By Bill Blum
It might seem that, as the general manager of a hotel here in Sonoma with more than 25 rooms, I would be thrilled with the Hotel Limitation Measure, since it would essentially ban any new hotels in Sonoma our size from ever being built in the future.
But there is a reason the Sonoma City Council voted to write the opposition argument to Measure B on the ballot, and there’s a reason all hotels in Sonoma with more than 25 rooms oppose this measure, along with the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers, the San Francisco Travel Bureau and even the California Travel Association. It’s potentially the most damaging initiative to ever come before our city.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should add that Larry Barnett and I have been friends and business associates for more than 20 years and I hope to continue that relationship after the election.
Our friendship began when I hired Larry to design Sonoma Mission Inn’s first website, and he also designed and created MacArthur Place’s website more than 15 years ago. As chairman of the Marketing Committee of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, I hired Larry to design the visitors bureau website as well. And when Larry was running for reelection to the City Council, I was one of those people walking around Sonoma wearing one of those giant “I’m just wild about Larry” buttons. Ironically, most of my conversations with Larry during the last two decades have been about how to bring more visitors to our hotels, so I must say when Larry proposed this initiative it completely floored me – but as friends we have agreed to disagree on this issue.
That said, let me give the top five reasons why I oppose the Hotel Limitation Measure.
1. We do not have a hotel problem
Of all of the problems facing Sonoma in recent years, hotels have not been one of them. Sonoma hasn’t had a hotel project of more than 25 rooms come before the City Council or Planning Commission in more than 10 years, and there have been no new hotels in Sonoma over 25 rooms since the Lodge at Sonoma opened in the year 2000, more than 13 years ago.
Sonoma Valley has been a visitor destination dating back to the 19th century, and when the Sonoma Mission Inn opened as a 100-room hotel in 1927, there were more hotels in Sonoma Valley and on Sonoma Plaza than there are today. If Larry had been Mayor in 1843 when the El Dorado Hotel was built, at 27 rooms, I’m afraid it may have been banned as being a large hotel.
2. If we don’t have a hotel problem, then why this initiative?
This is huge for me, because if we truly don’t have a problem, then what’s the reason for an initiative that will have the largest impact ever on tourism, Sonoma’s biggest industry.
If you listen to the creators of Measure B, it is because they don’t trust our city – they don’t trust the public process, they don’t trust our city staff or our planning commission and they certainly don’t trust our City Council. The problem is, after all of them, and everyone in this town, is long gone, this initiative will still be in place. I trust the process we have in place that has worked well for generations of Sonomans.