Planning approvals and decisions

There are 2 kinds of approvals: ministerial and discretionary. Ministerial requires little or no personal judgment. Discretionary requires an exercise in judgment. Many planning permits require discretionary approval.

Ministerial approval

Ministerial approval involves little or no personal judgment by City staff. Approval is given if all the standards are met. If standards are not met, City staff will work with you until the standards can be met. If they cannot be met, the applicant may be asked to seek discretionary approval. Public notices are not sent for ministerial permits.

Discretionary approval

Discretionary approvals require an exercise in judgment or deliberation. Project applicants and members of the public can express support or contest the project and may appeal decisions. They often require one or more public hearings and a decision from one of these decision-making bodies:

Discretionary applications are generally processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Small projects may take just a few weeks to process. Complex projects requiring an environmental impact report can take many months.

The planner assigned to the project can provide a tentative time estimate after their initial review of the project.

Public hearings

If your project requires public review, this happens at a public hearing. Complex projects often have several public hearings.

10 days before a public hearing, a notice will be:

  • Advertised in the local newspaper
  • Mailed to all property owners within 300 feet of your project
  • Posted on or near the project site

Based on the type of approval required, the project will go to one or more of the following decision-making bodies for their approval:

At the public hearing, City staff will present a report and make their recommendation. You will be able to present, followed by anyone else who wants to comment on the proposed project.

After everyone from the public speaks, the decision-making body will evaluate everything they have read and heard. Then they will take one of the following actions:

  • Approve
  • Postpone to a later date
  • Continue and schedule another public hearing
  • Refer the matter back for more evaluation
  • Deny


There are 4 kinds of decision makers for ministerial and discretionary approvals:

City staff

Some decisions can be made by City staff. This can include a planner, technician, Building Official or the director of the Planning & Building department.

Planning Commission

The Planning Commission reviews and decides land use permit applications. They evaluate projects against current standards and guidelines. They also make recommendations to the City Council about changes to the General Plan, zoning, and subdivisions.

City Council

The City Council makes final decisions for General Plan amendments, rezoning, and subdivisions. They also make decisions for appeals of the Planning Commission.


Decisions by City staff and Planning Commission can be appealed. An appeal can be filed with the City Clerk within 10 days of the decision date.

If there is no appeal, the project is officially approved. This means the project has been granted its “entitlements” and the applicant can now get building and site development permits. Those permits can be approved through ministerial actions by City staff.

Appeal hearings are “de novo,” which means the entire project is open for discussion and not just the reason for the appeal.