On the fence about Rebuilding – or Not?

There’s help!

Sonoma County is a beautiful place to live and I believe will rise to new heights through this rebuild.  I have talked to many who have lost everything and now I am seeing the for-sale signs and it saddens me.  We don’t want to lose our fellow Santa Rosan’s.  “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are stronger in the broken Places,” Ernest Hemingway


Hopefully, with our help and the help and knowledge of AIA California Council, The American Institute of Architects new website, ArchitectsHelp.org, you will decide to rebuild and stay.

By clicking on the link above you will find a wealth of information on Rebuilding, Homeowner Insurance Tools, Insurance Guidebook, Disaster Assistance (State & Federal) and Questions and Answers for fire survivors.

Not only does this website assist with the after effects it will help all of us consider preparedness options in case of wildfire, earthquakes and other natural disasters in the future.


Welcome Alison!

AlisonFirma Design Group would like to introduce you to Alison Brown.

Alison will be our Office Manager while Nicole is out on maternity leave.  Alison comes to FDG with many years experience in Sales and Office Administration.

Outside of work, Alison enjoys spending time with her 3 grandchildren, her  family along with her dog, Max.  She knits and enjoys attending live music events in beautiful Sonoma County.

Alison can be reached at 707.792.1800, ext. 116 or by email at alison@firmadesigngroup.com.



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,https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/
and/or here, https://www.habitatsoco.org/

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


Rebuilding and Landscaping

Landscaping is a vital part of our rebuilding process.

One very important aspect to rebuilding a stronger and safer city isCAPoppy for businesses and homeowners to landscape with native plants and trees which are less flammable  and keep up with proper maintenance which will reduce the chance of a fire spreading.

With this in mind, along with the knowledge that all plants can burn with enough heat, our professional landscape architects and designers can plan a more fire-resistant and beautiful landscape by planting fire-resistant, native plants which don’t accumulate dead wood, leaves, stems and are free of flammable oils keeping our properties safer.

Maple AcerOver the years, we have inadvertantly allowed our natural landscape of perennial grasses and annual wildflowers to give way to non-native, flammable grasses.   This combined with Northern California’s weather, dry conditions, relatively low humidity and winds which are condusive to fire, this non-native growth lends itself to allow fires to spread rapidly.  The fires then destroy seedbanks, young trees and shrubs before they are old enough to set seed which leads the landscape to convert to flammable grasslands.  These seedbanks allow for soft, new growth of native plants which provide food for our wildlife and with the lack of competition from shrubs, trees our annual wildflowers will grow and protect.

Along with planting, firescaping is of the utmost importance.Fire-safe garden  Firescaping is creating open space between plants by integrating hardscape elements for plant separation, such as flagstone, decomposed granite, rock walls, water features and other nonflammable elements, all of which lends itself to a beautiful and somewhat safer landscape.  Preventative maintenance of your landscape , pruning, weed control and sufficient irrigation also plays a vital role.

Give our Landscape Architects a call at 707.792.1800.

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.






Stormwater Runoff


It’s that time of the year again…

Time to get ready for heavy rains and do our part to improve runoff that would otherwise flow into and pollute our waterways and cause erosion headaches.

Stormwater that flows down driveways, streets and outside areas goes into a storm drain which flows directly to the nearest creek, fish and wildlife habitats, recreational bodies of water and drinking supplies.  This water does not get treated and is polluted with many pollutants like motor oil, fertilizers, soapy car wash water, sediment from projects, litter and too many other pollutants.

With our creeks and waterways in mind, rain gardens are a natural and beautiful solution to reducing polluted runoff and helps in preventing erosion.  They function to help slow down, soak up and filter polluted runoff from downspouts, driveways and other hard surfaces.

To  start, directing rainwater from your roof to the rain garden is a feature designed to absorb more rainfall before it runs off your property while at the same time  reduces the amount and speed of runoff which helps with the prevention of erosion.  Next, plantingdudleya_beargrass native plants which adapt to local conditions and have extensive root systems making them more tolerant of the amount of water that comes in.  The deep root system encourages infiltration and helps absorb nutrients.  Then creating a berm, which holds water during heavy rains and redirects the water flow to your rain garden, preventing drainage issues elsewhere.

Rain gardens are easily maintained  and benefit both people and the natural environment.

Our talented Landscape Designers and Civil Engineers can help design the perfect rain garden and analyze your grading and drainage plans for your yard or business.  You can contact them at (707) 792-1800.




BallettoIt was our honor to be approached by the Balletto Family to design the entry monumentation and driveway remodel for Balletto Vineyards.  In 2013/2014, we assisted the Balletto’s with a large production building addition.

Our aim is to create an entrance experience as prominent and tasteful as the establishment the family has created.  In our vision for the entrance, we are incorporating a multi-level natural stone Gate Elevationwall that grows larger as you approach a custom, subtlety-symbolic gate.  The driveway that leads off the main road and funnels through the gate will be paved with concrete pavers and accented by colored-concrete banding.  The site, located on rural Occidental Road, called for grasses and perennials that would blend in with the formal country setting prominent throughout the Balletto’s property.  The materials used 2017.06.13. PLANT_PALETTE5in this project were selected to compliment each other, the winery itself, and its surrounding environment.  The intent of the proposed design is to signify visually the main entry of the winery.

Julia Zhu, Junior Engineer

Zhu Julia High Res Publishing

Join Firma Design Group in welcoming  our new Junior Engineer, Julia Zhu.

Julia came to Firma Design Group after earning her Major in Environmental Engineering and her PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Alabama.  She works with our Civil Engineers with much enthusiasm and loves solving engineering problems with analytical and logical thinking.

Julia answered a few questions, here are her responses:

Why Engineering, what drew you towards engineering?

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to meet with the designer of our school.  He gave us a speech on how he designed our campus and how he overcame challenges.  I became interested in civil engineering after this unforgettable conversation.  After I graduated from high school, I chose civil and environmental engineering as my major and earned my PhD in civil engineering.

When and where did you start and end your education?

I began my undergraduate studies at Harbin Institute of Technology, China in 2009, finishing in July 2013.  Then I attended University of Alabama and earned my Master’s degree in December of 2015 and my PhD in May of 2017.

Have you interned or worked in this field?

Yes, I worked as part-time Assistant Civil Engineer from 2010-2013.  Then I worked as a Civil Research Assistant from 2013-2017, with a focus on storm water management.

What interested you in Firma Design Group?

After studying and working in engineering for eight years, I developed multiple civil engineering skills.  My interdisciplinary experiences are a great match for FDG and I believe FDG is the place where I can make contributions to and develop myself.  In addition, FDG’s great reputation and its focus on sustainable and “green” project designs matched my interests.

Outside of work Julia likes to hike, jog, do yoga and read on the beach.  In her free time,  she likes baking desserts.

You can reach Julia at (707) 792-1800, ext. 113 or by email julia@firmadesigngroup.com.

Welcome Haleigh Reyes

Reyes Haleigh High Res Publishing CropIMG_0640

Join us in welcoming Haleigh to Firma Design Group.  Haleigh joins us with an excitement to learn and grow like no other.  Knowing what she enjoys, the outdoors and creating, along with a snap decision is what  led her into a world of proactive, holistic and tangible creativity.   Ultimately leading her to Firma.

Get to know more about Haleigh by her responses to a few questions.

Why Landscape Design?

Well, I was 18 and knew I enjoyed two things, the outdoors and creating.  I was actually flipping through Cal Poly’s catalogue when I became aware of landscape architecture.  I walked into the landscape architecture department the next day and asked if I could change into the major without knowing much of anything about it.  That snap decision ended up leading me into a world of proactive, holistic and tangible creativity.  I found that I love the act of creating places that knit together the built and natural world.  Plus, sometimes I feel like I’m painting with plants; they are dynamic and have an endless depth of color,  texture and movement!

When and where did you start and end your education?

I started and ended my formal education at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  I am continuing my education every day I show up to work in the field!  There is still so much to learn!

Have you interned or worked in this field, prior to FDG?

I worked at a small landscape architecture and planning firm in San Luis Obispo.  They hired me after my internship and I am so grateful for the exposure they gave me to the professional world.

What interested you in Firma Design Group?

Firma Design Group is comprised of highly experienced and humble individuals.  They are talented and driven.  They are exactly the kind of professionals I was looking to learn from.  It was clear from the very beginning that although every person in the office has a role, above all,  they are a team.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy?

I was lucky enough to relocate from the central coast to the beautiful City of Santa Rosa!  Most of my time is spent getting to know the area and the neighboring towns.  I enjoy putzing around town on my bike, finding my favorite houses and overgrown gardens.  I love walking through the rural cemetery and trying to make out the words on the weathered tombstones.  Annadel State Park is just five miles from my house and I spend most mornings running through the oak-woodland and up into fern-covered understory of the redwoods.  The ocean isn’t too far so I try to connect with it on the weekends with a good brew, a baguette, some stinky cheese and a book.  If not sitting seaside, then I’m out at the river falling into sun-induced comas in-between chapters and sips of something cool and bubbly.  I love where I live and not knowing anybody gives me the time and freedom to explore as I please.  This place is just what I needed.

You can reach Haleigh at (707) 792-1800 or by email at haleigh@firmadesigngroup.com.

Landscape Design + Irrigation = Savings

water-sense-logo-designThe partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense and Smart Water Application Technologies (SWAT)  are focused on managing water efficiently.  No matter which state we live in, we should all be concerned with water shortages and do our best to manage water efficiently.

SWAT is an international initiative to achieve efficient landscape water use through the application of irrigation technology.  SWAT provides product testing results to the public by identifying, researching and promoting technological innovations and related management practices that advance the principles of efficient water use.

Irrigation  experts draft protocols which define scientific methods to evaluate whether products meet established standards for efficient water-use. SWAT then formulates performance testing plans for different categories of irrigation products.  Third-party testing agencies evaluate whether irrigation products submitted by manufacturers actually save water.

WaterSense uses testing data to certify products that meet certain requirements.  They partner with irrigation professionals. manufacturers, retailers, distributors, home builders,  and utilities to bring WaterSense concepts to communities throughout the country.   The WaterSense labeled products and services are certified to save at least 20 percent less water; save energy and perform well, with the emphasis on performance.

With this partnership focusing more efforts on outdoor irrigation products the number of WaterSense-certified, weather-based irrigation controllers have doubled since last year.

You can contact Firma Design Group’s Vice President, Landscapeiaauditorlogo Architect and Licensed Landscape Irrigation Auditor, Mike Cook to  design a landscape plan and irrigation plan which will get you the most out of these products.  Mike knows where and what to plant for your specific climate and property. Mike knows the importance of planting, maintaining and developing a landscape which will have a positive impact on your water use and give you a long lasting beautiful landscape.

Mike can be reached by phone at (707) 792-1800 or email at mike@firmadesigngroup.com