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Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the Frequently Asked Questions page for the Planning and Building Department. 

If you cannot find the answer to the question you are looking for, please feel free to Contact Us.                      

Please note that there are more than one pages of FAQs.  Scroll to the end of the list to get to the next page.

 

Do I need a permit to remove trees on my property?
My neighbor's construction project is making a lot of noise - what is allowed?
Does the City offer Mediation Services?
How can disability access complaints be filed?
What is the purpose of the disability access complaint procedure?
What state laws and regulations govern accessibility?
Who may file a disability access complaint?
When should a disability access complaint be filed?
Is assistance in filing disability access complaints available?
What happens after a disability access complaint is filed?
How will the complainant be informed of the status of the disability access complaint?
I’m considering a home improvement/repair project, and I’m not sure where to start…what’s my first step?
It seems like almost anything I improve, repair, or replace on my property requires a permit … why is this?
I don’t understand how getting a permit for my project will actually benefit me; it just costs me money. What happens if I just do the work, and don’t bother with a permit?
I can’t decide whether to hire a licensed contractor, or be my own contractor and manage the project myself to save money. What are the pros and cons of each?
OK, I think I’m ready to apply for a permit…what information does the City need to begin the process?
How long will it take before I can get my permit?
Is there any way to expedite my approval, especially if it is a small project?
Can I get started on the project before I actually obtain my permit?
What are these additional charges that don’t seem relevant to the scope of my project? What is a Road Impact Fee? Drainage Fee?
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Q: Do I need a permit to remove trees on my property?
A:
If you are removing 4 or more trees, or one heritage tree, a tree removal permit is required. Trees with less than 6 inches diameter can be removed without a permit on a developed lot. Municipal Code Section 20.67.020 defines heritage trees as tanbark oaks over 20 inches in diameter, oaks over 24 inches in diameter, madrones over 24 inches in diameter and coast redwoods over 30 inches in diameter (measured at ‘breast height’ or 4 ½ feet above ground). No tree greater than 4 inches in diameter may be cut on a vacant lot without a tree removal permit.
Q: My neighbor's construction project is making a lot of noise - what is allowed?
A:
Construction Professionals (i.e. Licensed Contractors):
Mon-Fri - From 7:00 am to 8:00 am Light noise associated with preparing the job site is permitted.
Mon-Fri - From 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Heavy equipment/power tool noise associated with construction is permitted.
Mon-Fri - From 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm Light noise associated with disassembling the job site is permitted.
Saturdays, Sundays and City Holidays No construction is permitted. Non-construction related activities such as painting and yard work is permitted.
.                                                              .
Owner/occupant builders who do their own construction:
Saturdays - From 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Light and heavy equipment/power tool noise associated with construction is permitted.
Sundays and City Holidays No construction is permitted. Non-construction related activities such as painting and yard work is permitted.
Q: Does the City offer Mediation Services?
A:

Mediation thumbnailLooking for Mediation Services?  The City of Mill Valley participates in the County of Marin Mediation Services Program to offer mediation services to residents of the City of Mill Valley. Click here to learn more.

 

Q: How can disability access complaints be filed?
A:

There are several methods to submit a complaint:

Persons may also use the 711 Relay System to request complaint forms. When describing the alleged violation, additional documentation such as photographs also would be very helpful. Complaints must be filed with the ADA Coordinator:

Dan Martin, Building Official
Mill Valley Building Department, City Hall
26 Corte Madera Ave.
Mill Valley, CA 94941 Phone: (415) 388-4033 (TTY 711)
Fax: (415) 381-1736
Email: dmartin@cityofmillvalley.org

 

Q: What is the purpose of the disability access complaint procedure?
A:

The purpose of this procedure is to provide individuals with a convenient method to report disability access law violations in Mill Valley, and to establish a process for resolving as promptly as possible alleged violations of state disabled access regulations in either (i) buildings, -structures, sidewalks, curbs and related facilities that are owned or leased by the City of Mill Valley or that are constructed or altered with city funds ("public projects"), or (ii) privately owned public accommodations (i.e., businesses that are open to the public) that are not publicly funded ("private projects").

 

Q: What state laws and regulations govern accessibility?
A:

State law requires all public and private projects to be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. See Cal. Government Code 4450 et seq. for public projects and Cal. Health and Safety Code 19955 et seq. for private projects. The State Architect has issued specifications for the construction or alteration of buildings and structures in the State Building Code, which is published as part of the California Building Code and which is often referred to as "Title 24" reflecting where it was formerly located in the California Code of Regulations, Under state law, the City is responsible for complying with Title 24 in its public projects and for enforcing the Title 24 requirements in private projects that are subject to the City's jurisdiction through the City's building permit and building inspection programs. For certain projects built before the first version of Title 24 was adopted in 1981, the applicable standards are the 1961 American Standards Association Standard (the "ASA Standards"). In addition, California Civil Code Sections 54 and 54.1 require that persons with disabilities have equal access to accommodations available to the public, and make a violation of the federal Americans with Disability Act also a violation of state law. For a detailed description of these state laws and regulations, please see Exhibit A. For the purposes of this Procedure, all of the above-referenced laws and regulations shall be referred to as the "Law."

 

Q: Who may file a disability access complaint?
A:

Anyone who believes that a public or private project does not comply with the law because it contains deviations from the specifications set forth in the law may file a complaint under this procedure. An authorized representative of such a person may also file a complaint on the complainant's behalf. To the extent authorized by law, the identity of the complainant will be kept confidential.

 

Q: When should a disability access complaint be filed?
A:

Complaints should be filed as quickly as possible when alleged deviations are discovered so that they can be investigated and promptly resolved prior to completion of the construction work if possible.


 

Q: Is assistance in filing disability access complaints available?
A:

Persons with disabilities or others needing assistance should contact the following to request an appointment:

Dan Martin, Building Official
Planning and Building Department
City of Mill Valley 
26 Corte Madera Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Telephone (415) 388-4033 (TTY 771)
Fax (415) 381-1736
Email: dmartin@cityofmillvalley.org

 

Q: What happens after a disability access complaint is filed?
A:

After receiving a complaint, the Building Official or his/her designee will investigate all allegations within fourteen (14) days of receiving the complaint. The investigation will include interviews with: (a) the complainant; (b) the business owner, if a Private Project, or the responsible City Department or other public agency, if a Public Project; and (c) any other person the Building Official believes to have relevant knowledge concerning the complaint.

The Building Official also will consider any written or photographic evidence that is provided. After completing the investigation, the Building Official will review the factual information gathered through the investigation to determine whether the allegation is in fact a deviation from the Law. For Public Projects undertaken by the City, the City shall then take all actions necessary to correct any deviation from the Law which it confirms as a result of any investigation within ninety (90) days ofthe confirmation of such deviation, unless the deviation or deviations are so substantial that that they cannot be corrected within ninety (90) days of confirmation. In such circumstances, a specific timetable shall be prepared to assure that the deviations will be corrected within a reasonable period of time.

For Public Projects of other public entities, the City will forward the complaint to the appropriate state or federal agency. These agencies will process the complaint in accordance with their own regulations and procedures.

For Private Projects, the City shall send the responsible party and/or owner a written notice of violation demanding that the deviation be corrected within ninety (90) days of the confirmation of such deviation, unless the deviation or deviations are so substantial that that they cannot be corrected within ninety (90) days of confirmation. In such circumstances, a specific timetable will be prepared to assure that the deviations will be corrected within a reasonable period of time. If the responsible party and/or owner does not correct the deviation within ninety (90) days, commence to correct it if it is of such magnitude that it cannot be corrected within ninety (90) days, or comply with the timetable prepared by the City for correcting the deviation, the City shall refer the matter to the City Attorney for appropriate legal action.

 

Q: How will the complainant be informed of the status of the disability access complaint?
A:

Within seven (7) days of receipt of each complaint, the City shall send a letter to the complainant confirming receipt of the complaint, along with a timetable and a description of the process that will be used by the City in investigating the complaint and preparing a response.

After completion of the investigation, the City shall provide the complainant with another letter advising the complainant of the resolution of the complaint, including informing the complainant about his or her right of appeal. Where the City determines that any or all of the violations alleged in a complaint are unfounded, the City's letter shall include the factual and legal basis for such determination. In addition, upon completion of the corrections of the deviations where required, the Compliance Officer will then notify the complainant in writing of the completion of the remedial work. Also, the complainant will be notified if the matter is referred to the City Attorney for appropriate legal action.

 

Q: I’m considering a home improvement/repair project, and I’m not sure where to start…what’s my first step?
A:

If you have internet access, it’s not a bad idea to make your first stop www.cityofmillvalley.org. Follow the links on the home page from City Government” to the “Planning and Building” home page. There you will find links containing a wealth of information regarding all aspects of development and the permitting/inspection process. If internet access is not an option, come down and see us at the Planning and Building Department at Mill Valley City Hall, 26 Corte Madera Ave. (next to Mill Valley Market), or you can phone us at (415) 388-4033. A planner is available during regular business hours, and an inspector is always available from 8-9:00 am or 4-5:00 pm every business day (we are closed every Wednesday morning and every other Friday). An inspector may be available during other regular business hours for consultation, but it is a good idea to call first and check.

Oftentimes, a quick conversation with a planner may validate whether or not a project is viable, and an inspector can provide information on the permitting process, code requirements, and other building-related subjects. They may also be able to determine if consultation with other departments and/or agencies prior to the design process is appropriate, depending on the scope of your project.

 

Q: It seems like almost anything I improve, repair, or replace on my property requires a permit … why is this?
A:

This is true… and most of what is exempt is work that is of a cosmetic nature only. However, this must be considered in light of how and why building codes have evolved over time. (Actually, a very long time; the earliest building codes can be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi, circa 1760 B.C.) The enactment of, and revisions to building codes are generally a direct result of failures from existing building techniques, and the disasters that often were a result of those failures.
Although the complexity of the codes have increased since the days of Hammurabi, what was true then remains true today; the intent of the building codes is to protect lives in the buildings and facilities we occupy and use.


 

Q: I don’t understand how getting a permit for my project will actually benefit me; it just costs me money. What happens if I just do the work, and don’t bother with a permit?
A:

Although obtaining a building permit is not a guarantee that your project will be problem-free, it does provide many benefits over non-permitted projects. Perhaps the most important benefit is that it provides an independent evaluation of the code-related aspects of your project. This process often actually begins when the project is still in a conceptual phase. Many times the information the Planning and Building Department can provide at this juncture greatly benefits an applicant in regards to the manner in which the project is ultimately structured and submitted. From initial inquiry through final approval, this “independent evaluation” is ongoing, to ensure that your project is compliant with all applicable building and municipal codes.

In addition to the above some of the more obvious advantages to obtaining a building permit are:

  • It “raises the bar” for all the individuals involved in the project.

    This includes designers, consultants, contractors, suppliers, as well as the individuals actually performing the work. Although limited to ensuring code compliance rather than overall quality control, the Planning and Building Department acts as a project “watchdog.”

  • Having a structured, time sensitive approval process can help keep the project moving (and hopefully completed!) in a timely manner.

    The general requirement that any code-required element of the project be inspected before it is allowed to be covered often leads to the discovery of problems that could be infinitely more egregious and expensive to mitigate if discovered later in the building process.

  • It provides an accurate record of work that has been done to the property over the years.

    This is particularly important in terms of transfer of ownership, and to a lesser degree, refinancing the property. The City of Mill Valley maintains a “Building History File” on each property within the city limits. In addition to applicable supporting documentation, the file contains all building permit activity since the City began documentation on the property. As per Municipal Code, when a property changes ownership the seller is obligated to schedule an inspection with the City. One of the intended purposes of these inspections, or ”RBR” (Residential Building Report) is to determine if work without permits has occurred. The results of this inspection go into the Building History File. As the contents of this file are public information, a common scenario is: a potential homebuyer, doing their due diligence, notices in the report that work has been done without benefit of permits. This can raise a red flag that often impacts the entire transaction, raising questions about the condition of the property and possibly the seller’s willingness to disclose information. Regardless of how the situation arises, it is a laborious, time consuming, and usually expensive process to submit for and receive final approval on a retroactive permit. Generally finishes need to be removed, often to both ascertain how the project was constructed for plan review purposes, as well as to determine the construction was compliant with the code in effect at the time the work was completed. In addition, the permit fees are at a minimum doubled, and may be assessed even higher.

    The City of Mill Valley is committed to promoting a safe built environment. When we issue a permit, the applicant is required to display a copy of the permit in a location that is reasonably visible from the public way. If it comes to our attention that work that was subject to permits is in progress with no evidence of a permit, enforcement action is a possibility. In the big picture, the cost of permitting is often negligible, compared to the potential value and benefits received.


Q: I can’t decide whether to hire a licensed contractor, or be my own contractor and manage the project myself to save money. What are the pros and cons of each?
A:

Generally speaking, the benefits of hiring a licensed contractor far outweigh the perceived benefit of acting as your own contractor and managing the project yourself. Acting as your own contractor (especially if you are not experienced in construction techniques and procedures) has cost many an unwitting applicant more in the long run than what the cost would have been had they hired a competent contractor.

On the Building Permit Application there are two spaces to check if you are obtaining the permit as an owner-builder. One is applicable if you are acting as an employer; the other, if you are exclusively contracting with licensed contractors. The link to the forms required by California law are Property Owner-Builder Package and Owner-Builder Permit Application. The California State License Board (www.cslb.ca.gov) is an excellent source of information regarding the legal aspects of being an owner-builder, as well as the pitfalls of hiring unlicensed contractors. We strongly recommend that a potential owner-builder take the time to peruse the requirements and information included in these links.


 

Q: OK, I think I’m ready to apply for a permit…what information does the City need to begin the process?
A:

If the steps outlined in previous FAQ’s have been completed, and the information contained in your plans is compatible with the Building Permits -- Plan Submittal Requirements handout, as well as the Residential Design Guidelines and /or the Residential Design Review Handbook, you should be ready to submit. 89

Certain circumstances exist when the submittal may be incomplete, but the incomplete items may become what is referred to as, a deferred submittal. A deferred submittal is an element, or elements, that need to be part of the submittal at some juncture, but not necessarily critical information as far as getting the project started. In other words, Building staff may be able to issue the permit, but the missing information will need to be provided at some pre-determined point; usually contingent on how the information could impact the approval process on the project.

For example: plans for a major renovation are submitted, but the calculations and structural design for the truss roof may not be complete. The calculations and structural design will not affect the aesthetic design of the roof, so the calculations and structural design become a deferred submittal. However, the submittal is only deferred until the roof sheathing is to be installed. If the calculations and structural design have not been submitted to and approved by Building Department staff prior to this juncture, work on the roof cannot progress, and there is a chance the project could be stopped altogether.

There may be many variations on deferred submittals, but the caveat is that the missing information cannot change the nature of the project as originally submitted. If it does, it becomes a revision, and is subject to separate criteria.

If you are unsure if your project contains all the necessary information for submittal, a conversation with the appropriate Building Department staff member should provide the clarity necessary to get your submittal complete.


 

Q: How long will it take before I can get my permit?
A:
A number of variables play into this. Often, it depends on what the scope of your project is, and the number of departments and agencies involved in the approval process. Structural complexity, unusual design, and unorthodox construction methodology are among the many other issues that can impact the approval process. Due to the aforementioned variables, it is extremely difficult to provide an accurate timetable of the approval process. To avoid potential delays, contact us while the project is still in a conceptual phase. An open line of communication is often the most valuable tool in the approval process. Often we can provide information that may save a great deal of trial and error (and consequently, time) in the process. Working with designers who are familiar with the approval process in Mill Valley is often advantageous.

Nearly everyone wants to know “how long until my permit is ready to issue?” We understand how important your project is to you; it is not unreasonable expect some kind of timeframe. On medium to large projects the standard processing time is four to six weeks, with the understanding that it will be approved as quickly as reasonably possible. However, a great deal of the responsibility for an expeditious approval is dependent on the initial level of relevant detail provided by the applicant. When plan check comments are generated, a timely and clear, complete response is the most efficient practice to keep the process moving. It may also be advantageous, if getting the project started is a priority, to wait until the permit is issued before submitting revisions. Revisions, except of a minor nature, must be processed in the same manner as a new submittal, and considered on the basis of how they impact the entire project.

It is also important to note that Building is only one of the departments and/or agencies that may be involved in the approval process. One of the reasons why we state a long time frame is that approval by other departments or agencies may take much longer than the actual Building approval. Generally, the more approvals required, the longer it might take before your permit is ready to issue.

As with the building inspection process, there are time limits in the plan review process. If comments are not responded to within 180 days, or there is otherwise no activity on the applicant’s part of the process, the permit application will expire, and may have to be completely resubmitted. An extension may be granted for an additional 180 days, if circumstances occur that would preclude the applicant completing the process in a timely manner. The request for an extension must be in writing, prior to expiration, and signed by the applicant. It must be addressed to the Building Official and the reason for the request must be stated.
Q: Is there any way to expedite my approval, especially if it is a small project?
A:

There are a number of permits that may be relatively quick and simple to obtain. Water heaters, HVAC systems, sewer repair, electrical service change-outs are examples of permits that generally may be obtained anytime during regular business hours. Other types of small projects may be appropriate for our Over-the-Counter (OTC) permitting service. This is generally available every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 10am until 11:30am. (Although we continue reviewing plans until 12:00 noon, we do not take any applications after 11:30) We have a sign-up list available at 8:00 am on OTC mornings and our policy is first-come, first served. The service is generally geared towards residential projects that are of a minor nature; such as projects that do not alter the footprint of the structure; does not contain structural detail that requires engineering; alterations to the exterior that require Planning or Department of Public Works review beyond staff level, etc. Examples of projects that might be appropriate would be: bathroom and kitchen alterations, a small deck on relatively flat terrain, changing out a window, termite work, etc. If you feel your project might be appropriate for this service we strongly recommend you bring the plans and/or description of the project in during the building inspectors regular counter hours (8-9am and 4-5pm, excepting Wednesday mornings) to confirm that the project will be appropriate for the OTC service. This will save you the inconvenience of signing up and waiting your turn only to discover we cannot plan check and/or approve your project in this venue.

There are few projects that do not require plans. If you feel this may be the case, contact us to discuss your particular situation. As with all projects, we will try to advise you on the most expeditious manner to get your project approved and the work started.


 

Q: Can I get started on the project before I actually obtain my permit?
A:

In general, a project must be approved and the permit issued before the actual work can begin. The California Building Code does allow an exception for emergency work, if City Hall is closed when the event occurs. This is applicable only if the emergency is of such a nature that repairs must be initiated or life and/or property would be threatened. A permit for such work shall be applied for on the next business day.

We will issue a demolition permit in certain cases. Usually it is issued for specific structural exploratory work, where certain elements need to be exposed to determine the level of repair or reconstruction necessary, for inclusion into the submitted plans. Another situation is the demolition of an entire structure, which is often allowed before the permit for the replacement structure is approved and ready to issue.

If you have a particular situation where you feel demolition might be appropriate before the project is actually approved, it will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Please be advised, however, that these cases are the exception rather that the rule. The multitude of factors and departments that are often involved in an alteration often preclude anything but specific, monitored areas of demolition.


 

Q: What are these additional charges that don’t seem relevant to the scope of my project? What is a Road Impact Fee? Drainage Fee?
A:

A Road Impact Fee is assessed on any permit issued with a valuation of $10,000 or more, as per the Mill Valley Municipal Code. This fee has been in effect since 2004. The fee is equal to one percent of the valuation of the permit. The fees collected are not specific to the street in which the work is being performed, but are deposited into a fund that helps the Department of Public Works maintain all roadways in Mill Valley.

The Drainage Fee is a one-time fee assessed to every parcel within the City, as per the Mill Valley Municipal Code. This fee has been in effect since the 1960s. Any permit with a valuation of $5000+ will trigger the assessment of this fee; with parcels over one acre in size charged a double fee. Once the fee is paid, it is entered into a spreadsheet that tracks the collection activity so the property is not charged twice. This money is deposited in a fund that is used by the Department of Public Works to improve the City's drainage systems.

Please contact the Building Counter for information on a specific parcel.


 

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