What this drought means for our profession!

March 30th, 2014

A lot of talk, press, discussion, worry and concern has resulted from the lack of rain this winter.  Even with the rains that we have received the last few days totaling a little less than an inch of rain, we still should be worried.  In Santa Rosa, we have received 13.15 inches of rain this season (25.15 normal) and Petaluma has received 12.3 inches of rain this season (17.5 normal) we are looking like this will be probably the driest season on record.

So, what do professionals in our industry do?  In normal years, we design and develop properties with plants, irrigation systems, pools, water features, ponds, etc.  and that’s what our clients request day in and day out.   On the above projects, in a normal year, we recommend our clients consider drought tolerant, appropriate species that require little to no maintenance, design highly efficient irrigation systems that adjust to the specific irrigation needs of each valve area based on the weather.  We design water features with basin-less features, we always put a pool cover on our pools to reduce evaporation.  BUT THAT IS A NORMAL YEAR…this is not a normal year.

I recently read a Press Democrat article interviewing local landscape maintenance contractors (http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140201/business/140209982#page=1) and I have worked with most of the contractors.  They are all professional, highly respected companies that do all they can to promote water efficient landscaping.  But, as the title of the article states, they’re worried about the future with the drought.  So, what do professionals do to make sure that the landscape industry continues?

First off, get with the program.  Do not design high-water use landscapes. Do not include in designs or new installations plants that are not appropriate for the region. Design highly efficient irrigation systems that adjust with weather (rain, sun, wind, temperature, etc.).  Take all environmental factors into place and don’t over do it!

Firma Design Group is fully committed to designing sustainable environments and is certified in Landscape Irrigation Auditing (CLIA) by the Irrigation Association and Bay Friendly Qualified Professional in landscape design.  We are always here to assist with our clients and contractor needs.

Canyon Green, Novato

December 21st, 2013
Work Progressing

Work Progressing

Home Entrances

Home Entrances

Model Homes

Model Homes

On a recent trip to Novato, California, I was driving down the road and came upon one of our projects from a year or two ago.  This project is the site of an old hospital that was decommissioned when they built a new hospital.  The hillside site was challenging, but we were able to locate 25 home sites situated around a nice 1 acre park site.  It was a pleasure driving down the street and seeing buildings popping up, and as you can see they are moving pretty quickly!

Canyon Green is being built by Castle Companies.  From the website (www.canyongreenhomes.com):

Site Plan for DevelopmentWhen we began in 1966, we were a close-knit group of family members with a real passion for home building. Now we’re still family-owned and operated—and our desire for building homes with unsurpassed quality grows stronger everyday. It’s this dedicated, hands-on approach that keeps us in touch with our roots. Combining a history of dedicated home building with the warm touch of a family business, the Castle Companies has evolved into one of the leaders in Northern California’s building industry, and in the process has earned a reputation for creating beautiful homes of distinction and superior craftsmanship. We set out in 1966 with the goal of providing high-quality homes for the kinds of people that we grew up with, and we haven’t forgotten that purpose, in spite of the rapid changes that have occurred around us.


Bay Friendly Landscape Qualification

November 13th, 2013

We wrote about Steve Kovanis, Bay Friendly Landscape Professional a few months ago (July 11, 2013 @ http://www.firmadesigngroup.com/2013/07/steve-kovanis/), but we felt it was important enough to repost and talk a little bit more about the Bay Friendly Landscape Professional and qualification program….

The Bay-Friendly Coalition addresses the following challenges:

  • California’s water supply is limited and under increasing pressure. Up to 30% of urban water use goes to landscaping. (This is our drinking water!)
  • Landfill space is scarce and there are significant economic and environmental costs to transporting and landfilling plant debris. In Alameda County alone, 110,000 tons of plant debris goes to the landfill each year.
  • Local creeks and the bay are impacted by inappropriate use of pesticides, affecting human health and wildlife populations.
  • Traditional landscape construction and maintenance practices of mow, shear, and blow contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
  • Biodiversity, ecosystem services, and aesthetic values of Bay Area natural resources are at risk.

See more at: http://www.bayfriendlycoalition.org/

Steve Kovanis, our Landscape Designer (steve@firmadesigngroup.com) is the qualified landscape professional.  Over the last several months, in our interactions with clients, other professionals, etc., we believe that the additional education and certification of Bay Friendly Landscape Professional has come in ‘handy’ many, many times.  This certification program provides the education and certification to know the regulations, sustainability and plant material to assist the natural economy and the San Francisco Bay habitat.

Devil’s Gulch Bank Repair and Stabilization

October 29th, 2013
Engineering and Landscape Architecture

Engineering and Landscape Architecture

North Bay Trout Unlimited (NBTU) replaced three culverts with wet crossings in Devil’s Gulch Creek, a tributary to Lagunitas Creek – one of California’s Southern most reaches of the endangered Coho salmon, in 2004.

The uppermost crossing, on National Park land, was washed out by the 100 year storm of 2006.   This water shed lies in Marin County, California at USGS 7-5 minute, San Geronimo Quadrangle. The watershed empties into Bolinas Bay and on to the Pacific Ocean. North Bay Trout Unlimited (NBTU), Chapter 903, is continuing 40 years of work in the area by repairing a wet crossing to enhance water quality, habitat and open more spawning areas for migrating salmon and steelhead trout.

Firma Design Group was an essential partner in the preparation and acquisition of permits for the work that NBTU was interested in accompolishing.Planning the Planting

NBTU, with grants from Trout Unlimited, the Rockey Foundation, and Patagonia completed restoration of the wet crossing on October 12, 2013 installing rock walls and three layers of bio-technical fabric that will eliminate a source of sediment load downstream of the crossing. At the same time, an existing wet crossing received a new grading which will permit fish to migrate farther upstream. NBTU volunteers harvested and planted native trees and bushes to help stabilize the banks and provide overhead shelter to lower water temperatures and provide protection for the young fish. Our previous restoration work indicates that we should expect to see fish in the upstream area as well as less sediment in the lower reaches.

For the past fifteen years there has been a steep decline of endangered Coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout in the Lagunitas Creek watershed to the point that both were re-listed in 2010 by NOAA and NMFS. The decline in Coho salmon is listed in NOAA’s Coho Recovery Program referring to the species entering an, “extinction vortex” (see http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/psd/fyr.htm) in our watershed. The Golden Gate National Park Service listed the Coho as the, “Fish of the Year”, in 2012 in an effort to inform the public of the severity of the population decline.


Volunteers from NBTU planting cuttings

Volunteers from NBTU planting cuttings

The Coho salmon require pristine water and North Bay Trout Unlimited (NBTU) has continued its 40 year record of working to fulfill their habitat needs in various watersheds. Devil’s Gulch has historically maintained 30% of the redds in the entire Lagunitas watershed. NBTU has completed many erosion control projects to ensure that these fish receive the pristine habitat necessary for their return.


The Outdoor Room

October 3rd, 2013

An article that I recently read in the Hearth and Home magazine (www.hearthandhome.com) was regarding the trend towards using outdoor rooms (kitchens, fireplaces, dining rooms, etc.) 12 months out of the year.  While we are fortunate in California to have weather condusive to using outdoor rooms the majority of the time, this trend is picking up throughout the United States.  The word room is literally being used these days when describing outdoor spaces used for entertaining.  “Rooms of different specialties” is one of the top home design trends for 2013.  Realtor Magazine has identified screened porches and outdoor living rooms with solid overhead roofs as two of the hottest home trends in 2013.

At Firma Design Group, we are experts at designing outdoor rooms for our clients’ purposes and needs.  Recently, we have completed several

Pool House

Pool House

projects that utilize the “year-around” approach.  To the right is a project we completed

Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen

with an entirely covered pool house.  We have also created outdoor kitches, like the one to the left and outdoor entertaining areas like the project below.

As the article in Hearth and Home magazine states “People think hiring a designer costs more, but it actually can cost less, especially if the project will be constructed in stages.  The design will plan everything up front, so later you don’t end up saying ‘Uh oh, I forgot about running the electric for the speakers or running the gas line for the firepit.’  It costs more to rip it up and redo than to plan properly in the first place.”

Outdoor space with fireplace

Outdoor space with fireplace

Please contact us at Firma Design Group for any of your outdoor room or entertaining needs.

More parking….Higher Rent!

September 17th, 2013

I read this article earlier this week and thought this article had a lot of great points…http://bettercities.net/article/how-parking-requirements-raise-rents-20670

The more parking there is on an infill project, the less room for living space, which in turn creates less rentable space…so, the end result is higher rents!  It is time for our Cities to jump on board with the idea that less parking is better than more parking.  Parking is one of the biggest wastes of land in the United States.  Let’s start looking at better ways, more productive ways, to provide useable space for land in our country.

Sustainable Winery Development

September 12th, 2013

A partner of ours, Centric General Contractors, posted a great blog posting recently that talks about the importance of building wineries and visitor centers with utmost care and concern with the environment.  Firma Design Group is a ardent supporter of building sustainably, and with the environment/surroundings in consideration.  Please check out their blog at http://blog.centricgc.com//bid/332629/key-elements-for-planning-and-building-your-sustainable-winery and comment here or there.  We are full supporters of building sustainably, and we can assit winery clients with a sustainable site plan, wastewater system, visitor experience and tasting room.

Please contact us should you have any questions!

Mike Cook receives licensure in State of Nevada

September 7th, 2013
Mike Cook, V.P.

Mike Cook, V.P.

Michael Cook, Vice President of Planning & Landscape Architecture of Firma Design Group, a planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm headquartered in Petaluma, California has received final approval by the State of Nevada for licensure in landscape architecture.  As a licensed landscape architect in Nevada, Firma Design Group will be able to assist existing clients with projects in Nevada, municipalities in Nevada with landscape architecture needs, and new clients looking for a different perspective for their site planning and landscape design needs.

The Nevada State Board of Landscape Architects (nsbla.state.nv.us/) grants licensure and Mike was granted this in

State of Nevada seal

State of Nevada seal

May, 2013 and license number 916.

The State Board of Landscape Architects was formed by ordinance 623 which defines what a landscape architect legally can do and who can call themselves landscape architects. (http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nac/NAC-623A.html)

Our location in Petaluma serves our clients well in Nevada, with less than a 3 hour drive or 1 hour flight.  We look forward to working with our clients and our new clients in Nevada for the coming years!

A Multitude of Retaining and Screening Walls

August 25th, 2013

When we are retained to assist a new client with designing their back, front, side yards, we often consider using built elements to screen neighbors, an unsighly view or just create a break in the space.

Dry-stacked rock holding hillside

Dry-stacked rock holding hillside

“Walls” as they are known, are efficient, clean and can be provided in almost any style to fit your desires.  We came across this blog on Houzz (http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/7619714/list?utm_source=Houzz&utm_campaign=u344&utm_medium=email&utm_content=gallery3) and were inspired to write this blog.  As civil P1130825engineers and landscape architects, we are prepared to assit you with an aesthetic wall, a utilitarian wall (retaining a hillside, diverting drainage, etc.), or a break in your space.


1/4" thick metal retaining wall

1/4″ thick metal retaining wall

We have included some examples of walls that we have designed.  There are so many options for walls that the imagination is your only restriction.  Please contact Firma Design Group should you have a need to design your personal space.  Plants, walls, fences and more can help create your individualistic space!

Stucco and tile wall, including fountain

Stucco and tile wall, including fountain

What is Sustainability?

August 6th, 2013

Just recently, Michael Cook was at a landscape architectural occupational analysis and the word “SUSTAINABILITY” continually came up in discussion.  There were many different definitions, many different ideals and many different objections to other definitions.  This word, “SUSTAINABILITY” is in our world and we must be able to define it.  Just today, I received a newsletter that I will reference below with a completely different approach (which I agree with).  I will get to that below.



The definition from www.dictionary.com is:”….the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance….”

Okay, that is a general definition.  The diagram included in this blog is more what I think of sustainability.  There are so many aspects to sustainable development, sustainable living, sustainable purchasing, etc. that all of the factors shown in the diagram must be taken in to account.  There are a lot of considerations!

Now, take this blog, below.  Their definition of sustainability is :  “meeting the needs of  the present without compromising the ability of future generations to  meet their own needs.”  That really covers it!  The things that we do today, directly affect our children’s and their children’s and so on….their future!

Something else of note in the blog is that the Iroquois Indians thought about how their decisions being made would affect the 7th Generation of their families and tribe…wow, can you imagine thinking roughly 150 years out?


The places we inhabit are rarely if ever arbitrary. They’re the  products of intention. Personal. Economic. Environmental. Religious. We  choose for ourselves, individually and collectively, the kind of places  we want and — through leadership, policy, investment, advocacy, action  and, at times, inaction — those places begin to take form.

It’s a complicated dance of complementary and competing interests. Making it something that happens for us, rather than something that happens to us, requires, perhaps more than anything, a shared understanding of exactly what it is we’re talking about. A common language.

Such common language provides a context in which people of different  opinions and values can work together. It doesn’t necessarily make  things any easier (that’s dependent on the amount of common ground that  exists between views) but it does make them more rational and  productive.

I communicate for a living, which is why I spend a lot of time  thinking about ways to simplify concepts, distill big ideas into  smaller, more digestible ones, and connect them with things people care  about. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of sustainability and wondering if we’ll ever find a way to depoliticized it.

If we could, we’d begin to see that, in concept, it’s an equal  opportunity proposition with applicability across the political  spectrum.

Political, ideological, nonsensical

First off, sustainability’s not an action. It’s not something you do in support of a political agenda. It’s an underlying value — a driver of actions — to be considered on its own merits. But that consideration requires agreement on its definition.

When we speak of sustainability, what are we even talking about?

My most simplified version is ensuring our ability to keep on keepin’ on, which I adapted from Original Green originator Steve Mouzon, who defines it as “keeping things going in a healthy way long into an uncertain future.”

Perhaps the most commonly cited definition is “meeting the needs of  the present without compromising the ability of future generations to  meet their own needs.”

 So that's where my laundry detergent got its name!

Not a new idea: So that’s where my laundry detergent got its name!

Whichever  definition connects with you, you see the common threads: endurance,  durability, resilience, responsibility and, yes, an acknowledgement that  future generations will, in some ways, thrive or suffer based on  choices we make today.

That’s not ideology. It’s humility.

It’s not new, either. Steve Mouzon asserts that,  historically speaking, we’ve always lived sustainably because, until the  industrial “Thermostat Age,” we had no other choice. It’s only our  present levels of comfort that have given us the temporary luxury of  viewing such behaviors as optional.

Finally, it’s not something reserved for any particular culture. The Iroquois Indians, for example, had their own version,  one that pinned their actions to outcomes seven generations down the  line. In weighing their decisions, they placed high emphasis on how such  actions might impact their kids, and their kids’ kids, and so on,  looking roughly a century and a half out.

Simplify and maybe we can get somewhere

If that’s what sustainability’s all about then let the conversation  be about that. Let communities begin by asking themselves a simple  question: Should we concern ourselves solely with getting through today  or should we also consider and prepare for what’s in store tomorrow? And  the day after that?

That’s the crux of it. Nothing about one-world government forcing people to live in high-density downtown tenements. No Agenda 21 conspiracies. No Birkenstocks required. Just a simple question getting at the heart of what a community does or doesn’t value.

If it takes not uttering the word to get there, so be it. It really  doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is the answer. If you can  get to that, to a point where your community genuinely agrees on its  connection with, and responsibility to, those yet to come, you can get  to the hard work of determining exactly which economic, social and  environmental policies and initiatives — across the political spectrum —  best put that agreement into practice.

What’s been your experience? Have you found ways to strip away  sustainability’s all too common ideological baggage and arrive at a  meaningful, non-partisan community conversation? Do tell.

Scott Doyon is principal, director of client marketing services                      with Placemakers, a planning, coding, marketing, and              implementation         firm.