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Navigating developments and permits in Sonoma Valley


Permit Sonoma informs North Sonoma Valley MAC about process

by Jay Gamel

Permit Sonoma Deputy Director Scott Orr gave members of the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NSVMAC) a tutorial on how to use the county’s online information systems to learn about developments and proposed projects in a given area.

“There are a lot of resources you can access from the comfort of your home,” Orr said, noting that the county’s interactive map “shows all county projects and may eventually offer an opportunity for review and input on projects.”

Orr suggested starting with a browser search for “Permit Sonoma,” which should provide links to the county’s website. The department is digitizing 50 years worth of records, he noted. “It’s a work in progress, but we’re getting close.”

Specific properties and projects are accessed using an application number or assessor parcel number (APN), which can be found using an address.

A visit to will offer a variety of maps, including zoning and land use, cannabis site evaluations, tiger salamander permit activity, and numerous maps on fire prevention, including defensible space inspection areas and statistics. There are maps of the major wildfires, including clean-up status. The zoning and land use map allows you to find permit activity. Entering a street address opens up a map of the property with parcel numbers, and may include a portal to more information about the parcel, including zoning codes, groundwater basin, fire events, historic district, earthquake susceptibility, and more. Knowing the APN allows further research into former and active applications and a history of permit applications. A quick search of the author’s property shows the completed safety check (after it burned down), installation of a new heater/air conditioner in early 2019, and other projects going back a decade or more.

Orr also explained the planning process. When an application is filed, one planner is appointed to shepherd it through the entire process. Each planner has from 50 to 200 projects at any given time and must see that each one meets code and other requirements. “We spend most of our time checking on environmental issues like traffic, water, and aesthetics,” Orr said.

“Building permits started back in the 1960s,” he noted, showing a one-page 1965 Glen Ellen application for a foundation permit. “There was a three-page winery permit I found [from] back then. Today, it would be hundreds of pages, mainly because of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”

The interactive maps are a work in progress. “They are not as interactive as I’d like,” Orr said. But in the near future, projects in the pipeline should be visible to interested parties. He looks forward to a time when people can add a comment or post a letter with each project. “It can be an incredibly useful tool and we will try to get the public to use it and provide the feedback, which will make projects better,” Orr said. Orr also explained the difference between ministerial permits, which are allowed if the applicant shows he has met the required conditions, and those that require public notice, a series of hearings, and approval of the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors to formalize if appeals are made to the planner’s decisions. Permit Sonoma is also working on allowing people to flag properties to request notification of planned changes and developments. Council members expressed interest in using the maps to better identify housing sources and needs for future housing. The NSVMAC will meet virtually on Aug. 18 at 5:30 p.m. More information can be found at