Group plans petition to limit hotels
Seeks 25-room limit
A local petition drive designed to limit hotel development in Sonoma was unveiled Monday at the Sonoma City Council meeting.
Speaking under “oral communications,” former mayor and retired bed and breakfast owner Larry Barnett announced that a group, called the Preserving Sonoma Committee, would be circulating petitions soon. The petitions, which can only be signed by registered voters living within the city limits of Sonoma, seek to put an initiative measure on the ballot that would stop the development of hotels larger than 25 rooms until the actual occupancy rate of existing hotels in Sonoma exceeds 80 percent. The occupancy rate is less than 65 percent now.
“Large commercial hotels and their substantial impacts on traffic, noise and crowding risk destroying unique small-town charm and character,” said Barnett. “This ballot measure, like Sonoma’s existing Growth Management Ordinance regulating the pace and size of large housing developments, requires linking future growth of large hotels and motels to measureable standards so that we do not overbuild.”
Barnett insisted the initiative measure is not focused specifically on the proposed Chateau Sonoma, a 59-room hotel project being planned by Sonoma developer Darius Anderson, a managing partner in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Index-Tribune. “It’s not about Chateau Sonoma,” Barnett said, “it’s a much bigger issue.”
Whether or not it is specifically targeted, Anderson’s project – which has dropped its French name and architectural style – is the only new hotel project currently making its way through the development process in Sonoma. Slated for the 100 block of West Napa Street, the project has been the subject of both praise and criticism since it was first brought to the public’s attention.
“We’ve worked with the community and made a series of changes to the project,” said Anderson. “Before people pass judgment, we want an opportunity to unveil all the changes. We believe we have addressed most of the criticisms and we think we’ve done a good job. I know we can’t please all the people, but we’ve heard them and addressed their concerns.”
A successful petition drive must collect signatures from 15 percent of registered voters to immediately qualify for a special election. If that happens, according to California election law, the City Council has the choice of either adopting the ordinance itself or of immediately ordering a special election, which must be scheduled within 88 to 103 days from the date a successful petition is reported. If only 10 percent of registered voters sign, the City Council may either adopt the ordinance or submit it to the voters at the next regular election, in this case Nov. 2014.
According to Debra Russotti, Sonoma County Election Services supervisor, there are currently 6,774 registered voters in Sonoma, which means 1,016 valid signatures would be required for a special election this fall.
Russotti estimated the cost of a special election at between $3 and $5 a voter, making the full cost of a special election range from $20,322 to $33,870.
If successful, the ballot initiative could halt development of the West Napa Street property, while allowing others, such as the expansion of the Inn at Sonoma and the rumored development of a hotel on the old Sonoma Truck and Auto site on south Broadway, provided they meet size restrictions.
Barnett said he believes there are additional properties large enough for hotel projects within the city limits even though they may be currently used for other businesses. He did not specify which properties he had in mind, but he insisted the ballot measure is needed now to protect Sonoma’s small town character.
”To me, as a resident, I don’t think of Sonoma as a tourist town,” said Barnett, a native of New York. “I think of it as home. I want to keep that homey feeling.” And he thinks that “feeling” is actually what draws tourists to Sonoma. “We’re trying to hold onto this for a few more years, to make Sonoma a refuge from the rest of the world.”
Members of the committee include Barnett, Marilyn Goode, Ed Clay, Bob Edwards, Will Shonbrun, Georgia Kelly, and Jerry Bernhaut. They are sponsoring an information and petition-signing event on April 21 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Vintage House. Full text of the initiative is not yet available, but will be released on the group’s website at preservingsonoma.com.
Hoping to be as successful as the group that successfully opposed the Rosewood Development on Norrbom Road more than a decade ago, the group has chosen to call for a special election in the fall.