Navigating the Santa Barbara Permitting Process

By: Steve Bonser

You’ve decided to remodel your home, build an addition, renovate a tear down, or start from scratch. Congratulations! Now the real work begins with Santa Barbara County Building Permits, depending on the location of your property. Unless you intend to perform the work yourself, you’ll want to involve your contractor early in the permitting process to save time and avoid frustration.

Where to apply

Within the city limits of Santa Barbara (or Goleta or any of the six other cities in the county) you must file your plans to have your project permitted with the appropriate city. In Santa Barbara that department is the Community Development Department, Building and Safety division. In unincorporated areas of the county outside city limits, you must apply with the Planning and Development Department of Santa Barbara County.

What is the permit process?

While the reputation of this aspect of building in the City of Santa Barbara or elsewhere in the county as being a challenging and time consuming procedure is well earned, there are steps you can take to make it as smooth and delay-free. Having your contractor prepare the plans, file the permitting application, and shepherd it through to approval will expedite things and remove much of the headache. Your builder has gone through this necessary part of the construction process many times previously and knows the ropes. Keep in mind, a permit is a legal document which grants you the right to perform highly specific construction, and at the same time, places limitations on what would be considered outside the scope of the permit issued.

What type of work requires a permit?

Any new construction, additions and anything which can be categorized
as “significant changes either to the character or the use of the property” should be permitted. Those who attempt to side-step permitting often delude themselves by thinking the work they are having done is not substantial enough or that they won’t be found out by city or county inspectors. Even if the it does go unnoticed, such unpermitted work can come back to haunt them when the property is put up for sale. Having a permit issued prior to clearing land, pouring a foundation, erection walls or any modifications to an existing property protects you and your contractor from possible fines and civil action from the city or county.

Santa Barbara County provides a self-help Ministerial Project Worksheet which will provide you with a checklist after you answer a series of questions about your project. Its available online here:


Depending on your planned project, the zoning of your property may come into play. Residential zoning is based on the number of units permitted. R-1 is zoned for single family residential, R-2 allows two family residential. There are other designations which define design standards and other factors based on locations, size of lot, etc.

A guide to zoning in the City of Santa Barbara is available online here:

Santa Barbara County zoning guidelines are available here:

Permit fees

At both the city and county level, fees assessed during the permitting process vary depending on a variety of factors. Size of lot, construction type, nature of the planned use of the structure, and other characteristics of your project will determine which fees apply and at what cost. If you are making changes to the land itself, grading fees may apply. Other alterations such as retaining walls, drainage systems, erosion and sediment control will also be assessed.

Contact information

City of Santa Barbara
Community Development Department, Building and Safety
The Planning Counter
630 Garden Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Hours: 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Thursday and alternate Fridays
Phone: (805) 564-5485

Santa Barbara County
Main Office: 123 East Anapamu Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-2058
Building & Safety Counter (2nd floor) (805) 568-3030
Planning / Zoning Counter (2nd floor) (805) 568-2090

North County Office: 624 W. Foster Road, Santa Maria, CA 93455-3623
Building & Safety Counter (805) 934-6230
Zoning Counter (805) 934-6251
Hours: 9:00am to 12:00, 1:30pm to 4:00pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday
10:00am to 12:00, 1:30pm to 4:00pm Thursday

City of Goleta
Building & Safety
Permit and Design Center
130 Cremona Drive, Suite B
Goleta, CA 93117
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 8:00am – 4:00pm
Friday: Closed
Building Permits and Information (805) 961-7552
Building Inspection Request Line (805) 961-7550

Santa Barbara Building Permits Blog by Manifest Building