Coastal Zone FAQ


The California Coastal Act of 1976 established a Coastal Zone along the State's Pacific Coast. In Santa Cruz County, this zone extends about five miles inland from the North Coast. For instructions to see if your parcel is in the Coastal Zone, click here.


Development in the Coastal Zone requires a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) unless the project fits into an exemption in the County Code. The “replacement after a disaster” exemption (Santa Cruz County Code 13.20.063) and “Improvements to existing dwellings” exemption will apply to many residential rebuilding projects. Note that any home that did not have a coastal permit when it was built will not qualify for an exemption and a first time Coastal Permit will be necessary.


Replacement after Disaster Exemption SCCC 13.20.063

Subject to SCCC 13.20.060, a coastal development permit is not required for the replacement of any legal structure that existed prior to the occurrence of the fire, provided that the replacement structure will:

  • Conform to the County’s Local Coastal Program (LCP). The LCP includes the County’s land use plans, zoning ordinance, zoning map and implementing ordinances.
  • Be for the same use as the destroyed structure, for example, the replacement is also a residence.
  • Not exceed the floor area, height, or bulk of the destroyed structure by more than 10 percent.
  • Be sited in the same location on the affected property as the destroyed structure.

Improvements to Existing Single-Family Residences Exemption SCCC 13.20.061

Subject to SCCC 13.20.060 and 13.20.061(B), this section exempts certain additions of less than 500 square feet (less than 250 square feet in the coastal zone appeal area) from a coastal development permit. If the rebuilding project includes an addition this 500/250 square feet. limit may be more generous than the 10% allowed in the disaster exemption. Note that only one of the two exemptions may be applied and the limits, 10% and 500/250 square feet respectively, may not be combined.

There are also exemptions for:

  • Replacement of wells, water tanks, and septic systems.
  • Repair and maintenance of roads, parks, industrial plants, and public utilities.

Although a project may otherwise qualify for an exemption, a Coastal Development Permit may still be required if the structure is located on a beach or wetland, located within 50 feet of a coastal bluff, involves grading greater than 100 cubic yards or on a steep slope, or meets other criteria. See SCCC 13.20 for details.

1This section excerpts and paraphrases the County Code. Please see Santa Cruz County Code 13.20 for the full text of Coastal Development Permit regulations.

Rebuilding projects that will require a Coastal Zone Development Permit include:

  • Construction, reconstruction, and size alteration that exceed the limits given in the exemptions SCCC 13.20.061 and SCCC 13.20.063;
  • Any project that requires a discretionary permit other than a coastal development permit;
  • New Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Note that ADUs receive a simplified permitting process that happens concurrently with the building permit application for the ADU.


If your project requires a Coastal Development Permit, you will need to apply for a Level 4 or Level 5 Review. Level 4 involves public notice, and Level 5 involves a public hearing before the Zoning Administrator. (See the brochures Level 3 and 4 Administrative Permits and Zoning Administrator Development Permits.) Residents of property within 100 feet of the project site, as well as owners of property within 300 feet, will be notified of the project and public hearing.

Coastal Permits associated with fire recovery will be expedited as much as regulations allow.

Required Findings for Approval

Every Coastal development project must meet the design criteria and use standards of the particular zone district and Local Coastal Land Use Plan. It must also meet the Coastal Zone Design Criteria. These standards call for a harmonious appearance, minimum grading and tree-cutting, suitable landscaping, and the avoidance of ridgetops. (See County Code Section 13.20.130).


The decision on the permit may be appealed by anyone who feels their interests have been affected. See the Planning Appeals page for more information.

If the project is located within the Appeal Jurisdiction, an approval may also be appealed to the California Coastal Commission, based on one of the five specific grounds regarding access, public view protection, land use compatibility, natural landforms, and erosion. These appear in Section 13.20.122 of the Santa Cruz County Code. Denials may not be appealed to the Coastal Commission.

What is the Appeal Jurisdiction?

Official County approvals on certain types of projects, and on projects in certain locations, may be appealed to the California Coastal Commission. These projects include development which:

  • is located between the sea and the nearest through public road.
  • is located within 300 feet of a beach, high-tide line, or coastal bluff top.
  • is located within 100 feet of any stream, estuary, or wetland in the Coastal Zone.
  • proposes a use that is not a principal permitted use in the zone district.

These areas are shown on the Coastal Zone GIS maps as Appeal Jurisdictions.


For complete regulations in the Coastal Zone please see County Code Chapter 13.20, slides 20-30 in the PowerPoint presentation from the Feb. 11 Rebuild Town Hall and contact the Recovery Permit Center.