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Planning & Building

County of San Luis Obispo

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Planning (Current and Environmental) Services



The Department of Planning & Building is responsible for assigning street addresses to all addressable buildings within the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County. Each of the county's seven incorporated cities are responsible for assigning street addresses to buildings within their respective city limits.

Alternative Review Program

Agricultural Grading through the Resource Conservation District (RCD) 
The Alternative Review process is intended to provide a collaborative review process for more complex 
grading projects. Projects which qualify for Alternative Review may either obtain a standard County 
Grading Permit, or may instead choose to follow the Alternative Review process. 
This process allows the local Resource Conservation District (RCD) to perform the review, approval, and 
inspection duties in lieu of the County. There are two RCDs in the County, Upper Salinas-Las Tablas (north 
of the Cuesta Grade and Morro Bay) and Coastal San Luis (south of the Cuesta Grade, including the coast 
from Morro Bay southward). Each RCD is operated independently and is able to define its own procedure 
for Alternative Review. The County does not dictate what plans need to be submitted, the timing of the 
review, or the final inspection process – these are all decisions made by the RCD.  Generally, the 
complexity of the process is directly related to the complexity of the proposed project. For example, 
building a wide road on steep slopes may require the involvement of a civil engineer to design the plans, 
while a smaller project (e.g. vegetation removal) might not even require the preparation of plans. 
Just because your proposal qualifies for Alternative Review does not mean you must have the project 
processed through the RCD. If your project qualifies for Alternative Review, you still have the option to 
seek approval by applying for a County Grading Permit. 
Most agricultural grading projects which do not qualify for “exemption” or “agricultural grading” status will 
qualify for alternative review: 

  • Grading for new orchards/vineyards on slopes of 30% or more 
  • Grading or vegetation removal for new rangeland on slopes of 30% or more 
  • Agricultural roads 
  • Streambank restoration or conservation projects (note: if another resource agency is reviewing, 
  • approving, and inspecting plans, this is exempt) 
  • Recreational trails 
  • Waste management systems 

Please also reference the complete and comprehensive Guide to Agricultural Grading

1. Determine if your proposed project qualified for alternative review.  You may contact your local RCD 
or the Department of Planning and Building for assistance. 
2. Complete an application form which contains information that both the County and the RCD need.  
The Alternative Review form is attached to the handout.  (For roads and ponds you will need to 
contact the Agricultural Commissioner's Office to initiate their review - the process cannot continue 
until the Agricultural Commissioner's Office has reviewed the request and determined that the 
request is for agricultural purposes.) 
3. Submit the form to either the County Department of Planning and Building or to your local RCD. 


Any discretionary decision that relates to a project or portion of a project may be appealed. The hearing body tasked with considering an appeal can affirm, affirm in part, or reverse the decision being appealed.

Business License Review & Vacation Rentals

The Department of Planning and Building reviews new business license applications to see if they comply with zoning.

Certificates of Compliance

A certificate of compliance or conditional certificate of compliance is used to establish a legal record officially recognizing that a parcel was legally created, in compliance with the rules and regulations that were applicable at the time of its creation and current case law. Determinations for certificates of compliance are made by Department of Planning & Building staff.

Coastal Accessory Dwelling Unit

This guide serves to help you determine whether an accessory dwelling unit (“ADU”) can be established on a parcel or lot (“site”) under the State ADU Law (Coastal Zone).

Coastal Commission Coordination

The California Coastal Commission is the ultimate permit authority in the Coastal Zone of San Luis Obispo County. In other words, the County can issue development permits in the Coastal Zone, but the Coastal Commission has the ultimate say in how the County's Local Coastal Program (Title 23) is interpreted. Strong coordination between Department of Planning & Building staff and Coastal Commission staff ultimately benefits applicants, as they often need to obtain initial permit authority ("retained jurisdiction") from the Coastal Commission as part of the development permit process.

Community Advisory Council Support

The Board of Supervisors has authorized eleven Community Advisory Councils (CAC) comprised of residents who volunteer their time to represent their community's interests within the County planning process. The Department of Planning & Building assigns a staff liaison to each community advisory council, who serves as a contact between the community and the Department.

The CAC Handbook defines the roles of CACs in the planning process and provides guidelines for parliamentary procedure.

For questions regarding liaisons or general CAC information: 

Kate Shea ([email protected])

Emergency Permits

Obtaining a land use permit or grading permit can take a substantial amount of time, and sometimes, work must occur immediately in order to address an emergency situation. In these cases, the County can issue an emergency permit to authorize work to occur immediately. Then, within sixty (60) days, it will be necessary to follow-up by applying for the land use permit or grading permit that would ordinarily be required in a non-emergency situation.

Environmental Review

Department of Planning & Building staff reviews of all discretionary projects to identify, analyze, mitigate, and disclose their potential environmental impacts. This review process is conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and when necessary, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and results in an environmental determination being made for the project.

Growth Management Ordinance Administration

The County of San Luis Obispo has adopted a Growth Management Ordinance that meters the number of residential dwelling units that can be built in the unincorporated areas of the county during any one fiscal year (July 1st - June 30th). Based on a growth rate of 2.3%, a total of 1,107 dwelling units can be built in in the unincorporated areas of the county during fiscal year 2017-2018. In order to secure the opportunity to build one of these units, a request called an "allocation" is required.

Inland Accessory Dwelling Unit

This guide serves to help you determine whether an accessory dwelling unit (“ADU”) can be established on a parcel or lot (“site”) under the County ADU Ordinance (Inland Areas).

Land Divisions

A land division occurs when a parcel of land is divided into two or more parcels, each of which can be sold and owned independently of the others. The Department of Planning & Building processes land division applications for subdivision entitlements according to the provisions of the state Subdivision Map Act and the County Real Property Division Ordinance.

Land Use Permits

The County, through adoption of various ordinances, has determined that there are certain types of uses that may have an impact on the area in which they are located. These types of uses require the approval of a land use permit, which sets conditions for the use's establishment and operation. Approval of a land use permit only entitles the use itself; separate permits may also be required for any construction or grading activities.

Movable Tiny Houses

Movable tiny houses are not allowed to be used outside of approved campgrounds or recreational vehicle parks in the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County, as they do not comply with building codes. However, tiny houses built on permanent foundation are allowed, and are subject to obtaining County building permits.

Planning Commission

The Planning Commission is a five-member body appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Its primary role is to consider how land use decisions affect the County. In this role, the Commission has review and approval authority for tract maps, conditional use permits, and variances and is responsible for making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding plan and ordinance updates. The Planning Commission typically meets the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at 9:00 AM in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at the County Government Center.

Pre-Application Meetings

Pre-application meetings are intended to aid prospective applicants in understanding the required rules and regulations that apply to their project and to reveal potential problems. The goal of providing a pre-application meeting is to make the permitting process as efficient and understandable as possible.

Public Records Requests

The Department of Planning & Building provides access to the records it maintains in accordance with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).



Road Naming

A road name is required for any road that provides access to more than one lot, or to one lot with more than two buildings or more than four houses. Road names must be approved before a final subdivision map is recorded or before a final building inspection is completed. Existing roads can be named or renamed through petition of a majority of the property owners located on the road.

Surface Mining Inspections

The State Office of Mine and Reclamation (OMR) requires the County to conduct annual mine inspections for all active mines within the unincorporated areas of the county. These inspections include on-site visits to ensure that the mines are operating within their approved boundaries and following the requirements of their approved reclamation plans.

Time Extensions for Land Use Permits and Subdivisions

Initial approval of Land Use Permits and Subdivisions is valid for 24 months (two years). Time Extensions of ONE (1) year may be requested based on the type of project (for example: Minor Use or Conditional Use Permits, and Parcel or Tract Maps). 

Click here for a comprehensive table outlining the eligibility and applicable hearing body or approval processes for various types of Land Use Permits and Subdivisions.

Tree Removal Request

The Department of Planning & Building issues tree removal permits in accordance with county regulations, which differ in the inland and coastal portions of the county. Some areas have additional regulations regarding the removal of trees. Anyone wishing to remove a tree on their property should first contact department staff to determine what regulations apply to their property.

Tribal Cultural Resource Consultation

In accordance with California Assembly Bill 52 (AB 52), the Department of Planning & Building consults with Native American tribes regarding any project that is not exempt from environmental review. This consultation provides the most effective way for the Department to determine if a project could result in significant environmental impacts to tribal cultural resources.

Voluntary Mergers

A voluntary merger is used to legally combine two or more adjoining parcels which are held in common ownership into a single parcel.

Williamson Act Administration

The Department of Planning & Building administers land conservation contracts under the Williamson Act, which provides a reduction of property taxes to owners of farmland and open-space land in exchange for a ten or 20-year agreement that the land will not be developed or otherwise converted to another use.