Tips for Healthy Waterways


With the rain comes water, polluted water, which flows into our rivers, creeks and streams. As a community we must be proactive in preventing the pollution of our waterways.

Here are 5 tips to help prevent this pollution and maintain our waterways health.

1. Check your car for leaks. Fluids that leak from vehicles can be carried by storm water runoff all the way to our creeks! Look at your pavement and driveway after you move your car. If you see a dark patch or see a colorful sheen on the surface, you may have a leak. It is important to clean up all leaks promptly because they could be toxic to pets and wildlife. Do not hose leaked fluids into the street! Use oil absorbent or cat litter to clean up the spill. If possible, take your vehicle to a mechanic to have the leak repaired.

2. Keep leaves out of the street. Most jurisdictions in the Russian River watershed prohibit raking leaves and other debris onto the street. Why? Anything on our streets can be carried by storm water runoff directly into our creeks, and too many leaves can obstruct the habitat and natural flow of a creek. Since storm water is not cleaned or treated before it reaches the creek, please help keep our waterways clean by either placing your leaves into the yard waste bin or consider mulching the ground with them, which will help feed the soil for a healthier yard. If you see leaves next to your curb, sweep them out of the street to prevent them from washing to the creek.

3. Rethink holiday cooking cleanup. After cooking, when fats, oils, and grease cool, they solidify. If you pour them down your sink drain, they will harden in your pipes and may block the flow of sewage away your home! The best way to deal with fats, oils, and grease from cooking waste is to let them cool then scrape or them into the trash. Or, if you have a large amount of cooking oil, consider recycling it with the Mendocino County HazMobile Program. Sonoma County residents can view recycling drop-off locations at

4. Correctly dispose of batteries. In California, all electronics and batteries have been banned from landfill disposal. In Mendocino County, household batteries and other household hazardous waste can be disposed through the Hazmobile Program. In Sonoma County, electronics can be donated to the Computer Recycling Center,, for repair and reuse. For a complete list of drop-off recycling options, visit

5. Dispose of Christmas trees responsibly. If you get a Christmas tree this year, consider what you will do with it after the holidays. Plastic trees and trees with flocking must be disposed of in a landfill, but plain natural Christmas trees can be mulched and recycled. Whole trees can be dropped off at Holiday Tree Drop Off Locations, or, in some areas, picked up with your curbside recycling. You can also cut up your tree so it fits in your yard waste container – just make sure the tree is cut up so that the lid on the green bin closes completely.

For any questions about recycling and year‐round disposal options:

In Sonoma County, visit, call the Sonoma County Eco‐Desk at 565‐DESK (3375).

Here at Firma Design Group our Civil Engineers are committed to doing their part in preventing this pollution by integrating treatment and management of storm water run off in our built up environment. Contact one of our Civil Engineers at (707) 792-1800.

Making Memories!


WOW! Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County held their Making Memories Breakfast November 15, 2016.

Their mission to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope was well received by all who attended. Beginning with Tamara Stanley, CEO welcoming a full room to State Senator Mike McGuire’s enthusiasm and stories from a couple homeowners made possible through Habitat for Humanity, a lot of money was raised to continue making terrific memories.

Firma Design Group has had the pleasure of attending as a company and we all left with many memories. “Habitat for Humanity is my favorite non-profit”, said Marty Goldsbrough, President/CEO of Firma Design Group.

And that is why our team at Firma Design Group donates our planning, civil engineering and landscape architecture services to the organization.  To make memories for future homeowners.

To learn more about this great organization click here,

The Civil Engineer’s Contribution to LEED Certification


Liane Ware, Firma Design Group, November 15, 2016

How does a civil engineering LEED AP (with or without a specialty credential) benefit a project?

While their knowledge and input pertains to a handful of Sustainable Sites prerequisites and credits, civil engineers’ usual involvement in project certification is focused on storm water management. The new Sustainable Sites Credit for Rainwater Management allots different levels of development mitigation, but the credit requirements are no more unique than learning and applying local and regional requirements (such as those in California). Design teams rely on civil engineering professionals to keep up to date with the evolving storm water management and mitigation measures required for project permitting. Now that it’s less common for civil engineers to work only locally, much of their due diligence effort is in determining storm water regulations for each project and how they will apply in the design. Understanding the nuances of each different agency encompasses LEED as well, which is why a civil engineering LEED AP is more than qualified to efficiently address the different degrees of the Rainwater Management credit. The language of almost all agencies having jurisdiction is comparable with varying levels and applications, and LEED is keeping pace:

“’Rainwater’ is now seen as a resource that provides many environmental and economic benefits. Managing rainwater on site restores natural hydrologic conditions, reduces the possibility of flooding, and creates opportunities for onsite water reuse in applications like irrigation and landscape features.”

The right civil engineer on a design team can therefore bring his or her expertise to the table in arriving at a creative, integrated storm water management solution for both project permitting and LEED certification.


Welcoming Liane Ware

Welcoming Liane Ware:

Was there anything specific that led you into engineering?
• I always really enjoyed physics, algebra, and geometry in grade school, and I loved building things (woodworking projects) with my family. There was also a big push to involve more girls and women in the field, and I fit right in line with that effort. After evolving from a structural focus to one in civil and land development, I’ve come to appreciate how fulfilling designing the built environment is while protecting the natural environment with sustainable, low-impact development.

How long have you been in engineering?
• Technically, since my sophomore year in college, but professionally since 2005.

Where did you start off?
• My first civil engineering position was at a company in Tampa, FL, where I had my introduction to roadway and drainage design. I worked part-time while finishing my degree, and stayed on after graduation until relocating to the SF Bay area in 2006. Now I’ve worked from South Bay through the Peninsula and City to North Bay and on a wide variety of public and private re/development projects from SoCal to the state capital to wine county and in between.

Where did you go to school?
• In 2003, I graduated with my AS in Civil Engineering Technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. I then transferred to and graduated in 2005 with my BS in Civil Engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy?
• Camping is my favorite activity when not working, both over-packed with the car in Big Basin and backpacking Yosemite’s high country. I’m also one of those cyclists out on the road in my own imaginary race, though fully obeying traffic laws while dodging close-encounters of the motorized kind. I’m a lover of all wines and animals, of which I have many, but I also enjoy whiskey tastings and catch-and-release fishing. Plus, you’ll find a smile on my face while I’m doing just about anything outdoors…hiking, chopping firewood, floating down the river, gardening and yardwork, walking the dog, playing on the beach, reading, cross-country skiing, and inadvertently scaring away the wildlife with my attempts at playing guitar (and worse, singing along)…

Liane can be reached at:

Winery Use Permits


Here’s an article on the latest developments on Winery Use, Permits and Visitor Restrictions written by Kim Corcoran at CMPR the Firm.

October 14, 2016

Latest Developments on Winery Use

Permits and Visitor Restrictions

Kim Corcoran, Associate

Sonoma County wineries have been under attack in the last few years by groups in opposition to winery events, new wineries, and even the direct-to-consumer business model itself. The vast majority of Sonoma County wineries are good neighbors and work to ensure that their impacts on nearby residents are lessened. Most of the neighbors understand that they are living on land zoned for agriculture (which includes wineries), but opposition groups are advocating for more residential-oriented rights on ag land. The wineries have pushed back, stating that without a high value crop such as wine, the land is worth more for housing tracts than it is for agriculture. To help bring the parties to some resolution, the Board of Supervisors convened a Winery Working Group panel. After many months of meetings, however the animosity seemed to grow stronger. The issues were placed back in the hands of the Board of Supervisors.

Meeting 10/11/16, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed this week to move forward with zoning code amendments to facilitate clarity for the wine business in the County.
The Board adopted a limited resolution asking County staff to develop specific code amendments as well as standards and siting criteria for areas of local concentration to be adopted either as guidelines or code amendments.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this week’s action is that it was on the Board’s “consent” calendar. This means that there was none of the public comment (read “rancor and discord”) that has attended other public hearings on this subject. Of course, it takes a lot of work on everyone’s part to get an “easy” result – hats off to all for getting to this point.

Indeed, it is a sign of the times that direction from the Board simply to craft some code amendments is seen as a major milestone. Opposition groups have pushed hard for an immediate moratorium on any new winery use permits and for an immediate determination of (and prohibitions within) “areas of over-concentration.” Leaving aside the redundancy of their term, anyone with knowledge of the areas in issue knows that it will not be easy to define areas of the County that may fall into such a category. Moreover, opposition groups appear to seek County regulation for the express purpose of interfering with the direct-to-consumer marketing model that has made Sonoma County wineries vibrant and prosperous.

Each of the Supervisors expressed their appreciation for a more deliberative process, one Supervisor referring to the process as “deliberative by design.” Another Supervisor, with nods of approval from others, reminded the audience that direct-to-consumer sales is an old business model from the time before grapes were even a major crop. Such a sales model can greatly assist in keeping much of the County’s current land in agriculture.

The winery supporters have been advocating for the adoption of clear definitions and this week the Supervisors instructed County staff to develop such definitions. Under the current ordinances, the County is asked to regulate winery “special events” when there is no definition for the term. The wineries are seeking definitions for “events” and “activities.” An activity is a normal business activity within the winery’s usual, site-specific capacity (such as a special tasting, a distributor meeting or a winemaker lunch) that would not be counted as a “special event.” Under the wineries’ proposed set of definitions, new wineries would be limited in the number and scope of special events, but not activities.

Several of the Supervisors discussed the need for additional enforcement mechanisms with one of them specifically complimenting the wine industry for their proposals in this regard. The wineries have proposed outside funding for a position that would be available on nights and weekends to assist neighbors and wineries alike, and to coordinate larger winery events with other neighborhood pressures such as marathons and bicycle races.

While we will need to wait for County’s staff’s recommendation on each of the issues before we’ll know what’s in front of us, the meeting this week was a step forward in that process.

Please do not hesitate to contact Kim Corcoran at or (707) 526-4200 if you have questions or concerns regarding this article.

To visit their website, click here.

Stormwater Management


In an effort to curb stormwater from polluting our waterways and posing risks of landslides and erosion which wreak havoc on our property and is harmful to all of us, California’s State Water Board adopted a Stormwater Strategy to manage and protect surface and ground water resources in a sustainable manner for future generations.

With the right planning to capture it, local communities can improve local flood control, water quality and water supply, including groundwater recharge. Here at Firma Design Group our engineers are well versed on the State and County’s Regulations and California’s Stormwater Strategy, give us a call at (707) 792-1800.

To read more on our State Water Board’s Stormwater Strategy, click here, click here

Stormwater Regulations


We must all be conscience of the impact stormwater has on our environment due to its potential to pollute our soil, streams, rivers and other bodies along with the potential for flooding and erosion.

As of January 6, 2016, Sonoma County is required to enforce new stormwater requirements that were adopted by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board on October 8, 2015. Unless an exception is granted no grading on slopes greater than 10% between October 1st and April 30th.

Stormwater naturally reaches our creeks in two ways either on the surface or underground (subsurface). Water on the surface travels faster than underground. The faster the water gets to the creeks the greater the potential for flooding and erosion. Better for all of us.

We here, at Firma Design Group, have the Civil Engineering know how to prepare your property for the upcoming rainy season. Give us a call at (707) 792-1800. To read more on Stormwater requirements in Sonoma County, click here.

A Vision Alive Today


Vera Schultz – a woman ahead of her time earned the title of “First Lady of Marin”. Vera not only was the first female member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, she was a true pioneer for women’s rights in Marin and a trailblazer in the fields of urban planning and environmentally sensitive design. Vera established Marin County’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as, the Public Works Department. So when it came to having enthusiasm for Frank Lloyd Wright’s radically modern design vision for the Marin County Civic Center she stood her ground in the 4 year “battle royal”. And today the Marin County Civic Center is considered one of the finest public buildings in the United States.

In 2015, Firma Design Group was retained by Marin County’s Parks Department to develop a Landscape Master Plan, coherent of the initial vision of Frank Lloyd Wright and Vera Schultz, of fitting into the natural environment. With as much enthusiasm as Schultz and Wright, Firma Design developed a master plant palette and micro-climate palettes with special plants that can thrive in Marin County. Firma Design Group is working further on developing the overall Landscape Master Plan for implementation in the coming year. We were also contracted to map and assess the existing irrigation system and landscape plantings which along with the proper plant species have increased the system’s efficiency. To read more on our state of the art GIS mapping, click here.
To read the MARIN September 2016 article,click here.

Landscaping – A wise investment?


After a seven-state survey of attendees at consumer home and garden shows, the answer is a resounding – YES.

Respondents were shown a photo with a surburban house with nothing more than a lawn and concrete pathway.  Then viewed the same house with different levels of landscaping.  The levels of landscaping showed the following:

  • Foundation planting only
  • Foundation planting with one large, oblong island planting and one or two single specimen trees in the lawn
  • Foundation planting with adjoining beds and two or three large island plantings, all incorporating curved bed lines

Plant types ranged from Evergreen only, Evergreen and deciduous plants, Evergreen and deciduous plants with 20 percent of the visual area of the landscape beds planted in annual or perennial color to Evergreen and deciduous plants, 20 percent annual or perennial color and a colored brick sidewalk entrance.

The respondents ranked design sophistication as most important with plant size second in importance.   Respondents ranked diversity of plant type as least important.

The survey results clearly say an excellent,  low-maintenance and easy-to-maintain landscape upgrade increases a homes marketability by 10-12 percent.  The value also enhances ones personal enjoyment,  which is priceless.

In the end, investing in the services of a landscape design professional will optimize the value of your home which will continue to increase over time with the growth and maturity of the trees and plants.



Landscape Architecture

Smart Irrigation Month 2016


Smart Irrigation Systems

A Greener Idea

If you’re a typical homeowner, you probably put your automatic sprinkler system into the same category as your home’s heating and cooling system. You expect it to work reliably and efficiently with minimum fuss. The latest technology offers just that — and more.

Automated irrigation systems offer convenience while protecting your landscape investment. A well-maintained system keeps your lawn and landscape beautiful and healthy, while minimizing water waste.

To raise awareness of the benefits of efficient watering practices, the Irrigation Association has named July Smart Irrigation Month. Make time this summer to be sure you’re getting the most out of your irrigation system, while keeping utility bills low and helping to protect the environment.

Sprinklers Get Smart

The new generation of “smart” irrigation systems monitor weather, soil conditions, evaporation and plant water use and automatically adjust your watering schedule.

The secret to smart systems is the controller. Smart controllers use weather and/or site data to determine when and how long to water. Then, sprinklers apply just enough water at exactly the right time in each zone of your yard.

Smart controllers:

Save water. Smart systems automatically suspend watering during rain, freezing or high wind conditions. Careful scheduling minimizes evaporation and encourages water to soak in, reducing the total amount of water needed. Preventing overwatering actually keeps plants healthier by encouraging stronger roots and discouraging weeds, disease and fungus growth.


  • Save money. Smart systems can reduce your annual water bill by as much as 30 percent by preventing water waste. Plus, many local water providers offer rebates for purchasing specific smart controllers.


  • Save time. Once an irrigation installer has programmed your site data into the smart system, the controller adjusts the watering schedule based upon weather conditions and soil moisture without manual intervention.


  • Add convenience. Smart controllers adapt to seasonal weather changes without requiring reprogramming. And their “set and forget” technology is perfect for complying with any local watering restrictions, as well as for frequent travelers and vacation or second homes.


Firma Design Group’s Michael Cook is a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA) that enables him to not only design highly-efficient landscape and irrigations systems, but also allows Mike to audit the systems (his design or not – as required by California Building Code) to ensure that the installation has been installed correctly and that the equipment and layout is the most efficient (this certification is completed through the Irrigation Association), License #00008031.

Mike can be reached at (707) 792-1800 ext. 103. This article adapted from the Irrigation Association, with permission.