Santa Clara County, CA, Code of Ordinances

Updated August 2018

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Accessory Dwelling Units

The county’s zoning code permits internal, attached, and detached secondary dwellings by right in residential and rural districts, subject to use-specific standards (Appendix I, §4.10.340). These standards differentiate between secondary dwellings located in urban areas and those located in rural areas. And they address density calculations, unit size, owner occupancy, parking, driveways, decks and porches, conformance with density limits, building site approval, lot size, unit size, number of bedrooms, setbacks, and distance between structures.

Home Occupations

The county’s zoning code distinguishes between high- and low-intensity home occupations.

It permits low-impact “Home Occupations: General” by right, subject to use-specific standards (Appendix I §2.30.020). “Home Occupations: General” must comply with location and space, employee, traffic, customer/client visitation, nuisance, hazardous material, vehicle, advertising, sign, and specific use standards (Appendix I §4.10.180.A).

It allows high-impact “Home Occupations: Expanded” with a discretionary use permit, subject to use-specific standards (Appendix I §2.30.020). County staff hear and decide on discretionary use permit applications, and those uses which require discretionary permitting must comply with specified performance standards (Appendix I §5.60).

“Home Occupations: Expanded” must comply with discretionary permit, location and space, employee, storage, equipment, material, traffic, vehicle, advertising, sign, and specific use standards (Appendix I §4.10.180.C).

The code prohibits commercial food preparation, except uses defined as cottage food operations, for which state statutes preempt local authority (Appendix I §§4.10.180.A.8.b & 4.10.180.C.11.b).

Scenic View Protection

The county’s zoning code protects scenic attributes in the Santa Clara through various combining districts, or overlay districts. The Santa Clara Valley Viewshed district aims to reduce visual impacts through development standards, design guidelines, design review and incentives (§3.20.040). The Milpitas Hillsides district protects the natural appearance of the area through supplementary design standards and design review (§3.20.050). Additionally, scenic roads throughout the county are protected through a combining district, which includes provisions on design review for buildings, additional structures, and signs (§3.30).

Solar Energy

The county's subdivision ordinance addresses solar access for subdivision development, requiring that all subdivisions must provide for future passive or natural heating and cooling opportunities by submitting an energy conservation plan, which must optimize the number of future buildings receiving sunlight for solar energy systems with solar access to the south wall of the greatest possible number of buildings (§C12-173.2). In addition, solar access easements must be created to protect solar access to proposed south roof and wall areas for future buildings; parcels greater than 1 acre and those where solar access is not available due to existing vegetation, topography, or surrounding development (§C12-173.3).

Commercial large-scale solar energy conversion systems are permitted with architecture and site approval if under 8 acres in size and with a special use permit if larger in special purpose and rural districts (Appendix 1 Tables 2.20-2, 2.50-1). They are prohibited in large-scale agricultural and viewshed design review combining districts, must have 30-foot setbacks, and be designed to accommodate wildlife passage, among other requirements (Appendix 1 §4.10.345). The Definitions section provides definitions for minor and major commercial solar energy conversion systems (Appendix 1 §2.10.040).

Within historic districts, solar panels are considered statutory exemptions exempt from the design review process (Appendix 1 §3.50.030.B).

Lastly, solar energy systems are permitted as an accessory use except within front yard setback or on roof if height limit is exceeded by greater than five feet through the supplemental development standards (Appendix 1 §4.20.020.M) and do not require design review (Appendix 1 §5.50.050.H).

Wildland-Urban Interface

The county’s codified ordinances include multiple requirements for wildland-urban interface areas.

Its fire protection code adopts the California Fire Code with amendments addressing defensible space in wildland-urban interface areas (§B7-12).

Its building code adopts the California Building Code with amendments addressing construction in fire hazard zones or the wildland-urban interface (§C3-5).

Santa Clara, CA

2010 Population: 1,781,642

2010 Population Density: 1,381.01/square mile