Category Archives: Sonoma County News



We are excited to be an exhibitor at this year’s Expo, a FREE EVENT for North Bay Fire Communities.

Going green is beneficial for our Planet, County and all of us, come learn why.

Friday, February 23rd at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building

1351 Maple Avenue, Santa Rosa

10 a.m. – 7 p.m.   ~  60+ Exhibitors will be in attendance.

There will be morning seminars on why it’s best to go greenSeminars covering many topics which include  energy-efficient Zero Net Energy Residences, financing green buildings, adding granny units, fire-resistant construction and sustainable materials, rooftop solar systems, defensible, drought tolerant landscapes, and much more.

Come meet and ask the professionals for advice and check out all the exhibits.

Resilient, Affordable Rebuilding and Landscaping Options

To connect to the Expo’s website, click here.



The Rain is Upon Us

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We can all be prepared to lessen the danger and damage of potential flash floods, debris flows and mudslides as we have seen occur in Southern California.

Many of our local, state, federal agencies along with non-profits have been hard at work to protect our watershed and working hard to prevent floods, mudslides, and debris flow here in Santa Rosa and the entire County.  As we have all witnessed these preventative steps have helped greatly.

The fires scarred our landscape creating a waxy coating leaving the ground more vulnerable to erosion due to the fact that the burnt upper layers of soil repel water, which accumulates rapidly and flows with a strong intensity lending itself to picking up sediment, boulders, trees and other debris that creates a bigger punch than just mud.  These potential hazards will stick around for a few years.  With this in mind, along with the preventative steps being taken, residents need to implement erosion-control measures on their property.

A professional can assist you in assessing your property and what needs to be done.  Cleaning your property of burnt trees,  plants and other matter may not be a good solution because some of this debris may act as protection from wind and water erosion and slows the water runoff.  However, clearing debris from nearby streams, storm drains and drainages is necessary to keep these channels clear.


It’s important to hire and/or consult with a licensed civil engineer with erosion and sediment control experience along with design, installation and maintenance experience.

A long-term maintenance plan is needed.  One of the main reasons recommended treatment practices fail is the lack of long-term maintenance by the landowner or responsible party.

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HOPE from the Ashes

Affordable housing in Sonoma County has been a problem for some time, now after the fire it has reached crisis level.  Our County is Strong and with fantastic programs like Habitat for Humanity we can start to rebuild and get our citizens housed and remaining in Sonoma County.

Habitat for Humanity (H4H) has been in Sonoma County since 1984 and going strong.  H4H has restored existing properties and built new homes from the ground up, throughout the County for low-income families to help with stable housing.  They have a few underway here in Santa Rosa and they are working on 18 more homes across Sonoma County.

After the wildfires, which destroyed 5,130 homes across Sonoma County with over 1,000 of those being in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, H4H has been working on ways to house our residents.  They are looking into using granny or accessory units to house displaced homeowners during the rebuilding and has pledged to rebuild 600 homes lost in the fires.

Along with H4H, the City Council has been hard at work and thinking outside the box.  As of December 8th, 2017, the council approved a series of updates regarding, “accessory dwelling unit” rules in an effort to make the requirements of building granny units easier and much cheaper for homeowners to be rented to fire victims.  Yes, the City has made it clear that this is being done to create housing for fire victims – NOT lodging for visitors.  There will be requirements, like homeowners must rent granny units out for no less than 30 days.

To keep up with the latest developments, Click here,
and/or here,

Firma Design Group is a strong supporter of Habitat for Humanity.


Post Fire – Soil Erosion


It’s a difficult time, we are still in shock, sad and grief stricken  for the lives lost and the property lost, but we are #SONOMASTRONG; #NAPASTRONG and look forward to rebuilding.  As hard as it seems right now, we need to think about preserving our land and preventing further damage due to soil erosion.

After a severe fire, the likelihood of soil erosion, causing mudslides, flooding and pollution increases upwards of 200%.  The fires burn and destroy plant material and the litter layer.  Under normal conditions shrubs, grasses, trees and the litter layer break up the intensity of severe rainstorms.  Their roots stabilize the soil and stems and leaves slow the flow of water to give it time to penetrate the ground, preventing too much runoff.    In some instances, the fire creates a gas that penetrates the soil profile.  As the soil cools, this gas condenses and forms a waxy coating (hydrophobicity) which repels water and increases the rate of water runoff.   This all leads to a dangerous situation, the runoff and debris will become too much for our stormwater drainage systems, which will lead to erosion elsewhere.  Also, debris and the fast-moving water can cause mudslides,  flood homes, businesses and neighborhoods, pollute our waterways  and are a threat to our personal being; wreaking continued havoc in our community.

It is important we begin the  work now to prevent any  further damage to our city – our home.  First and foremost, we need to come up with a restoration plan. This plan will have several focal points, including inspecting our drainage systems, cleaning our gutters, culverts, detention  basins, small streams and concrete waterways.   Our driveways, roadways, sidewalks and parking lots are often designed to sheet their runoff to the landscape, but now we must divert that runoff toward our storm drain systems and away from erosion  prone areas.  Minimizing traffic and proper watering will also help.  Installing more culverts than previously existed might be necessary.  A professional engineer can determine the size of the drainage area and the amount of runoff for the projected rainfall.

Reseeding grass and wildflowers in the severely burned areas will be carefully planned.  Santa Rosa is home to 220 native plants, grasses, shrubs and trees.  Which include black and valley oak trees, California grape and silver lupine shrubs, purple needle grass groundcover.  After reseeding, covering the seeded area with straw is important for creating an environment for seed germination.

To read more about preventing erosion, click here.  Also, Balance Hydrologics is a consulting firm committed to resolving clients environmental challenges using site-specific information and offers post-fire services.  Visit their website by clicking here.






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.

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 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.

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!