Start a Business

Welcome to South Pasadena! We hope you will start your business in our City or expand your business operations here! We’ve put together a toolkit to help you understand the City development approval processes and become successful. Since most prospective business owners or “applicants” desire to locate their new business into an existing commercial property, this page focuses on how to make commercial tenant improvements. Tenant improvements are nonstructural interior alterations to an existing commercial or industrial space.

Introduction to South Pasadena

South Pasadena is located in the San Gabriel Valley approximately eight miles from downtown Los Angeles via the 110 Freeway. It is served by Metro’s Gold Line with the South Pasadena Station at Mission and Meridian streets. This small General Law City of nearly 26,000 people and 3.44 square miles has its own police, fire, library, parks and recreational facilities and programs, and school district. It hosts one of the region’s most popular weekly Certified Farmers’ Markets and an active branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. South Pasadena has a rich and varied history, from settlements in the 18th and 19th centuries, through the post-World War II period. It has an impressive collection of neighborhoods representing significant periods of the City’s growth, along with important individual examples of period architectural styles and works by prominent local architects. The City’s geography, its position as a transportation corridor between the San Gabriel Valley and downtown Los Angeles, and the prevalent design culture throughout its history influenced its development.
South Pasadena’s boundaries are generally defined by natural landmarks including the Arroyo Seco watershed on the west, Raymond Hill on the north dividing the City of Pasadena, and Monterey Hills which straddles South Pasadena’s southwest border with the City of Los Angeles. To the east and southeast are the cities of San Marino and Alhambra respectively. Within a five-mile radius of South Pasadena, there is a population 725,460 in 20 zip codes with a median household income of $56,980.

The City has something to offer to any type of business, big or small, restaurant, retail, creative, or home-based. Click here for an in-depth Profile of the City of South Pasadena prepared by the Southern California Association of Governments.

If you are starting a home business in your residence, you will need to obtain a business license from the City of South Pasadena and agree to comply with restrictions to ensure that your home business does not disrupt or conflict with the residential neighborhood. Visit the Planning Division staff to learn if your business type qualifies for a home business license and then apply for a license at the Finance Department.

Click here for more information and to obtain an online home business license application.

Below are the more Frequently Asked Questions; click on the READ ANSWER to view answers.

1. What Commercial Spaces are available for Lease or Sale?

Now that you have selected South Pasadena as your future location, find out some of the vacant buildings or sites currently available by visiting our Property Search. This is an opt-in service sponsored by the Chamber whereby commercial real estate brokers, leasing agents, and property owners may list their properties.

To find more properties, click here for a list of Chamber members that are commercial real estate profressionals. The Chamber of Commerce also has an inventory of commercial properties that can be viewed at the Chamber Office, 1121 Mission Street.

Before signing a lease or purchasing a property, verify that your planned use and location complies with zoning regulations. Many prospective applicants learn too late that their business type is not suitable for the space desired or that the City requires building modifications to meet City codes that are not within their budget and that they are unable to terminate their lease or purchase agreement or incur steep penalty fees to do so.

Choosing the right zone for your business is important! Consult with the Planning & Building Division staff at the City Hall public counter to see if the property you are interested is compatible with its zoning. Cities outline their land use requirements in a zoning map and zoning ordinance. The zoning map identifies every property within the City and divides areas into residential, commercial, business park, community facilities and open space districts or "zones." The zoning ordinance, located in the South Pasadena Municipal Code, establishes the rules for development within each zone. The primary purpose of zoning is to classify and minimize potential conflicts between land uses. If your site is properly zoned for your intended use, your site selection will be simple. Schedule a pre-application meeting with City planning staff to review the planning approvals process and develop a project timeline. Also certain actions may require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) such as the sale of alcohol beverages.

We encourage you and your architect to consult with City Planning & Building staff early to determine the scope of your project, learn about the specific approval processes required by the City, and the types of permits you will need especially if you are building on vacant land or proposing to change the occupancy of an existing building.

If your proposed project is:

  1. complex; or
  2. requires a change or intensification of use; or
  3. involves tenant improvements of $500,000 or more,

we suggest you meet with the "City's Red Carpet" interdepartmental team, to make such a request contact the Planning Division.

We recommend that you work with an architect to assist you in meeting City development standards and help you navigate citizen commissions that advise City Council. Your project may need to be presented to the Planning Commission, Design Review Board or Cultural Heritage Commission depending on (i) the magnitude of physical changes to the building (including new signage) to be undertaken; (ii) if the property is identified as a landmark or a historic resource; (iii) the level of environmental review required to meet the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); and (iv) whether there is a change or an intensification of use, among other things. Find an architect at the website of the Pasadena & Foothill Chapter of the American Institute of Architects or click here for a list of local architects who are Chamber members.

Follow City project submittal requirements to make sure that you have all the required plans, studies, and other materials needed. New land uses and structures, and alterations to existing land uses and structures, must be designed, constructed, and/or established in compliance with the requirements in Chapter 36, Zoning of the South Pasadena Municipal Code. See Article 2 (Zoning Districts, Allowable Land Uses, and Zone-Specific Standards) Table 2-5 Commercial District General Development Standards, in addition to the applicable development standards (e.g., landscaping, parking and loading, sign regulations, etc.) outlined in Article 3 Site Planning and General Development Standards.

You will also need to figure out the number of required parking spaces required by the City. The calculation of parking spaces usually depends on the type of business, the square footage of the business (building area, not land area), and the location of the business. Business parking requirements are found in Table 3-6, Parking Requirements by Land Use. Note that there are special parking requirements for historic buildings and legal nonconforming buildings in the Commercial General (CG) zone. Speak with the Planning Division staff to determine the exact number of parking spaces required for your business.

There are also special considerations regarding use, improvements, and modifications if your building is on City of South Pasadena Inventory of Historic Resources.

The City's Commercial Design Guidelines aid business owners seeking to construct new commercial developments or exterior alterations to existing projects, in the early stages of their projects. The guidelines provide a framework for solutions consistent with the stated goals. Additional objectives for each of these commercial districts as outlined in the General Plan include more area specific development goals for additional parking, specific land uses, height allowances, creation of gateway elements at city entry points, and development standards for specific sites where vehicular-oriented uses with larger setbacks and surface level parking.
There are specific regulations for the Mission Street Specific Plan so check to see if your property is located in this business district.

Planning & Building staff can explain what building modifications, if any, will be required to meet City codes, help you determine the magnitude of costs, and provide a timeframe for obtaining City approvals. Sometimes, the entire facility needs to be brought up to code before a building permit can be issued. For example, you may want to upgrade your sink, but the Los Angele County Department of Environmental Health (Health Department), (in the case of food-related businesses) or City Building Codes may require new flooring, electrical changes or other improvements. You should also be aware of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Federal law mandating disabled access. Buildings which do not meet the ADA requirements for entrances and exits, bathrooms etc. are often required to be upgraded prior to opening your business. Also it is wise to not assume that just because your predecessor used the same building for a similar use that you can do the same without a new permit or improvements to the property. This is the case when structures and improvements were made without proper permits. Also each new food operator must apply for a license from the Los Angeles County Department of Environmental Health. Before you sign a lease or purchase a building, call the Health Department and ask for a walk-through. The Health Department can advise you as to whether the equipment and the facility are generally acceptable and you can examine their files on the facility to be aware of any past problems or violations. You will want to know all the major costs of making changes or upgrades before you invest any money in the building.

Bring with you the following key information:

  • The address of the proposed site for your new business.
  • Is the building's address listed on the City's Inventory of Historic Resources?
  • What is the size of the building space in square feet?
  • Bring a floor plan with dimensions.
  • What built-ins, building systems, major commercial appliances and equipment are inside the space now?
  • Bring photos and permit records, if possible.
  • What was the occupancy of the building space when it was last operational?
  • Do you plan to do any renovation to a building or change its use?
  • What is the scope of improvements you are contemplating and your estimated budget?
  • Do you plan to sell or handle food, sell alcohol, or have live entertainment?
  • If you are providing food, what type of food establishment and what type of food do you intend to offer?

You may apply for a sign permit at any time and we encourage you to do so as early as possible. Meet with Planning Division staff at the public counter for a preliminary review of your proposed sign(s) to determine if there are any concerns about the placement, design, type, size, and number of the signs you are proposing. Most kinds of signs need building permits because they involve electrical or structural work. There are some signs that can be approved by Planning Division staff at the public counter; others based on the type, size, design, or zoning district may trigger Design Review Board review. Signs for properties that are historic resources will trigger Cultural Heritage Commission review. The sign application will require plans and specifications, color and material descriptions etc. Before the sign(s) is made, be sure to submit the completed application with your fee to the City. Once you have obtained both a sign permit and a building permit, you may install the sign(s). Many businesses find it easier to have their sign company or architect obtain approval for signs.

After zoning and land use approval from the Planning Division, you will need to submit your building construction plans to the Building Division for plan check approval. Four sets of complete plans are required to be submitted to the Planning & Building Department for routing to the Fire Department, Engineering Division of Public Works, and Police for review. All plans are reviewed individually. Plans may need to be resubmitted if there are corrections. Permit requirements vary based on the type of work to be performed. Permit types including building, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, grading, and tree removal.

Building plan review and permit fees are based on the valuation of the work as determined or accepted by the Building Official. Fees are required for all plan review activities, and must be paid at the time of plan review. A building permit will be issued once all City departments have reviewed and approved the plans.

Public Works will advise you regarding the proposed infrastructure improvements, such as curbs, gutters, sidewalks, drainage, water, sewer, storm drains, etc. along with required water and sewer impact fees, if applicable. In addition Public Works will advise if the proposed project will abut or impact protected trees or the public right-of-way and establish conditions of approval.

The Fire Department will advise you if fire sprinklers are required to be installed or modified and establish conditions of approval to meet appropriate code or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard. Once plans are approved and permits issued, construction of improvements or building rehabilitation can commence.

Additional fees must be paid to the City of South Pasadena School District and the Los Angeles County Sanitation District prior to issuance of the building permit. There may be additional fees may be collected by the City for General Plan Maintenance, Growth, and Parks & Recreation.

Determine exactly what food you want to sell as the regulations can vary depending on whether you are selling sandwiches or more complicated food, such as fully cooked meals. You may want to contact your insurance broker to see if the company has specific guidelines to lower rates for food establishments.
Detailed plans are required that show what equipment you will use (including model number and specifications), what material will be used to finish the walls, floors, and ceilings, as well as information on plumbing, electricity, and ventilation. Note that you will need to provide an adequate enclosure for your garbage dumpster.

The Health Department has a plan check program to ensure that new and remodeled food facilities in Los Angeles County comply with California State laws and local ordinances relating to construction, building materials, equipment, equipment installation, and ventilation systems. Visit the Health Department for retail and wholesale plan check guides and useful links.

You will need to submit three copies of your plans (plus an extra "cut sheet" specifying the equipment) and pay a fee for plan check approval. Note that the plan check fee does not include the annual health permit fee which is based on the size and type of business and includes at least four inspections per year.

After approval, your next step is to request the City Planning Division to process your Coditional use Permit (CUP), if required and any permits for signs and exterior remodeling of your building. Then the Building Division can process your building permits.

The City requires a CUP to sell alcohol. We encourage you to commence these approval processes as soon as possible and contact the Planning Division for more information. Business owners wishing to obtain an alcoholic beverage license should apply at the nearest office of ABC: 888 S. Figueroa Street, Ste. 320, Los Angeles, CA 90017, (213) 833-6043 or 222 E. Huntington Dr., Ste. 114, Monrovia, CA 91016, (626) 256-3241. Applicants for new licenses or transferors (present licensees) and transferees (applicants) should be present as it is desirable for an employee of the ABC to advise all applicants in person of pertinent laws, rules, and regulations. Also, in the case of a transfer, the transferee may desire information regarding a temporary retail permit. Click here to learn about common ABC license types and their basic privileges.

Yes, the City of South Pasadena requires that all applicants use contractors that are licensed by the State of California. It is easy and quick to find out if your contractor is licensed by visiting the State of California's Department of Consumer Affairs' Contractors State License Board (CSLB) website. The CSLB protects California consumers by licensing and regulating the state's construction industry licenses in 43 different license classifications and the database provides information on license status, classification, bonding information, and workers' compensation. Click on Instant License Check to learn whether a contractor license is in good standing with CSLB. You can look up a contractor license or Home Improvement Salesperson (HIS) registration to verify information, including complaint disclosure. All you need is one of the following: the contractor license number, business name, personnel name, HIS number or HIS name. Before hiring a contractor or signing a contract, read the Hiring a Contractor page.

Your contractor will schedule inspections as required and once the final inspection is passed the City will issue a Certificate of Occupancy. You may not open your business without a Certificate of Occupancy.

Commercial businesses are required to apply for a business license in South Pasadena through the Finance Department prior to commencement of business operations. Click here to find out the steps, understand how fees are calculated, and to obtain an application form. You should also visit City Hall and speak with a representative. It is best to apply for a business license as soon as possible and prior to signing a lease or purchase agreement.

Contact the Chamber office to schedule a formal ribbon cutting with City officials and Chamber representatives. The Chamber will contact the local newspaper, South Pasadena Review and its online edition to cover the event and will publicize it on the Chamber's website. There are seasonal arts and music events, mixers, and other programs that will help you to get to know South Pasadena and share your business opportunity with residents and visitors. Click here for membership information and benefits.

There are many providers of small business technical assistance available to help you develop a business plan and learn about specialized topics. You will want to develop a business plan to help focus your ideas, track the early stages of business growth, create benchmarks to measure progress against, and provide a document for attracting financing. It is also a communication tool to share your vision, goals, plans, strategies and resources with business partners, employees, consultants, and funders. Online sample business plans can be found at Other actions required for new business owners are to acquire tax licenses, register a business name, and determine business structure.

We have developed a business resource directory that features 40 organizations that provide technical assistance to start-up entrepreneurs or small- and medium-sized businesses in the San Gabriel Valley. The directory also includes useful federal, state, and county government websites for business development. Assistance is available in all aspects of business development including networking, business planning, marketing, financing, workforce training and development, contracting/procurement, high tech, and sustainability practices. Information can be accessed through different methods including online sources, classes and workshops, events, expos, and individual counseling. Many services are offered for free or reduced cost; others are market price or require membership. Some organizations are funded by the government to serve targeted populations including minorities, women, immigrants, and veterans.

Knowing nearby customers, suppliers, and competition and those that may create synergy for your business type may be important to you. National and regional retailers present in South Pasadena include Orchard Supply Hardware, Bristol Farms, Trader Joes, Vons, Pavilions, Ralphs, Starbucks, FedEx, Panda Express, Rite Aid, Big Lots, Baja Fresh, El Pollo Loco, Jersey Mike's Subs, Subway, KFC, and Menchies Frozen Yogurt.

There are also numerous long-time family-owned businesses that draw customers from all over Southern California including:
Home Decor, Design & Furnishings: Mission West Kitchen & Bath, Thomas R. Field American Antiques, Mission Tile West, Susanne Hollis, Inc. Antiques, Marz Gifts, Reimagine Your Home, Duncan Taylor Luxury.

Restaurants, Cafes & Bars: Gus's BBQ, Shiro Restaurant, Radhika Modern Indian Bistro, Senor Fish, Busters, Mike and Anne's, Heirloom Bakery & Cafe, Bistro de la Gare, The Raymond Restaurant, Griffin's of Kinsale, Nicole's Gourmet Foods, Grassroots Natural Market & Kitchen, Mission Wines.

Clothing and Shoes: Camille Frances DePedrini, Koi Loungewear, Lucha's Comfort Footwear, Rue de Mimo.

Art & Culture: Fremont Centre Theatre, South Pasadena Music Center & Conservatory, Videotheque, SPACE, Green Brooms Music Academy

Others: Ellen's Silkscreening, The Dinosaur Farm.

Businesses are opening in and expanding to South Pasadena including Crossings Restaurant, The Urban Pet, Tomato Pie Pizza Joint, Old Focals, House of Honey, ARO Latin and the Trina Turk Outlet

Depending on the type of business or service you have, if locating on a busy transportation corridor is important, view the City of South Pasadena 2014-15 Citywide Engineering and Traffic Survey Map which shows average daily traffic vehicles per day on major streets.

Current Project Opportunities in South Pasadena:

  • City of South Pasadena Downtown Revitalization – Downtown SouthPas
  • Rialto Theatre – informational website
  • Vision Rialto White Paper – Email Request