Formula Business Ordinance

Ord. No. 03-2012 adopted June 18, 2012

The primary intent of the regulations is to protect, preserve, and retain the local unique and attractive character and charm of the downtown Plaza and historic district for which Sonoma is internationally known.

A formula businesses is defined as having a "standardized array of services and/or merchandise, employee uniforms, decor, facade design, signage, color scheme, trademark or service mark, name, or similar standardized features; and which causes it to be substantially identical to ten or more other businesses in the U.S." at the time of application.
The formula definition applies to most retail, restaurant, and personal service uses (such as salons), but not to uses such as offices, hotels, banks, and gas stations.  The ordinance does not apply to businesses in existence at the time it was adopted, but may apply if the business relocates or expands.

Per the regulations, new "formula" businesses locating in the Historic District need to meet Use Permit requirements relating to diversity, balance, and community character.  The Use Permit requirement also applies to new formula businesses in locations outside the Historic District if they are larger than 10,000 square feet.  In addition, the City's formula business ordinance specifically prohibits new large-scale formula restaurants, defined as having more than 250 existing outlets, from locating in the Sonoma Plaza area.

The formula business requirements do not apply to the City’s four largest shopping centers:  Sonoma Marketplace Shopping Center, Fifth West Plaza, Sonoma Valley Center, and Maxwell Village Shopping Center.

The City of Sonoma supports a business climate that fosters economic vitality in several ways, including a Project Advisory Committee that provides early-stage input from various City departments on private development projects, at no charge; a FAST START streamlined plan check option; and an outreach program to help businesses understand the permit processes that affect them.

The City also partners with the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce in the Sonoma Valley Economic Development Partnership, a unique collaboration to support business retention, expansion, creation, and attraction.  Visit the economic development website at or contact the Economic Development Manager at (707) 327-7338.