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Frequently Asked Questions

Can a homeowner prepare the drawings, obtain a building permit, and construct a
house or addition, without consulting an architect/engineer/contractor?

There are provisions in the Building Code for construction of simple one-story buildings without the assistance of plans designed by an architect or engineer.

Homeowners can obtain permits and undertake construction themselves once plans are approved by the City however it is advisable for homeowners to work with a licensed contractor during the construction phase of the project.

Any work exceeding $500.00 in labor and materials is required to be done by a licensed contractor unless soley done by the homeowner.

Always hire a licensed contractor and request his/her license number. You can contact various State agencies to obtain information:

Architects – Contact the California Board of Architectural Examiners or call (916) 445-3394.

Engineers – Contact the California Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors or call (916) 263-2222.

Contractors – Contractors State License Board or call 1-800-321-2752.

Do I need a permit to build a fence on my property?

Fences that are constructed of wood or wire do not require permits unless they exceed 7 feet in height. The City Zoning Code does not allow fences to exceed 3 feet in height in the required front yard or 6 feet in height in side and rear yards measured from the highest adjoining grade. If a fence is 6 feet in height on one side but more than 7 feet in height on the other side then a building permit is required.

Masonry or concrete walls or columns do require permits if they exceed 4 feet in height from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall. Retaining walls less than 4 feet in height require permits if they are retaining a slope.

If there is a swimming pool or spa on the property and they do not have an approved spa or pool cover any new fence has to comply with the State of California and the City of Monte Sereno pool barrier requirements however no permit is required.

Do I need a permit to repair or re-roof my home?

You are allowed to repair up to ten percent of your roof area without a permit. A permit is required from the City to re-roof any structure or for repairs that exceed ten percent of the roof area.
 
Many of the homes in Monte Sereno are located in hillside areas or adjacent to heavily wooded areas. The fire protection regulations the City and the Santa Clara County Fire District require roof assemblies to meet a class "A" assembly fire resistance rating in these hillside areas. All other areas of the City are required to meet a minimum class “B” assembly.
 
If you are considering roof repairs or replacement check that the contractor has obtained a permit from the City before they begin any work. It also helps to ask for a few addresses where they have applied the same type of roof that you are considering for your home. Always make sure that the City has completed a final inspection of the roof and signed the permit before you make the final payment to the contractor.

Emergency Preparedness Checklist. What do I need to keep for an emergency?

Three Day Survival Kit

  • Water- 1 gallon per person per day, preferably one week. Store in air tight containers and replace it every six months.
  • Water Purification kit. Iodine tablets or chlorine bleach (eight drops per gallon to purify water if necessary).
  • First aid kit – with bandages and disinfectants.
  • Food. Enough for 72 hours, preferably one week.
  • Food for pets
  • Can opener (non-electric)
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Portable radio. Most telephones will be out of order or limited to emergency use. The radio will be your best source of information.
  • Flashlight and spare batteries. Keep flashlights beside your bed and in several other locations. CAUTION: DO NOT use matches or candles after an earthquake until you are certain there are no gas leaks.
  • Essential medications
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses
  • Fire extinguishers. Your fire extinguisher should be suitable for all types of fires. Teach all family members how to use it.
  • Cash
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Heavy gloves
  • Candles (only after checking that there are no gas leaks)
  • Light sticks
  • Extra change of clothing and shoes
  • Knife and razor
  • Tent
  • Camping stove or barbecue. CAUTION: Ensure there are no gas leaks before you use any kind of fire as a cooking source and never use charcoal indoors.
  • Axe, shovel, broom, hand saw
  • Adjustable or pipe wrench for turning off gas and water.
  • Rope, tape, staple gun
  • Baby supplies. Have at least a week’s supply of medications and food for infants and those with special needs.
  • Soap
  • Waterless hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper
  • City map
  • Sand bags (may be picked up and filled at the Town of Los Gatos Corp. Yard on Miles Avenue)

How can I determine what zone my property is in?

Your Zoning Designations is based on your property location and the net property size.  Please visit the document section of the web site to obtain a copy of the Development Standards Forms R-1-8, R-1-20, R-1-44

How can I help prevent a coyote problem in my neighborhood?

ABOUT COYOTES

In California, coyotes breed mainly during January, February, and March. The gestation period is about 60-63 days. Young are born March through May, with litter sizes averaging 5-6 pups. Coyotes produce one litter per year. The young are weaned at 5 to 6 weeks and leave the parents at 6 to 9 months. Most adults breed first in their second year. Nonbreeding, yearling, coyotes often stay with the adult parents and help care for the pups. Coyote dens are found in steep banks, rock crevices, sinkholes, and underbrush. Coyote dens are often holes that have been used by badger, skunks, foxes, or other animals with entrances enlarged to about one foot in diameter. Dens vary from 4 to 5 feet deep to 50 feet deep.

The diet of the coyote consists mainly of mice, rats, ground squirrels, gophers, rabbits, and carrion. They also eat insects, reptiles, amphibians, fruits, birds and their eggs, and deer fawns. In some rural areas of California they prey heavily on sheep, cattle, and poultry. In urban and suburban areas, garbage, domestic cats and dogs, other pets, hobby animals, and pet food can be important food items. Coyotes are most active at night and during the early morning and late evening hours. In areas where they are not disturbed by human activities, and during the cooler times of the year, they may be active throughout the day. Urban coyotes are becoming very tolerant of human activities. Young coyotes tend to be more active during daylight hours than adults. Home range size varies depending on food availability.

PREVENTING COYOTE PROBLEMS

Coyotes are attracted to urban/suburban areas by the easy accessibility of food, water, and shelter. Reducing or eliminating the availability of these elements will often encourage coyotes to leave. Garbage can lids should be secured at all times or garbage stored indoors. Pets should be fed during daylight hours and all pet food removed before darkness. Water bowls should be emptied and not left out after dark. Ripe fruits and vegetables should be covered at night or the garden/fruit trees enclosed by a coyote proof fence to prevent access by hungry coyotes. All windfall fruit/vegetables should be picked up daily. In areas where predation on pets has been documented, cats and small dogs should not be left out after dark unless enclosed in a coyote proof enclosure. Food should never intentionally be left out for wild mammals. In suburban areas where livestock such as lambs, piglets, calves, or poultry are raised and coyote predation has been documented, precautions should be taken to prevent further losses. Animals can be brought into barns, sheds, or coyote proof enclosures at night, or in certain instances the confinement areas can be lit at night.

To exclude coyotes, fences should be constructed which are at least 5 1/2 feet tall.  Monte Sereno Municipal Code does not permit fences over 6 feet tall. These fences can be made of solid wood, cement blocks, brick, or wire. If net wire fencing is used, the bottom portion should be at least 3 1/2 feet tall with squares smaller than 6 inches. If high tensile fence is used, it should be electrified with a fence charger to prevent coyotes from going through. All fences should have some sort of galvanized wire apron buried at least 4 to 6 inches in the ground which extends out from the fence at least 15 to 20 inches. The apron should be securely attached to the bottom of the fence. Coyotes are very adept diggers and prefer to dig under fences rather than jump them.

Brush and vegetation should be cleared from backyards and adjacent areas to eliminate habitat for prey which could attract coyotes. Landscaping should be pruned on a regular basis. These actions also remove hiding cover used by coyotes to stalk domestic pets. If cats cannot be contained indoors, and predation is viewed as a problem, posts can be installed in open space areas which provide an escape for the cats. These posts should be at least 7 feet tall, made of material that the cat can climb, and have enough space on top for the cat to sit. During the time of the year when adult coyotes are caring for young (May-September), they can be very aggressive when their young are threatened. Domestic dogs are especially vulnerable to attack during this time.  Dogs have been attacked when they got too close to a family of coyotes. In urban settings where a den site has been identified, caution should be taken to keep dogs out of the area. These areas should be posted with signs and people concerned about attacks on their dogs should avoid the area. Increased predation on domestic pets can be expected around den sites, and extra precautions should be taken by residents to protect valued domestic cats or small dogs. In some cases a family group of coyotes can be harassed enough to encourage them to move.

Whenever possible, coyotes should be harassed or scared to condition them to avoid humans.

For more information, please visit the Department of Fish and Game’s web site, Santa Clara County Vector Control website, or the website for Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVAVA) or you can call SVACA at 408-764-0344.

How do I calculate the slope density formula?

First you must calculate the average slope of the propoerty as defined by City Code.  Once you have calculated the slope, then apply the appropriate formula for your zoning district as shown in the following example.

Zoning District  Minimum Lot Size (Net)
 R1-8  L = 43,560 square feet/5.45 - .089 S
 R1-20  L = 43,560 square feet/2.20 - .036 S
 R1-44  L = 43,560 square feet/1.00 - .016 S

 

Example Calculation for R1-8 with a slope (S) of 29%

L=Minimum Lot Size Required

S= Slope (as a whole number)

 

L=43,560 Square Feet/5.45 - .089S  

L=43,560 Square Feet/5.45 - .089(29)

L=43,560 Square Feet/5.45 – 2.58

L=43,560 Square Feet/2.87

L=15,177 Square Fee

How do I know if my addition or remodel needs approval by the Site & Architecture Commission?

The following proposed projects shall require a Site Development Permit prior to the issuance of a building permit or a demolition permit:

A. Any new building or structure exceeding one hundred twenty (120) square feet.

B. Any addition to an existing building or structure that adds fifty percent (50%) or more to the existing square footage of the building or structure.

C. Any building renovation or alteration affecting fifty percent (50%) or more of the existing square footage of the building or structure.

D. Any building demolition affecting fifty percent (50%) or more of the existing square footage of the building or structure.

E. Any additions or alterations to the second story of an existing two-story building.

F. Any additions of a second story to an existing single story building.

How long is a building permit good for?

Permits are good for 180 days from the date they are approved. A permit is extended for an additional 180 days once an inspection is made by the City Building Department and it is shown that significant progress has been made toward the completion of the project.

If a permit is not paid for within 180 days of its approval the project is cancelled and the homeowner is responsible for paying the plan review fees. Once the project is canceled the City destroys any plans that have been submitted.

If a homeowner or contractor pays for a permit and does not call for an inspection within 180 days or more than 180 days elapses between inspections then the permit expires. A permit can be renewed one time if it has been less than one year since it expired by paying the City one half of the original permit fees. If the permit has been expired for more than a year then the City can require that new plans be submitted and fees shall be paid in the full amount before the project can resume.

How much does a a building permit cost and what is the cost based on?

There is a variable formula in the California Building Code to determine the cost of a building permit and plan review depending on the value of the construction.

The value of construction is based on a fee schedule adopted by the City Council. The fee schedule specifies the value per square foot depending on the type of construction.

Fees for other types of permits such as electrical, plumbing and mechanical are also based on the fee schedule adopted by the City Council.

How to Select Native Plants and avoid invasive plants

Please visit the California Native Plant Society

Please visit the Invasive Plant Council

Also research plant species at Cal Flora

I want to add onto my house, how do I apply for a building permit?

First you should contact the City Planning Department to ensure the addition will meet the City’s Zoning Ordinance and that the project will not require approval from the Site and Architecture Commission or the City Council. If there are no zoning or planning permit issues, you can then submit a completed building permit application along with the appropriate plans and calculations to the City Building Department.

Building Permit Submittal Requirements

Preparing for a Pandemic Flu

What are Monte Sereno Demographics?

Legal Status: General Law City
Incorporated: 5/14/1957

Demographics (2006)
Estimated population: 4,000
Estimated households: 1,228
Average persons per household: 3.26
Percent single family housing: 99%

Location
Latitude: 37.23 degrees North
Longitude: 121.98 degrees West

What are the requirements for approving a Site Development Permit (Design review)?

Site Development Permit

Required Findings (10.08.050)

No Site Development Permit shall be issued unless the Committee makes the following findings:

1. Whether the proposed improvement and/or use retains the existing character of the neighborhood in which it would be located.

2. Whether the architectural design proposed to be employed will mitigate any significant visual impact which could result from the proposed improvement and/or use.

3. Whether the proposed improvement and/or use will provide for minimum grading and retention of the natural contours of the land then existing in order to protect the natural slope of the lot.

4. Whether the proposed improvement and/or use provides for:

a. A building footprint designed in such a way as to protect significant trees as defined elsewhere in this Code; and

b. Preservation of solar access.

5. Whether the landscaping for the proposed improvement and/or use emphasizes the use of native materials in the area.

6. Whether the site drainage for the proposed improvement and/or use provides for no increase in water run-off to neighboring lots.

7. Whether the proposed improvements are consistent with the City Design Guidelines.

In connection with its review of each of the foregoing matters, the Committee may include in any Site Development Permit such conditions as it may determine to be necessary in order to ameliorate or mitigate identified impacts of the project. Such conditions, without limiting the discretion of the Committee, may include a time limitation, site planning limitations, architectural conditions, setback restrictions, occupancy regulations, landscape regulations, or drainage and sewage regulation.

What can I do to prevent Mountain Lion attacks in my neighborhood?

About half of California is mountain lion country, and that includes Monte Sereno.  While attacks by mountain lions are extremely rare, these big cats can be dangerous. The California Department of Fish and Game has these suggestions for more safely coexisting with these marvelous animals.

LIVING WITH MOUNTAIN LIONS

DON'T FEED WILDLIFE: Wildlife in your yard may attract mountain lions that prey upon them.

KEEP PETS SECURE: Pets are easy prey for hungry mountain lions.  Keep pets inside and don't feed them outside.

LANDSCAPE FOR SAFETY:  Avoid using plants that deer like to eat.  If you attract deer, mountain lions may be close by.  Remove vegetation that provides good hiding places for lions, especially around children's play areas.

INSTALL OUTDOOR LIGHTING: Keep the perimeter of your house well lit at night…especially along walkways.

KEEP CHILDREN SAFE: Keep a close watch on children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about mountain lions and teach them what to do if they encounter one.

ENCOUNTERING A MOUNTAIN LION

DO NOT HIKE ALONE: Stay in groups, with adults supervising children.

KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE TO YOU: Mountain lions seem especially drawn to children.  Keep children within your sight at all times.

DO NOT APPROACH A LION: Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation with humans.  Give them a way to escape.

DO NOT RUN FROM A LION: Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal.  Make eye contact.  If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so they don't panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the lion.

DO NOT CROUCH DOWN OR BEND OVER: A human standing up is just not the right shape for a big cat's prey, but when you squat or bend over you may look like a four-legged prey animal.  Avoid squatting, crouching or bending over…even when picking up children.

DO ALL YOU CAN TO APPEAR LARGER: Raise your arms and wave them slowly while speaking firmly in a loud voice.  Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back.  The idea is to convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.

FIGHT BACK IF ATTACKED: Mountain lions usually try to bite the head or neck.  Try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.  People have successfully fought back with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and even their bare hands.

For more information, please visit the Department of Fish and Game’s web site  or contact the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority  or by phone at 764-0344.

What if my project doesn’t conform to the building code?

The California Building Codes are minimum life safety codes. If your project does not conform to the code then the project will have to be modified to meet the code.

What is the allowable fence height?

No portion of any fence shall exceed a height of three (3) feet in any part of any front yard unless a site development permit has been approved in accordance with City Code, or a height of six (6) feet in any side or rear yard. In no event shall any fence height exceed six (6) feet at any point on the lot.

When do I need a permit to remove a tree?

A permit is required to remove any tree that meets any of the following criteria. Any Oak or Redwood tree having a circumference greater than 20"(measured at 4' height). Any other type of tree having a circumference greater than 25". Any removal of three or more trees regardless of size.

When is a permit required?

The City operates under the provisions of the California Sate Building Code with very few local amendments.

The State Building Code requires permits any time a building or structure is “erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished…”. That is very large in scope.

There are projects that may not require building permits but may require other types of approval by the City and meet other requirements of the municipal code, such as setbacks and lot coverage limits.

Projects exempted from building permits are:

Single story, detached accessory buildings such as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses that do not exceed 120 square feet in floor area.  These structures must still meet applicable setbacks and detached structures may also require a use permit;

Fences not exceeding 7 feet in height;

Movable cases, counters and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches high;

Retaining walls not over 4 feet in height measured form the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless the wall is supporting a surcharge;

Walks and driveways not more than 30 inches above grade and not over any basement or story below.  Walks, driveways and landing places must still meet applicable setbacks and lot coverage limits;

Painting, papering and similar finish work;

Window awnings supported by an exterior wall as long as they do not project more than 54 inches from the wall.  These structures must still meet applicable setbacks and lot coverage limits;

Prefabricated swimming pools that are less than 24 inches deep.  Pools must still meet applicable setback and lot coverage limits.

Decks not exceeding 200 square feet in area, that are not more than 30 inches above grade at any point, are not attached to the dwelling and do not serve the exit door.

Swings and other playground equipment.

Water tanks supported directly upon grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2 to 1.

Although the items mentioned above may be exempt from a building permit, they may require separate electrical, plumbing or mechanical permits.

If you have a question as to whether your project requires a permit call the Building Department at (408) 354-2805 or visit City Hall.

Who is responsible for obtaining a building permit the homeowner or the contractor?

Homeowners are responsible for any construction on their property. The homeowner may have a contractual agreement with the contractor for the contractor to obtain permits but the homeowner should not allow any construction to begin until the contractor has obtained the appropriate permits from the City.