How Much do Permits Cost in San Diego?

By Sean Canning

This is a question that comes up quite a bit: How much is it going to cost to permit my project in San Diego?

Well, to summarize this, it depends.

There’s basically four types of fees you’re going to pay when you submit a residential project to the development services department in San Diego. So let me explain those four fees and then we’ll talk about how they apply to different types of projects. 

Impact Fees

So your first fee is your impact fees. Impact fees apply when you’re putting a new dwelling unit, and in some cases, a new accessory dwelling unit on a property. These are one-time fees and are based on the location in the community. You can google “San Diego Impact Fee Community Schedule” and get an idea of how much those impact fees are in your specific community. 

The impact fees are supposed to basically pay for additional park maintenance, additional street maintenance, garbage disposal, those types of things.

All of the things that your property taxes already pay for, the city’s going to double dip and charge you again for these things in the form of an impact fee.

Sewer + Water Fees

The next fees you’re going to pay are your sewer and water fees.

These are charged in a similar way as the impact fees. They are consistent across all communities, but you’re going to be subject to these if you put a new dwelling unit or if you put a new accessory dwelling unit on your property. They’re charged one time and they’re charged based on the amount of units you’re going to add. 

So the water sewer fee in the city of San Diego right now is somewhere around $7,200 (early 2022).

So if you put a new dwelling unit on a vacant lot, you’re going to be charged $7,200 a one-time fee for that sewer and water fee. If you put in two dwelling units, you’re going to be charged two times $7,200. And so-and-so on and so forth for the more units you put on that lot.

Now, accessory dwelling units are charged half of that fee. So you will pay about $3,600 for every new accessory dwelling unit you build on that lot. So ADUs are getting a 50% discount essentially on sewer and water fees.

School Fees

The next fee is going to be your school fees. You can google “San Diego Unified District School Fees” and they’ll give you their school fees.

Currently at the time I’m recording this video, it’s $4.8 per square foot. And that only applies when you go over 500 square feet.

So if you can keep your ADU or keep your addition under 500 square foot, you’re going to be exempt from those school fees.

But once you go to 501 square feet, you’re going to pay $4.8 times 501 square feet (in this example). 

This is a one-time payment. It’s paid to the San Diego Unified School District. So it’s not even paid to the development service district. This fee will change and vary. It usually goes up every couple of months. So just take a look for what the current school fee is charged per square foot.

Plan Check and Inspection Fees

And this brings us to our last fee, which is going to be our plan check and inspection fees.

The way these are going to be paid are: You  basically 50% of this when you make your submission to the city. And you’re going to pay the other 50% when they issue the permit and you pay that last invoice. Then you make the permit valid.

So this fee will vary in cost and it’s very difficult to estimate this.

I like to say that looking at this fee is a lot like looking at your cell phone bill. There’s a bunch of miscellaneous fees that get tacked onto this thing, but it’s generally based on the square footage of the addition or the new home or the new ADU.

You can go on to the city’s permit fee calculator and get an understanding how much this is going to be.

How These Permitting Fees Apply To Your Architecture Project

So let’s just review once more. And I want to make sure I talk about each of these four fees in terms of the different types of projects you may be considering: Addition, new dwelling unit or home, and a new accessory dwelling unit.

So the first is impact fees. Impact fees, currently exempt on ADU. So you are not paying impact fees for an ADU. if you do an addition on your home, you’re exempt from impact fees.

The only time you’re going to pay impact fees is when you’re adding a new home (a new dwelling unit) to the lot. And that’s when you’re going to be subject to these impact fees. And they are one of the higher fees you’re going to pay. 

Fee number two is your sewer and water fee. You’re going to pay your sewer and water fee (a hundred percent of it) if you add a new dwelling unit to the lot. Or if you add two new dwelling units, your subject for two sewer and water fees. if you add an addition to your home, you’re exempt from that sewer and water fee (because in theory) it’s already been paid.

If you add an ADU, you’re going to be subject to 50% of that sewer and water fee. So that’s how that second fee is applied.

The next fee is our school fees. If you add an addition to your home and keep it under 500 square foot, you’re exempt.

If you have a new home and you keep it under 500 square feet (which I don’t even think you can do) you should be exempt.

It’s only when you go over 500 square feet for a home, an ADU, or an addition when these school fees are going to kick in. And they’re based on the current fee the San Diego Unified School District places on them, multiplied by all of the square footage over 500 square feet.

So I always just like to use this as an example. If you do 501 square feet, you are subject to 501 square feet multiplied by $4.8. If you do 499 square feet, you pay zero school fees. So that’s how that’s applied. 

And the last fees are going to be your plan check and inspection fees. And these are going to be consistent across an addition, a new home, or a new ADU. It is basically based on the square foot price but is a little bit more complicated to calculate.

So, just in conclusion, you got those four fees: impact fees, sewer and water fees, school fees, and plan check and inspection fees.

Just to note - this is an overly simplified way to look at your permit costs, but just consider all four of those fees and how your project type is going to apply to each of them. 

Understanding Your Permit’s Timeline in San Diego

Alright, so you’re probably wondering, “How long is it actually going to take to get my project permitted?” 

Well, it’s not that straightforward.

Firstly, you need to figure out what kind of permit your project needs. There are two main types – ministerial and discretionary. 

Ministerial ones are usually more straightforward and quicker. 

On the other hand, discretionary permits, well, they require a bit more – more time, more money, and more decision-makers weighing in on the approval.

Dealing with Coastal Development Permits

Now, if your project’s in the coastal zones, brace yourself. Getting a Coastal Development Permit can be a bit of a journey, often stretching well over a year. 

It’s a detailed process, aimed at preserving the coastline, so be prepared for meticulous reviews, possibly including environmental impact studies.

Permitting Information for Different Project Types

So, what about different projects?

ADUs: These have become very popular due to the added income potential. The permit process for these is generally clear-cut, but the specific requirements can vary depending on the project’s size and its impact on infrastructure.

Custom Homes: Every custom home is unique, making the permitting process a bit more involved. It goes through a comprehensive review due to its variability in design, location, size, and environmental impact.

Remodels: Usually quicker to permit than new builds, the timelines for remodels can still vary widely based on the scope of the remodel and any structural modifications involved.

Commercial Tenant Improvement Projects: These bring their own challenges. The scale, nature of commercial activity, and structural modifications can make the permit process complex and varied in duration.

How Ten Seventy Architecture Can Help With Permitting

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry; Ten Seventy Architecture has got your back. 

Margaret Canning, our full-time permitting specialist, has insights from her time at the Development Services Department and can help streamline the process. 

Her connections within the department can get quicker resolutions, cutting down your overall project timeline.

FAQs About Permitting in San Diego

Why Do Different Projects Incur Different Fees?

The city adjusts fees according to each project's unique requirements and their impact on the community and its resources.

How Often are Permit Fees Updated?

Permit fees, especially school fees, can vary and are periodically updated. Consultation with a professional or the latest fee schedules from San Diego is advisable for accurate budgeting.

Can Adjusting the Project’s Size or Design Help in Avoiding Certain Fees?

Yes, strategically planning the size and design of your project, like keeping an ADU or addition under 500 sq. ft., can exempt you from specific fees.

What are the Consequences of Starting Construction Without a Permit?

Unpermitted construction can lead to legal repercussions, fines, and possibly, the demolition of the constructed work.

Is Hiring a Professional for Permitting Worth it?

Employing a professional can simplify the complex permitting process, ensuring your project's compliance with local regulations, potentially saving time and money in the process.


In conclusion, we got those two main permit types and different project types, each with its quirks. 

Whether you’re dealing with ADUs, custom homes, or remodels, understanding the intricacies of the permit process can save you headaches down the road. 

And remember, Ten Seventy Architecture is here to help you navigate through it all! Feel free to contact us about questions you may have to permit a project you are planning. 

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