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Zoning Code Modernization

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Zoning Code Has Been Reformatted

The Board of Supervisors approved the reformatting of the Sonoma County Zoning Code on February 9, 2021.
Access the Sonoma County Zoning Code

Zoning Code Background 

The Zoning Code is the primary tool for implementing the General Plan and regulating land use and development. The General Plan dictates overarching policy on how and where the community will accommodate physical growth and change, and the Zoning Code applies these policies on a parcel-specific scale, regulating land uses, site planning, and design. The Zoning Code also specifies the type of permits required for various projects and the responsible review authority.

Issues With County Zoning Code

Zoning Map

The County Municipal Code contains over 50 chapters, including the Zoning Code (Chapter 26) which is the primary regulatory tool to implement the County’s General Plan. The Zoning Code contains a majority of the land use regulations that govern development, investment and land use throughout the County. The Zoning Code alone is over 550 pages and has not been systematically updated since 1968. The outdated nature of the document creates several issues:

  • It is long, cumbersome and difficult for planning staff and the general public to utilize;
  • It creates challenges for interpretation and code compliance;
  • It creates unnecessary confusion for the public and places demands on staff to explain and clarify code language;
  • It uses outdated planning terminology and document structure;
  • It lacks basic visual aids such as land use tables; and
  • Many amendments have been made over time, resulting in a large and poorly organized document.

Modernization Through Phased Improvements


The Zoning Code will be updated through several incremental updates to improve usability (Phase 1), address required improvements and maintain consistency with state law (Phase 2), and address issues such as process improvements and General Plan implementation, (Future Phases). This approach is outlined in the following table.

Potential Project Phases


Phase 1: Formatting

Phase 2: Required Updates

Future Phases: Elective Updates


  • Updates the organization of the Zoning Code
  • Makes no substantive changes to policy
  • Provides a more concise and clear document for all users
  • Provides better structure for future changes to regulations and procedures
  • Helps identify policies and procedures that will need to be modified in subsequent phases.
  • Will identify and address issues that require timely resolution
  • Will address new laws and state requirements
  • May include more substantive changes to the code including measures to simplify application processes and streamline permit processing.

Specific Actions

  • Reorganize all articles into a more logical order/grouping
  • Eliminate unnecessary repetition and duplication
  • Use land use and development standards tables for each zoning category (commercial, residential, etc.).
  • Improve navigation with links and cross-referencing
  • Maintain consistency with state and federal law
  • Improve internal consistency and rectify contradictory text
  • Reformat and reorganize remaining code articles consistent with the model developed in Phase 1
  • Adjust permit levels for different project types
  • Expand public noticing
  • Establishing findings and review criteria for project approvals
  • Update process for modifying previously approved projects
  • Update temporary use permit requirements and standards
  • Define residential design review process
  • Adopt objective design review criteria where feasible
  • Clarify the appeals process