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.

Keeping up with Water Awareness!



May was Water Awareness month and to keep up with the ongoing awareness of conserving water in June, we are highlighting some key points as a reminder and update.

The Press Democrats Tuesday, May 10, 2016 issue under the front page header “State weighs easing drought cuts” talks about how the days of when residents were legally able to hose down driveways or have lawn sprinklers running on rainy days, are over. This article highlights some of the specifics as to how these drought cuts will affect Californians on pages A1 continued on page A2. Governor Jerry Brown also comments on the executive order issued permanently banning water-wasting practices. Brown said, “We know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

The State of California Office of Administrative Law stated, “This emergency regulatory action is effective on 5/31/2016 and will expire on 2/28/2017. The Certificate of Compliance for this action is due no later than 2/27/2017. To prevent the waste and unreasonable use of water and to promote water conservation, each of the following actions is prohibited, except where necessary to address an immediate health and safety need or to comply with a term or condition in a permit issued by a state or federal agency:

(1) The application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff such that water flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots,. or structures; (2) The use of a hose that dispenses potable water to wash a motor vehicle, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use; (3) The application of potable water to driveways and sidewalks; (4) The use of potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, except where the water is part of a recirculating system; (5) The application of potable water to outdoor landscapes during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; (6) The serving of drinking water other than upon request in eating or drinking establishments, including but not limited to restaurants, hotels, cafes, cafeterias, bars, or other public places where food or drink are served. and/or purchased; (7) The irrigation with potable water of ornamental turf on public street medians; and (8) The irrigation with potable water of landscapes outside of newly constructed homes and buildings in a manner inconsistent with regulations or other requirements established by the California Building Standards Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development. (b) To promote water conservation, operators of hotels and motels shall provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. The hotel or motel shall prominently. Display notice of this option in each guestroom using clear and easily understood language. (c) Upon on this subdivision taking effect, all commercial, industrial and institutional properties that use a water supply, any portion of which is from a source other than a water supplier subject to section 864.5 or 865.of this article, shall either: (1) Limit outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water to no more than two days per week; or (2) Target potable water use reductions commensurate with those required of the nearest urban water supplier under section 864.5 or, if applicable, section 865. Where this option is chosen, these properties shall implement the reductions on or before July 1, 2016. (d) The taking of any action prohibited in subdivision (a) or (e), or the failure to take any action required in subdivision (b) or (c), is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each day in which the violation occurs. The fine for the infraction is in addition to, and does not supersede or limit, any other remedies, civil or criminal.”

RESERVOIR LEVELS: As of May 16th, reservoir storage in Lake Sonoma is 99% of capacity and Lake Mendocino is 98% of target water supply storage.
RAINFALL: Rainfall this year to date (October 1, 2015-May 15, 2016) is 32 inches.
Current water supply levels can be found on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s website.

Irrigation Tips

Water Smart Irrigation Tips

Santa Rosa Water offers free watering and irrigation tips each week. Recommendations are based on data from local weather stations.



Sonoma County Water Agency:

City of Santa Rosa:

California State Water Resources Control Board:

Celebrating World Landscape Architecture Month!


The career of being a Landscape Architect is one that plays a huge role in modern civilization through transforming outdoor areas, public and private, into aesthetically pleasing and useful spaces.  April was World Landscape Architecture month and to celebrate, we are reflecting on the history, current industry, and the career of being a Landscape Architect.  This post is dedicated to taking a look at what it means to be a landscape architect and how to get into the field that is in need of a more diverse community of architects.

How long has landscape architecture been a part of society?  The first gardens existed in 10,000 BC and from there on, civilizations in the early world began to create enclosed open-spaces as gardens.  Tending to the land for more than just farming use, countries all over began detailing their own landscape to incorporate the natural land to create lavish scenery.  Around 15 BC, Roman architect, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote “De Architectura” which translates to “Ten Books on Architecture.”  The books covered various topics such as town planning, qualifications of an architect, building materials, temples, civil buildings, pavements, aqueducts, sciences that have influenced architecture, and more.  When urban planning took off in the 19th century, landscape design was a crucial part of the developing cities.  Urban planning and landscape design emerged together from there and have since gone hand in hand within cities and towns to encapsulate the local characteristics of the community and culture.


Villa Mimosa, Calistoga, California

Landscape architecture renovations provide the opportunity to recreate outdoor areas to maximize utilization of space and resources while making it aesthetically unique within its own location.  In America today, the industry of landscaping architecture brings in approximately 77 billion dollars in revenue per year.  Home gardening, horticulture, and micro-farms have risen as trendy hobbies to maintain at home.    Environmentally-friendly trends have caught on amongst the public over the past few decades to encourage recycling and attention on our dwindling supply of natural resources.  Drought awareness has become a priority for Californians over the past four years, and with it, water conservation measures have been emphasized as a priority amongst landscape and irrigation systems.  Residents, businesses, and municipalities have sought out landscape renovations to upgrade their look as well as their ability to be environmentally-conscious while conserving natural resources.

To be a Landscape Architect, one must have a passion for creativity, style, and a greater appreciation for the outdoors.  Landscaping Architects are used in many areas including: private residential projects, public parks, commercial and municipal locations.  Duties of our designers are: project estimates, designing and planning of areas, and management of needed consults and installation crews, while working directly with clients to manage projects through completion.  Skills a future landscape architect should harness include: critical thinking, design and drawing skills, computer-aided design (CAD), excellent written and communication skills; and mathematic and scientific knowledge as applicable.

Pool House

Mayacama Residence, Santa Rosa, California

Prerequisites for becoming a landscape architect include holding either a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA).  It is possible to go for a Master’s in Landscape Architecture, but more important than that is receiving a Landscape Architect license through the State.  There are other certifications available to add on top of a license, such as ones obtainable through the International Society of Arboriculture and the Irrigation Association.  These certifications allow landscape architects to have more control over different aspects of their projects that they would otherwise need to seek outside consulting for.

Landscape architects are encouraged to join the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).  Members are able to be a part of the national landscape design community, keep up on new policies, regulations, design styles, and be a part of a network that includes architects from all over the nation.

In celebrating the history and career Landscape Architecture, Firma Design Group hopes to shed light on the amazing work that is done in public spaces while simultaneously taking action to implement environmentally-conscious upgrades.  We hope we’ve inspired those who may be interested in Landscape Architecture to pursue it as a career to serve the future needs of our communities.


American Society of Landscape Architects:

International Society of Arboriculture:

Irrigation Association:

Landscape Architecture. (2016, April 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved April 25, 2016, from

Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, a Local Neighborhood Favorite

Jul_DahliasSpring has arrived – and what better way to celebrate than by visiting a local historical garden? Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is just one of the many exciting places to visit within walking distance of our new office building!  Luther Burbank once said of his home & gardens, “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot on all of this earth as far as Nature is concerned.”

Luther Burbank was born in Massachusetts, but lived in Santa Rosa, California for more than fifty years. The famed horticulturist conducted endless plant-breeding experiments that made him famous, and today his home and gardens have been turned into a museum, open to the public for tours & educational visits. Tour season at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens  starts Friday April 1st, and the tours will be run Tuesday-Sunday from 10-3:30, however, gardens are open daily, year-round, from 8am-dusk.


Fun Fact: Arbor Day is celebrated on April 29th in California in honor of Luther Burbank’s birthday. It is celebrated in mid-late April in most parts of the country. California even celebrates for a full week, March 7-14. Check out for more details.

Luther Burbank Home & Gardens has four specialty gardens: Wildlife Habitat Garden, Edible Landscape Garden, Medicinal Garden, and Spineless Cactus Garden.  Throughout April and May, expect to see vibrant yellow daffodils, gorgeous camellias, and their tulip tree, along with roses, poppies, cherry blossoms and more. It is the perfect setting for a weekend afternoon with the family, or an evening stroll through the garden on the way to dinner downtown.


Luther Burbank Home and Gardens has a sister farm, Luther Burbank Experiment Farm, located in Sebastopol, California. Burbank had a 15 acre farm on Gold Ridge in Sebastopol which he purchased in 1885. There he experimented with plants and introduced over 800 varieties of fruits, flowers, vegetables, and grains. Local historians have worked to preserve the site and there is a volunteer work day every Wednesday from 9 am to noon where you can drop in to help, or just check out what they’re up to!


Perhaps a visit to one of the famed gardens will spark a desire to start a garden of your own, or revamp an existing garden. Here at Firma Design Group we are happy to help you brainstorm, plan, and design your new garden!