Building & Safety


Building, short for Building & Safety Division, helps you ensure that your location is safe and healthy when you’re building or constructing improvements. Once Current Planning has approved your plans, Building is your next stop within the overall Planning Department.

If you’re performing any improvements to your space, plan review and permits may be required to ensure you comply with the zoning, planning, and building codes.

New Construction vs. Tenant Improvements

There are two major types of work that require building permits: New Construction and Tenant Improvements.

New construction is essentially what it sounds like, building a new building from the ground up. Tenant Improvements are changes made to an existing building to suit the new tenant. Depending on the age, condition, and use of the building you plan to occupy, your Tenant Improvements could become a much bigger project than anticipated because state building and other regulatory codes are regularly updated to reflect the most current health and safety standards meaning that, when you make changes to a building, the building may need to be upgraded or brought into compliance.

Given this variability in the scope of a project, whether it is new construction or tenant improvements, we highly encourage you to hire a skilled design professional (an Architect or Engineer) and a licensed contractor to help you navigate the process.

For more information about how to find the right licensed contractor visit the Contractors State License Board.

Building Permits

Building permits are required for most changes you plan to make to the building or space you are occupying. The Building & Safety Division reviews plans for conformance to applicable codes and standards; issues permits and inspects construction and buildings for compliance with plans and regulations.

Examples of improvements that need a building permit include changing or removing walls, installing a sign on the outside of a building, installing industrial or manufacturing equipment, and many other types of building activities. Items such as painting, flooring and furnishings typically do not require permits Best practice would be to always check with the Building counter to see if the changes you are planning to make require a permit and what the process may be for that project.

If you’re not building, constructing, or performing any tenant improvements that require a building permit, then you can move along.

The Building Counter is located at 809 Center Street, Room 206 and is open Monday - Thursday 7:30 a.m. - 12 noon and 1:00PM-3:00PM (Closed Fridays). Staff are available in the afternoon by phone (831-420-5120) or appointment only.

Sign Permits

For signs, Building needs to issue a permit after Current Planning approves the sign design. This is an important step because Building wants to make sure a heavy wind won’t shear a sign from the building or the Santa Cruz Warriors basketball team won’t hit their heads as they visit your business.

To obtain a sign permit, you will need your licensed contractor to submit plans to the Building Counter showing the dimensions and graphics of the sign and the attachment details of how it will be mounted. Best practice is to consult with the Building Counter prior to submitting so that you know if your plans are feasible under the building code and other applicable regulations.


The Americans with Disability Act celebrated its twenty-five-year anniversary in 2015, helping to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. Ensuring your business is accessible not only complies with the law but also expands your market. The Building Department can help you identify access requirements and suggest seeking third-party specialist advice. There are also some tax credits available to help you finance any potential improvements.

  • Federal ADA regulations require all new construction to comply with the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Standards.
  • The California Disabled Persons Act gives people with disabilities the right to additionally sue a business in violation of any Federal ADA standard as a violation of California civil rights law as well.
  • Businesses are required to make ADA improvements for all new construction as defined by the "construction-related accessibility standard," a provision under state or federal law for making new construction and existing facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. Facilities must comply with both federal and state accessibility standards, however, the current version of state and federal accessibility standards are not necessarily applicable to your existing facility. If the cost of your business construction is under the State of California’s valuation threshold (which changes each year), you may limit the costs of your business improvements outside the area of the remodel to 20% of the construction costs.
  • You may want to hire a professional Certified Access Specialist (CASp) to evaluate your business location. Having a business/property reviewed by a CASp shows that you care about ensuring equal access for all of your customers, and that you intend to follow the law. The good-faith effort of hiring a CASp may lessen your liability and provide certain legal benefits if an accessibility claim is filed against you. A CASp will know which version of the code and standards is applicable to the compliance of your facility based on its age and history of improvements. The CASp can provide to you a variety of accessibility services from consultation to full inspection services.

For more information about the Certified Access Specialist read the FAQ's from the California Department of General Service.

Find a CASp on the List of Certified Access Specialists