Our Public Planning Process

The public planning process in Petaluma helps businesses and housing projects move forward safely, legally, and in tandem with the City's goals, as set by our community. It is designed to ensure that projects comply with all required laws and regulations and frequently includes review by staff across many City departments and the community volunteers who make up our Commissions, Committees & Boards. Below you'll find more information about how these projects move through our planning process. If you have any additional questions, please reach out to our staff at [email protected].

What is the Development Process in Petaluma?

There are two parts to the planning process in Petaluma: the policy process and the development review process.

The policy process is how rules and regulations are created in Petaluma. The City Council is our legislative body and they, with significant input from the community, create the ordinances that determine how property in Petaluma can be used.

The development review process is undertaken by the City's Planning staff, under the guidance of the City Manager and City Attorney, and in partnership with staff from the City's Building, Housing, Finance, Legal, Parks, and Public Works Departments. When a property owner wants to develop their property, they, with the help of design professionals, complete an application that explains their vision and describes the proposed project with the help of plans and studies.

City staff review these proposals and compare them with federal, state, and local rules to determine if the project complies with the law. They also consider whether projects align with our community's vision as outlined in our General Plan, our Implementing Zoning Ordinance, and other special plans such as our Central Petaluma Specific Plan – a plan to outline goals for our downtown. These plans are the foundation of how development occurs, and they are created with input and guidance from our community and approved by our City Council.

Who else reviews proposals?

After our Planning Department staff first review a proposal, depending upon the applicability, it is then routed to a variety of departments including Public Works & Utilities, Fire, Parks and Recreation, City Attorney and City Manager’s Offices.

Based upon Council policies and our Goals and Priorities, many proposals are reviewed by our more than a dozen Committees, Commissions, and Boards that are made up of community volunteers and are advisory to Council. Based upon the focus of the Committee or Commission (e.g. Climate, Trees, Recreation and Parks), these bodies weigh in and provide feedback about how a project can be improved to support Petaluma’s goals. Finally, staff gather information and relay the proposal to our community and Planning Commission for consideration by the City Council, who are ultimately responsible for land use policy in our city.

How does the City determine which projects move forward?

As a land use regulatory body, the City of Petaluma is required by state law to review and process all applications that are submitted for approval, subject to time frames specified in various laws and regulations. As above, each development application is reviewed for consistency with applicable laws and regulations, which may include federal, state, and local laws and regulations, before being presented to the appropriate discretionary approval body. Depending on the scope of the project and required entitlements, this might include the Planning Commission or the City Council.

How do we balance new development with limited water resources?

Water conservation is crucial across California, whether we're officially in a drought or not. Any new development will require water, both during the building process and once tenants are in place. So why do we allow development at all?

California law requires all cities to plan for a specific number of new housing units across all income levels in its city-wide Housing Element. You can read more about Petaluma's Housing Element here. In Petaluma, that number is 1,910 units of new housing to be built before 2031 to keep up with our community's needs. For many concerned about water use, this can raise concerns about Petaluma's sustainability over time.

However, according to a presentation by Sonoma Water staff during the March 20, 2023 City Council meeting, water use across Sonoma County has actually decreased by around 30% in the last decade because of extensive water conservation efforts - on the part of government and individuals across our community. Petaluma will continue to find ways to make sure there's enough water to go around through our Integrated Water Master Plan, coming in fall of 2023.

If you have any additional questions about our Planning Process, please reach out to our Planning Department at [email protected]. We look forward to serving our community!


"In the Planning Department, we see Petaluma's plans, policies, and regulations as an expression of the community's shared vision. As Public Planners, we strive to balance the realization of this vision with individual rights through a fair, transparent, objective, and consistent development review planning process." 

- Andrew Trippel, Planning Manager

Permit Hub

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General Plan Update

The City of Petaluma is beginning to update its General Plan, a comprehensive long-term plan for the City adopted in 2008. Find out where we are in the process and how to get involved.

Zoning Codes & Maps

Find your zoning code to determine what activities can be done on a property and where.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Learn more about our local requirements for developing an ADU, or granny-unit, which are now permitted in Petaluma.

Zoning & Permit Research

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Our Staffing Model

Learn more about the hybrid staffing model that helps our Planning Department remain efficient and flexible throughout the year.

Development Review

Learn more about what happens when you submit a proposal for the City's review.

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