Retaining Walls in San Diego: A Comprehensive Guide

As always, our mission a leading San Diego contractor is to provide you with the most comprehensive and relevant information regarding home improvement projects. Today, we’ll explore the codes and regulations surrounding San Diego retaining walls and the necessary permits.

Understanding the Retaining Wall

Before we get into the specifics of the permits, let’s define what a retaining wall is. Simply put, a retaining wall is a structure that holds or retains soil behind it. They can range from simple garden enclosures to large-scale structures that prevent soil erosion on hillsides. But whether small or large, certain regulations need to be met for safety reasons.

CMU Retaining Walls

CMU or Concrete Masonry Units are often used for retaining walls because of their strength and versatility. CMU walls are constructed from concrete blocks that are stacked and then filled with reinforcing materials and concrete. This makes them extremely durable and well-suited for larger structures. They can also be faced with a variety of materials to suit the aesthetic of your home or landscape, making them a versatile choice. 

Keystone Retaining Walls

Keystone retaining walls, on the other hand, are a type of segmental retaining wall. This means they are constructed from individual units – in this case, interlocking concrete blocks – that are stacked without the use of mortar. The blocks’ design allows them to withstand the pressure from the soil behind them, while the interlocking feature provides stability. Keystone walls are popular due to their easy and quick installation and the natural stone aesthetic they provide. For more information and styles visit Keystone Retaining Wall Systems. 

Retaining wall in front yard san diego ca
Retaining wall front yard san diego ca

City of San Diego Retaining Wall Permits

The City of San Diego has specific regulations concerning retaining walls. According to the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) Chapter 14, Article 2, Division 3, retaining walls over 3 feet in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall require a permit. This height includes any surcharge, or additional pressure applied by something resting on the soil behind the wall, like a vehicle or structure.

Moreover, any retaining wall, regardless of height, that supports a surcharge or any structure like a house, fence, or driveway also needs a permit. Bear in mind that these permit requirements are essential because they ensure that the structure is built to safely withstand the forces it will encounter.

County of San Diego Retaining Wall Permits

Just like the city, the County of San Diego has its regulations for retaining walls. As per the County of San Diego, Department of Planning & Development Services (PDS), all retaining walls, regardless of height, that are located within the setback, or required distance from the property line, need to secure a building permit.

Furthermore, retaining walls exceeding 3 feet in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall also require a building permit. So, even small walls can be subject to these rules if they are near property lines or neighboring structures. Again, this is all to ensure safety and prevent damage to neighboring properties.

How to Obtain a san diego retaining wall Permit?

The process of obtaining a permit involves submitting an application with the necessary documents, including plans and specifications for the retaining wall, to the respective agency, whether that’s the City or County of San Diego.

Once the application is reviewed and approved, the permit is received. Keep in mind that obtaining a permit also entails inspections to verify that the work complies with the approved plans. Securing permits for retaining walls in San Diego, whether it’s within the city or county, can seem like a daunting task, but it’s a crucial part of ensuring the safety and success of your project. At Lusso Design and Build, as an experienced San Diego retaining wall contractor, we understand these processes thoroughly and are committed to guiding our clients through each step, ensuring their home improvement projects are completed safely, legally, and beautifully.

We’re not just about crafting beautiful and durable retaining walls – we also take on the responsibility of navigating the intricate permit processes. We understand that dealing with the city can sometimes be a challenge, and that’s why we are here to help.

Our services go beyond construction. As a qualified San Diego retaining wall contractor we help to ensure that your project is fully compliant with all city requirements. Our team is adept at submitting all necessary paperwork, including detailed plans, as per the city’s stipulations.


If your property is part of a Homeowners Association (HOA) in San Diego, you may need to get approval from the HOA before building a retaining wall. The requirement for approval depends on the specific rules and regulations of your HOA, which are usually outlined in their Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs). Some HOAs have strict rules about alterations to properties within the association to maintain a uniform appearance and property values.

It’s always a good idea to check with your HOA before starting any significant home improvement projects, including building a retaining wall. Not doing so could lead to fines or demands to reverse the changes. It’s also worth noting that this is in addition to any permits that may be required by the City or County of San Diego. Even if the city or county approves your project, your HOA could still deny it.

Lastly, keep in mind that HOA regulations can change, and enforcement can vary, so it’s essential to have the most up-to-date information from your HOA.

We understand how crucial it is to maintain harmony in your community and abide by all regulations set out by your Homeowners Association (HOA). That’s why at Lusso Design and Build, we don’t just stop at building retaining walls; we’re committed to helping you navigate the entire process, and that includes HOA submittals.

We go the extra mile to understand the specific requirements of your HOA. Our team will prepare and submit all necessary documents on your behalf, including a detailed sketch of the proposed retaining wall, as per your HOA’s requirements.

Our goal as a top rated San Diego retaining wall contractor is  to make your home improvement journey as smooth as possible. With our comprehensive service, you won’t need to worry about the nitty-gritty details; we’ll handle all the legwork so you can focus on envisioning your beautiful, upgraded space.

benefits of building a retaining wall in san diego

Retaining walls provide a host of benefits, especially in a location like San Diego, where the terrain can be varied, and the weather can range from rainy winters to hot, dry summers. Here are some of the top benefits of a retaining wall:

Soil Erosion Control: Retaining walls are designed to hold back soil, which is especially important on sloped properties where soil erosion could be a problem. By retaining the soil, these walls prevent landslides and soil washouts during heavy rains.

Flood Control: Retaining walls help manage water runoff, reducing the risk of flooding during periods of heavy rain. This is particularly useful in areas of San Diego prone to flash floods.

Increased Usable Space: By leveling out a sloped area, retaining walls can create more usable space in your San Diego back or front yard. This opens up opportunities for more landscaping options, gardens, or outdoor living spaces.

Aesthetic Appeal: Retaining walls can significantly enhance the beauty of your landscape. They offer opportunities for creative landscaping, such as terraced gardens or incorporated seating.

Increased Property Value: A well-designed retaining wall not only adds functionality but can also increase the aesthetic value of your property, leading to potential increases in your San Diego property value.

Structural Support: Retaining walls provide necessary support to keep soil in place, which is especially important if the landscape is near a building or other structure.

Remember, the effectiveness and benefits of a retaining wall depend on professional construction and the quality of materials used. At Lusso Design and Build, we are committed to providing high-quality, durable, and aesthetically pleasing retaining walls to meet your landscaping needs.

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