Facts versus feelings

Larry Barnett, the sometimes improbable Pied Piper of Measure B, summed up the contradictory duality of Sonoma’s current identity crisis when he told the City Council during a public hearing July 15 that, fundamentally, the Hotel Limitation Measure wasn’t about facts, it was about “how we feel about Sonoma.”

Barnett’s judgment was remarkably prescient, given the mystifying measurements employed in this ballot measure and the singular absence of reliable facts, a particular surprise given the man’s impressive record as a three-term City Council member and mayor.

Let’s get to the point: Measure B’s underlying premise – that “one of the biggest development pressures facing the City of Sonoma … has been large hotel developments” – is patently untrue on two counts.

By every definition except Barnett’s, a 59-room hotel, as has been proposed behind and around the Index-Tribune building, is not large, it’s actually small, or “boutique.” So say all the industry analysts we could find on the subject.

Barnett, in lauding the allure of small hotels, cited a quote by famed travel writer Rick Steves, who stated that small hotels “offer a warmth and intimacy that you won’t find in larger establishments.”

But a Steves travel video on Europe’s “comfy and quaint hotels,” linked to the article Barnett quotes, reveals one of Steves’ favorite small hotels in Munich has 69 rooms.

However you size them, there have been only three credible hotel proposals before the city in the past decade involving more than the 25 room limit of Measure B. One of them was approved, allowing expansion of a 19-room hotel to 27 rooms; a second was withdrawn because the Planning Commission was concerned about “the scale and intensity” of the proposal; and the third – the Darius Anderson proposal for the Index-Tribune site – was withdrawn pending further review and the outcome of the Measure B vote.

It seems unfair and wildly arbitrary that Measure B would deny any existing hotel in Sonoma the right to add so much as a single extra room if they would thereby have more than 25 rooms. What is the logic in that? What social, aesthetic, quality-of-life purpose does that serve? Would one more room at MacArthur Place or El Pueblo Inn ruin Sonoma?

Let’s talk about traffic and parking, two very valid and much-discussed public concerns.

It may come as a surprise, but there are currently more cars parking in and driving through the Index-Tribune parking lot every day then would ever do so were a hotel to occupy the space. It is a well-known local secret that the only (marginally legal) way to turn left onto West Napa Street from First Street West, is to sneak through that parking lot, which conveniently connects the two streets and holds 76 parking spaces. The offices served by that lot hold more people and generate more traffic than any proposed hotel ever could.

It may feel like a hotel would add to traffic congestion on West Napa Street, but feelings are feelings and facts are facts, and the paradoxical fact is, a hotel would actually reduce traffic, and therefore congestion.

Which brings us back to feelings about Sonoma’s future, which is what the hotel battle is really all about. And that’s a hugely important issue we will address in this space on Tuesday.