit?

The time to obtain a permit varies widely depending on the type of permit. Some types of construction permits and design approvals can be issued over-the-counter on the same day or within a very few days, while a complex discretionary permit or subdivision application may take many months to process. A Development Review Committee reviews more complex discretionary permit applications prior to submittal of the formal application. This process helps applicants identify issues early in the process.

In addition, many types of discretionary permit applications are referred for review to other agencies outside of RMA-Planning. These agencies may require conditions on the permit or may even require additional permits that can substantially add to the time that it takes to complete your project. Contact RMA-Planning and RMA-Building Services staff for an estimate of how long your particular Planning or construction permit might take to process.

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What happens after I apply for a permit?

This depends on the type of permit. Review the Planning Permit process flowchart or contact RMA-Building Services or RMA-Planning staff by phone or in person.

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How can I check the status of a permit application?

The status of a construction permit or discretionary permit application can be viewed online using Accela Citizen Access (ACA) online database. The status can be found by using the street address, Assessor's parcel number, or project file number.

A list of current construction applications and construction permits issued within the last 40 days can be viewed through ACA by clicking on the Building tab and viewing the Permit Reports at the top of the page. If you would like more information on a specific construction permit application, please call 755-5027.

A list of active Planning and Minor applications and their current status can be viewed through ACA by clicking on the Planning tab and viewing the Planning Reports at the top of the page. If you would like more information on a specific Planning application, please call 755-5025 or call or e-mail the assigned planner.

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Will my project require an Environmental Impact Report or other environmental review?

All applications will be reviewed for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Based on that review, projects will fall into one of 3 categories:

Categorically Exempt:  The proposed development activity is exempt from CEQA;

Negative Declaration/Mitigated Negative Declaration: The proposed development activity will have no significant impacts or has potentially significant impacts that can be mitigated to a less-than-significant level by modifying the project and/or attaching conditions of approval to the project.

Environmental Impact Report: The proposed project has potentially significant environmental impacts that must be fully examined by the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). 

Detailed information on CEQA can be obtained from the California Office of Planning Research website.

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What is my neighbor doing on their property?

There are several steps you can take if you are curious about development that is proposed or permitted for a parcel. First, check the ACA online database of active Planning and Minor applications or current construction applications and issued construction permits and their current status in your area (see #8 above).  If a Planning application is currently under consideration or a construction permit has been applied for or issued within the last 40 days, it will show up on this list.  You may also contact us for information about applications that have not been formally submitted.  Please provide the Assessor's Parcel Number (APN) or specific street address of the parcel you are interested in.  You are welcome to visit our office to review the file for the project; however, you are urged to call ahead of time so we can be sure the file is available by the time you arrive.

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Other General Questions

Where are the RMA-Planning & RMA-Building Services offices located?

The RMA-Planning and RMA-Building Services offices are located on the second floor of the Monterey County Government Center at 168 W. Alisal in Salinas. For phone numbers, Permit Center hours, and directions to our offices, please see the RMA-Planning and RMA-Building Services websites.

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What are the differences between a planning permit and a building permit?

The purpose of a building permit is to ensure that new structures are structurally sound and safe for human habitation. Building permits are ministerial in nature, meaning that so long as the proposal complies with the Building Code a permit will be issued.

Planning permits generally address the use of the property as well as the physical location and appearance of structures.  Planning permits are discretionary in nature meaning that there is no guarantee that the permit will be approved. Planning permits can be approved, approved with conditions, or denied.

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How can I obtain information on development activity (permits in process, permits approved, historical information, etc.) in Monterey County?

A list of Planning applications approved since January 1, 1999 can be viewed on this website. The permit history of a parcel can be viewed online using Accela Citizen Access (ACA) online database. The permit history can be found by clicking on the Planning or Building tab and searching applications by using the street address, Assessor's parcel number, or project file number.

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Planning Questions

How can I obtain copies of the Zoning Ordinances, General Plan or any other publications published by the Planning Department?

Title 20 (Coastal Zoning Ordinance), Title 21 (Inland Zoning Ordinance), and the 2010 General Plan, as well as other planning documents and ordinances, are available online.  Paper copies of these and other documents may be available in limited quantities at our office. Please call 755-5025 for availability and pricing.

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Where can I view agendas for the Planning Commission, Zoning Administrator, and/or Subdivision Committee?

Planning Commission, Zoning Administrator, and Administrative Permit agendas can be viewed on our Public Hearings webpage. Agendas are normally published seven days prior to the hearing date.

Projects scheduled for hearing can be viewed through ACA by clicking on the Planning tab and viewing the Planning Report "Projects Scheduled for Hearing" at the top of the page.

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Is it true that I can't build a new house or remodel because of lack of water?

In general, there is currently no new water available for unincorporated parcels that are located within the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) boundaries and are served by the California-American Water Company (Cal-Am).  Certain existing subdivisions within this area may have limited water allocations available.  RMA-Planning does not accept applications for projects that do not have an assured source of water. This includes applications for new houses and commercial uses, and remodels that will use additional water.

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If I cannot obtain a Cal-Am connection, can I drill a well to provide water for my project?

Contact Environmental Health (831-755-4505) and the MPWMD (658-5601) for information on drilling wells in the Cal-Am area.

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Building Questions

May I request what time of day I'd like the Building inspection to occur, such as morning or afternoon?

At this time we cannot take specific requests for morning or afternoon inspections.  You are more than welcome to call us between 8:00AM and 8:15AM on the day of your inspection, and we will provide you with an estimated time of arrival (ETA).

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Is a building permit required to re-roof a structure in Monterey County?

Yes, reroof permits can normally be issued over-the-counter at the Planning & Building Services office and by Fax.

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Is a building permit required to construct a fence?

Permits are not required for concrete and masonry fences no more than 6 feet high, wood, vinyl and metal fences no more than 8 feet high and open metal fences no more than 10 feet high. However, zoning regulations may require you to obtain a planning permit. Contact the Planning Department at the permit Center to determine if a planning permit is required.

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How large can a storage shed be before a building permit is required?

  1. A building permit is not required for a one-story detached structures accessory to detached one and two family dwellings used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 240 square feet and the structure does not contain any electrical, plumbing or mechanical work and is not used to store hazardous material or vehicles.

  2. One-story detached structures accessory to detached a commercial building used as tool and storage sheds and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet and the structure does not contain any electrical, plumbing or mechanical work and is not used to store hazardous material or vehicles.

However, you should consult with a Department planner to determine setback requirements and design review requirements. A structure larger than 240 feet or one of any size that contains utilities requires a building permit.

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Is a building permit required for a retaining wall?

A building permit is required for a retaining wall if the wall is 4 feet or greater in height or for a retaining wall of any height if the wall supports a surcharge.

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Can a new single-family dwelling be occupied prior to the final building permit inspection?

"Occupancy" of a new single-family dwelling can be granted if there are no outstanding health and safety issues and provided that the Fire, Health, and Public Works departments have approved the occupancy. A Building Permit "Final" will be granted only after all outstanding issues (health, safety and other) are addressed.

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How long should I expect the plan check process to take?

At the moment, it is 6 to 8 weeks.  We are working to reduce the plan check time. 

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