Opponents of the Hotel Limitation Measure say we don’t have a “hotel problem” in Sonoma, that few hotels have been built in the last 10 years and the measure is not needed. Setting aside the cumulative effects of growing tourism – increased traffic, crowds, noise, event centers and wine bars – it’s true few new hotels have been built recently. The Hotel Limitation Measure is about anticipating change, however, not waiting until we have a problem.
Residents can readily see how problems arise in the example of so-called wine tasting rooms. By the time the problem was recognized, the downtown area had 25 of them, and more in the pipeline. From alleyways to main streets, tasting rooms have proliferated quickly and now it’s too late to do much of anything. Doing nothing is a lousy way to plan for change.
That things will change is certain, one of the few certainties in life. How quickly and how deeply, however, are questions that can be anticipated and for which the City of Sonoma can plan. Looking at towns like Yountville or Healdsburg, one sees how quickly large hotels can proliferate and alter the fabric of community.
Proportionate to its population, Yountville has three times as many hotel rooms as Sonoma. Over the past decade, it has simultaneously lost 10 percent of its residents. It’s fun to visit Disneyland, but not a lot of fun to live there. Healdsburg has three new hotel proposals before it right now. Without limitations in place it will happen here.
Those who claim we don’t have a hotel problem ignore the reality that once a problem develops it’s most often too late to do anything about it. Government moves at a glacial pace, and with land use law being tilted toward development, combined with pressure from the development and business community to cash in on tourism, Sonoma is vulnerable.