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Historic and Cultural Preservation

The Petaluma River Valley has been the location of human settlement for hundreds of years. Its fertile soils and abundant wildlife provided sustenance, while the river acted as a natural transportation route to the south. Its first inhabitants were native Coast Miwok tribes, who were followed by European settlers.

Petaluma has a Nationally Registered Commercial District and two City-designated local Historic Districts. Over 300 properties have been surveyed for potential historic significance. Well-known historic landmarks in the City include the Sweed House, United States Post Office (4th and D Streets), the Opera House, the former Carnegie Library (now the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum), and the Old Silk Mill.

General Plan: Chapter 3 (Historic Preservation)

Chapter 3 (Historic Preservation) of Petaluma’s General Plan provides policies which guide the preservation, restoration, and restoration of historical and cultural resources throughout the City. The policies are intended to further Goal 3-G-1 which states,

“Identify, recognize and protect Petaluma’s unique and irreplaceable cultural heritage through the implementation of policies and programs that maintain the character and identity of the community, enhance the quality of the built environment, encourage awareness and appreciation for its history and culture, and contribute to its economic vitality. Ensure that future plans, ordinances, and City programs are complimentary to the historic preservation goals and policies contained within this plan.”

Current implementation tools used to further the General Plan’s goal and policies on this topic are summarized below.

Historic Districts

The City of Petaluma has established three Historic Districts (see map here). Before commencing exterior work of any kind on any building within a historic district, please review the relevant district guidelines and Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. After reviewing, please contact the Planning Division. Almost all exterior work requires some level of discretionary review. Click the links below to learn more about each historic district.



Historic Landmarks

Historic landmarks are historic resources that the Petaluma City Council has determined, after receipt of a recommendation by the Historic and Cultural Resource Committee and Planning Commission, to be significant based on local, state, and federal criteria. A historic resource can be a building, a structure, a district, a site, an object, or a record. In Petaluma, historic landmarks are mainly buildings. Historic landmark properties are provided a “Historic” overlay on the City’s Zoning Map. Click the links below to learn more about each historic district.



Proposed Historic Districts/Landmarks or Heritage Trees

The designation of historic landmarks (including new districts) is governed by Implementing Zoning Ordinance Chapter 15.040. A summary of the designation process is provided below. If you are contemplating a nomination application, please contact Planning Division staff for guidance and support.


  • Historic Resource Survey and Evaluation Report


A qualified professional conducts an historic resource survey and evaluation of the property(ies) and prepares a report. The report includes an analysis of whether the property(ies) is a significant historic resource and meets the criteria for designation.


1. Historic Resource Surveys & Evaluations (see below)
California Register of Historical Resources – Eligibility Criteria
National Register of Historic Places – Eligibility Criteria


2. Submittal of Application Materials


A planning application to add a “Historic” (H) Overlay Zone designation to the property and the historic resource survey and evaluation are submitted to the Planning Division.


The following forms are required:
General Application Form
Cost Recovery Form
Zoning Map Amendment Checklist


3. Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee Public Hearing


At a public hearing, the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee (HCPC) determines whether the property meets the eligibility criteria and qualifies for designation as a local historic landmark. To make that decision, the HCPC uses both the Historic Resource Survey and Evaluation Report and its expertise. The HCPC makes a recommendation to the Planning Commission to either approve or deny designation of the property or area.


4. Planning Commission and City Council Public Hearings


At a public hearing, the Planning Commission considers the HCPC’s recommendation and, after taking public comment, makes a recommendation to the City Council. The application proceeds to the City Council to consider recommendations of the HCPC and Planning Commission as well as comments from the public and property owner(s). The City Council makes the final decision.


5. Historic Overlay Zoning


Historic (D) Overlay Zone is added to the property if the City Council has given approval.

Alterations to Historic Resources

Applications to alter designated historic resources (excluding demolition) are reviewed in accordance with Implementing Zoning Ordinance Section 15.050 and 15.070. Review under those sections includes an evaluation of conformance with district guidelines (when applicable) and the Secretory of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
The review of all proposed alterations begins with gaining an understanding of the historic features of the property. Prior surveys may have documented those features but, frequently, a qualified professional is needed to conduct research and prepare a Historic Resource Evaluation if one has not previously prepared. Please see the information below pertaining to the required qualifications and ways to locate a qualified professional.
Once you have gained an understanding of historic features and composed plans for alterations in conformance with applicable guidelines and standards, a Historic Site Plan and Architectural Review application is filed. Links to required application forms are provided below. Depending upon the nature and extent of alterations proposed, application are considered and acted upon by either Planning Division staff or the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee.

General Application Form
Cost Recovery Form
Site Plan and Architectural Review Checklist

Petaluma Demo Policy

The review of applications for demolition permits is considered under Implementing Zoning Ordinance Section 15.060 and City Council Resolution No. 2017-122 N.C.S. (‘Demo Policy’). The basic purpose of each is to address concern over the incremental loss of the historic building stock. The proposed demolition of any structure built before 1945 is subject to review. Demolition is defined as,

“Demolition means the removal of 50% or more of the exterior walls of a building or structure. Demolition may also include the addition of a second story if not appropriately designed and differentiated from the original structure to convey its history as determined by the Planning Manager. Demolition also includes the relocation of a building from one parcel of land to another or the raising of an existing structure beyond what is required for construction of a new foundation.

The removal and replacement in kind of deteriorated, non-repairable material required for the restoration or rehabilitation of a building which results in no change to its exterior appearance or character is not considered a demolition. The initial determination of whether a project meets the above description of demolition shall be made by the Planning Manager or their designee. Any dispute over whether a project meets this definition will be decided by the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee.”


Depending upon the historic significance of the building in question, applications for demolition permits are evaluated as part of the Building Permit process, an Administrative Site Plan and Architectural Review application, or Major Site Plan and Architectural Review application. Please contact Planning Division staff for guidance on the appropriate review process and necessary supporting evidence.

Implementing Zoning Ordinance Chapter 15
City Council Resolution No. 2017-122 N.C.S

Historic Resource Surveys and Evaluations

The Secretary of the Interior has established professional qualification standards for the preparation of Historic Surveys and Evaluations used to determine eligibility for State or National historic designation. Petaluma relies on these standards for the preparation of reports that inform the decision making process. The qualifications, summarized below, define minimum education and experience required to identify, evaluate, register, and develop treatment activities related to historic resources:


History: Bachelor’s or graduate degree in history; and either two years of full time experience, or substantial contribution to the field of history through research and publication.

Archaeology: Graduate degree in archaeology and all of the following: (a) one year of full time professional experience; (b) four months of supervised field and analytic experience; and (c) demonstrated ability to complete research.


Architectural History:  Bachelor’s or graduate degree in architectural history, art history, historic preservation or closely related field; and either two years of experience in research, writing and teaching; or substantial contribution to the field through research and publication.


Architecture:  Professional degree in architecture; and either two years of full time experience; or state architecture license.


Historic Architecture: Professional degree in historic architecture or state architecture license; and either one year of graduate study in architectural preservation; or one year of full time professional experience.


How to Find a Qualified Professional
The Northwest Information Center (NWIC), associated with Sonoma State University and the State Office of Historic Preservation, maintains a list of Historic Resources Consultants who have documented that they meet one or more of the following professional categories identified in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties:

  • Archaeology
  • Architectural History
  • Architecture
  • Historic Architecture
  • History


To search for Historic Resources Consultants qualified to prepare Historical Surveys and Evaluations who work in or near Sonoma County, visit the California Historical


Resources Information System website and:
1. Select “Architectural History”, “Historic Architecture”, or “Architecture” under “Select a Discipline”
2. Select “Sonoma” under “Select a County”
3. And press “Search

Questions regarding the List of Historic Resources Consultants may be directed to the Northwest Information Center at (707) 588-8455 or
Property owners may also contact Petaluma Planning Division staff for a list of qualified professionals who have prepared Historic Surveys or Evaluations for review in the recent past.

Contact Information

11 English St.
Petaluma, CA 94952
phone: 707.778.4301
fax: 707.778.4498

phone: 707.778.4301

Hours: 8am - 4pm
Monday through Thursday – Closed every Friday

phone: 707.778.4470

Hours: 8am - 5pm
Mondays through Thursdays, Closed Fridays

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