Starting a business? We’re here to help.

This website will guide you through the business permitting process in Santa Cruz, CA. You’ll learn about zoning, what regulations and fees apply to you, and we’ll help you get started on—or, in some cases, complete!—the paperwork you’ll need to file to open your doors.

This guide brought to you by the City of Santa Cruz and Code for America.

Let’s get acquainted.

Meet Santa Cruz's Planning Department.

The planning department will be your business's main point of contact within city government.


Visit the Planning Department

You are always welcome to visit the Planning Department in person. The public counter is open Monday – Thursday, 7:30am through 12 noon.

Staff are available by phone or appointment only Monday – Thursday, 1pm through 5pm.

The Planning Department’s public counter is located in room 206 of City Hall, on the second floor in the annex building.

The planning department's public counter is currently OPEN. Come on by!

The planning department's public counter is currently CLOSED. Email us →


Santa Cruz City Hall
809 Center Street
Room 206
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Telephone: (831) 420-5100

Fax: (831) 420-5434


Other resources

Who are you?

State your business.

Starting a business requires some paperwork. Exactly which paperwork depends on what your business does, and where it's located. Let's get started.

What will you be doing?

NAICS/SIC Calculator



If you're working from home, you get to skip most of this stuff.

Where will you be working from?

I'll be working from home I'll be working out of a commercial space

Do you already have a location for your business picked out?

Yes Not yet


Zoning basically makes sure a rubber factory can’t open next to a preschool.

By clustering types of businesses, we can help preserve neighborhoods and share services.

The first hurdle to starting a business is finding a location that permits your use.


Prior Use

A good tip for finding a location that permits your use is to pick a space with a prior use as similar to yours as possible.

If you are opening a restaurant try to go into a space that held a restaurant.

If you are opening a yoga studio try to go into, say, a karate studio.

This will make it more likely that your use will be approved.

If the past use matches your use, the zoning will match and parking will likely not be an issue.


The type of use permit you need is dependent on the way your zoning district permits your use.

If what you do is Principally Permitted all you need is a Zoning Clearance. This is the simplest form of a use permit.

If your use is not principally permitted you will need either an Administrative Use Permit or a Special Use Permit.

Administrative Use Permit (AUP)
This kind of application requires more staff analysis, and more information from the applicant. These permits entail a public hearing before the Zoning Administrator, and can take approximately 6-8 weeks to work their way through to completion.
Special Use Permit (SUP)
Requires a high level of scrutiny, typically due to the size of the project and its impact on the neighborhood. These applications go to the Planning Commission, whose decision is ratified by the City Council. SUPs take 2-3 months.

If your use is not permitted, you should probably pick another spot.

Changing a location's zoning is very difficult, rare and takes years. It is not recommended, but you are welcome to contact the Planning Department for more information.

Intensity of Use & Traffic Impact Fee

In California, if your business has a more intense use than the previous business in that space, it’s your responsibility to mitigate the impact of that change.

You do this via a one-time payment of a Traffic Impact Fee, or TIF.

TIF funds help the city of Santa Cruz pay for things like wider lanes and signalized intersections -- which helps the city of Santa Cruz accommodate the increased traffic and public parking burden that your business imposes.

Depending on where you site your business, your TIF can be $1000 to $200,000. This is why we recommend picking a location with a similar use to yours.

This tool will help you estimate the fee.

Submit Region:
Calculate Trips: Fill out form to calculate Estimated TIF:

If the space you love has a high Traffic Impact Fee associated with it, don't despair! Contact the Office of Economic Development. They will try to help.


Let's calculate out some fees that you will incur at this location.

The Traffic Impact Fee is calculated based on the size of the location, as well as its past and proposed use.

The Parking Deficiency fee is determined based on the type and size of your business and the number of parking spaces that you have.

Downtown Parking District only



Fill out form to calculate required spaces.
Estimated PDF:

This form will determine the limitations on any signs you may want to have.

Freestanding Signs Over Five Feet High

 square feet

Limited to: __ square feet

Wall Signs ( outside residential areas )

 feet  square feet

Limited to: __ square feet

Business Improvement Assessment goes HERE.

The source code for this calc is in PHP. Should we convert it or just copy it over and use PHP?

If you haven't picked a site for your business yet, we can help.

Pick a Space



A business must provide sufficient parking. (If you are downtown, ignore this. You only have to pay the Parking Deficiency Fee above)

If you don’t have enough spaces, your customers will use the street, which will block traffic, or use other businesses’ spots, which is not fair.

Your use affects the parking spaces required. Example: More people buy food than couches, so a supermarket requires more parking than a furniture store.

If the resulting number of parking spots contains a fraction and that fraction is greater than half you must round up and add a full parking space.

This tool will help you estimate how many parking spaces you are required to provide.

Don't see your specific business type? Contact the planning department.

Located downtown?

If you are located downtown, you don’t need to provide parking, but you must pay for it.

Downtown has shared parking with reduced requirements. So if you don’t have off street parking, you can pay into a shared fund that runs the City garages and lots.

[BID calculator]

[Parking Deficiency Fee calculator]