Council to mull big-box, tourism district
A hefty agenda for the Monday, May 16, Sonoma City Council meeting includes discussion of a next step toward exploring policy options for future approval of chain/formula/big-box stores; discussion of possible creation of a Tourism Improvement District; and a possibly contentious review of council polices governing agenda items that consume significant staff time.
The big-box debate, shorthand for concerns about a chain store invasion of Sonoma's historic ambience, was initially triggered by news of the imminent opening of a Staples office supply store on West Napa Street. While that facility, to occupy the 14,400-square-foot-space formerly housing Holder Ford, would not meet the conventional size definition of a "big-box," it did fan the flames of citizen concern about the city's lack of legal tools to govern permits for such "formula" chains.
That reaction has encountered resistance from both citizens and some council members who have argued that targeting chain stores could involve illegal restraint of trade and that the city is already overrun with chain stores and has been for years.
Nevertheless, City Council discussions to date have focused on the need for better information on the administrative tools available that can be used to address chain store issues. One such tool, called the Community Impact Report, has received particular attention in preliminary discussions, and during the May 2 council meeting staff was instructed to schedule a joint meeting with the Planning Commission to explore that option.
But no dates were available until mid-July and that seemed too distant a date to Mayor Laurie Gallian and Councilmember Steve Barbose. They have therefore proposed creation of an ad hoc committee composed of City Council and Planning Commission members, along with city staff, to explore the issue.
But the city's Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC), which discussed the issue May 9, concluded it would make a better venue for exploring the big-box issue. Some decision on who should do what is expected Monday night.
While the council wrestles with chain stores, representatives from four major hotels in town have proposed creation of a Tourism Improvement District (TID), funded by a 2 percent TOT increase on all city lodging establishments. The TID would provide a stable marketing program to promote Sonoma tourism, augmenting the work of the Sonoma Visitors Bureau.
Sonoma currently has one of the lowest TOT rates in the county, but the City Council has traditionally viewed any rate increase as a back-up or bail-out source of general revenues for the city in tough economic times.
Additional agenda items include the appeal of a Planning Commission decision, an update on the renovation of Jean KT Carter Park, an update on the state budget negotiations and the future of Sonoma's redevelopment funds, among other things.
The full council agenda is available on the City of Sonoma website. Monday's public meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W.