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County group backs hotel measure

By Pam Gibson/Special to the Index-Tribune

Measure B, the Hotel Limitation initiative appearing on Sonoma’s Nov. 19 special election ballot, has been endorsed by Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA).

David Kellar, SCCA board chair, said, “The issue of how our towns and cities are going to develop within the urban core is an important one, just as we are very concerned about developments in our rural lands.”

He said the countywide organization believes preserving town character and a small-growth approach is more appropriate for a town the size of Sonoma.

The announcement was made in a news release that also criticized the “proliferation of wine tasting rooms in the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg, as well as new event centers spreading throughout our rural and agricultural lands.”

The Hotel Limitation Measure calls for a limitation on the construction or expansion of hotels with more than 25 rooms until the City of Sonoma’s annual hotel occupancy rate reaches 80 percent for the prior calendar year. The measure is sponsored by Preserving Sonoma, whose spokesperson is Larry Barnett, a former mayor and City Council member.

Many groups have come out against the measure, stating it would hurt jobs, tourism, and the city budget. These include the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers, the Sonoma Tourism Improvement District board and the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.There is also a group called Protect Sonoma, made up of residents and business owners who are opposed to the hotel limitation measure.

The initiative proponents have repeatedly said they are not sponsoring the measure in response to a proposed 59-unit hotel on West Napa Street. But barring an 80 percent hotel occupancy rate during the preceding year, that hotel would not be allowed, nor would the expansion of any existing hotel seeking to grow beyond the 25-room limit limit. It would not affect the construction of new hotels that are 25 rooms or less or limit their number.

The news release went on to say that “the SCCA believes there needs to be a public conversation about the impacts of tourism, while keeping and strengthening what makes Sonoma County and our cities desirable places for all of us who live and work here every day.”

Bill Kortum, SCCA president emeritus – who is a retired veterinarian, former county supervisor and environmental icon – said, “We’ve been advocating city-centered growth for more than two decades. But not all growth is appropriate for every town. We ultimately felt that preserving the small-town experience for both residents and visitors strikes the right balance for the City of Sonoma.”