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Beyond tasting rooms – Sonoma’s bottom line issues

Valley Forum

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By Fred Allebach

Before the community is a question of values: how to frame the role of tourism in Sonoma Valley. Managing tourism, or not, has been framed as a zero-sum game. We need to get beyond that. It’s not just economic issues isolated from the whole. It’s about the aggregate of the whole and how we see it.

Mass tourism has known negative aspects. These can be addressed and possibly mitigated. Hawaii, Vermont, ski towns, national park towns, all have common issues. A prime cause of these issues is a myopic economic boosterism to the exclusion of other factors. The way to mitigate this is to cast a wider net and consider more community stakeholder’s bottom lines.

Below is a partial list of Sonoma, and common tourism, issues that lie beneath this wine tasting issue. These represent bottom lines that need to be entered to balance our aggregate budget.

• Disregard for conservation and resources: unlimited growth, extinction of fish.

• Consumerism: The U.S. has the highest per-capita consumers in the world.

• Water: Sonoma has highest per capita water use of any SCWA contractor; unregulated valley groundwater use; groundwater depletion.

• Monoculture: All eggs in one basket, vulnerable to collapse.

• Economy: boom or bust, free market approach essentially stands for no planning.

• Gentrification: Real estate is unaffordable to the middle and working class.

• Disenfranchisement: The demographic of bedroom communities means there’s nobody to vote for worker issues; reduced options for, or no, medical care.

• Reduced socio-economic diversity: The loss of actual character and reduction to formula.

• Inflation: The affordability crisis of food, goods and services; pay wall for all events.

• Concentration of formula: Rents of $120,000 a month on the Plaza; upward cycle of elite exclusion; real estate/boutique shops/ wine tasting.

• Mass marketing: The hype is like living inside one big repetitive commercial; authenticity is lost; the Plaza honeypot becomes a caricature of itself.

In the tourism industry, there is a recognized need to apply sustainable principles that? essentially boil down to a triple bottom line approach to planning. The destination community needs to be involved in an integral tourism-planning discussion to find mutual ways to mitigate the negative aspects of mass tourism. To quote economist Robert Eyler, “We not only need to think about being business friendly, we also have to think about being resident friendly.”

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Fred Allebach is a long time KSVY host, Sonoma Overlook Trail Steward, co-creator of the free Mountain Cemetery walking tour and Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Program meeting attender.

  • Will Shonbrun

    What the Plaza needs are more wine tasting rooms. There I’ve
    said it. For that matter why stop at only wine tasting? How about beer tasting
    rooms for our local brewers? We have hard liquor brewers in the Valley and they
    should not be discriminated against. Or pot smoke-tasting rooms, for only
    medicinal purposes of course. Gives new meaning to Slow-noma.

    Let’s face it, how many times do we locals shop at Eraldis
    or the other clothing stores around the Plaza? Two, maybe three times a year?
    These shops, nice as they are, aren’t exactly tourist draws. No, tourists come
    here to get loaded and stagger on to the next watering hole to keep the buzz
    going and then fall into some restaurant and sip some more. It’s what supports
    this town and what made America great.

    So please, you regulations freaks and nanny scolds, back off
    and just let our tourists get wasted and continue to use the Plaza as the gods
    and Gen. Vallejo intended. And please stop picking on the poor derelicts who
    pass the bottle in their designated section. They give the town its color and
    unique charm. I say there ought to be a statue of the dude who walks his mini-pony
    downtown. My next vote for alcalde.