Real issue, wrong solution

For all the passion, proclamations, pronouncements, accusations and denials flowing from the river of rhetoric inspired by Measure B – the Hotel Limitation Measure on the $30,000, Nov. 19 special election – two important observations can be distilled from the steam of debate.

First, the issue is legitimate and the passion behind it is real.

Many Sonomans are concerned about the future of their town, about what it should look like, feel like, live like and be defined by, now and into the distant years ahead.

Second, Measure B is a clumsy solution, poorly conceived, badly focused, illogically written and won’t solve the problems about which people are concerned.

The two notable numbers driving Measure B are 25 and 80 – 25 being the number of rooms to which new hotels will be limited, unless the occupancy rate for all city lodging reaches 80 percent in a prior year. And, in the extraordinary unlikelihood that such an occupancy rate should ever be achieved, it would still take a four-fifths, supermajority of the City Council to approve a hotel with more than 25 rooms.

These are numbers pulled either from thin air, or from the deliberate intention to forever ban future hotels with more than 25 rooms, and to deprive existing hotels that already have 25 rooms of the chance to ever add even one more.

Confronting the issue of future hotels, and how big they should be, requires that we confront the issue of tourism – how big a role it already plays, and how big a role we want it to play in the culture and economy of Sonoma.

The economy of Sonoma is built on wine and the tourism that Wine Country generates. That’s our reality, just as automobiles were once Detroit’s reality. Our reality is not the product of voracious, development greed, it is the product of the singular, world-famous resource we have to market.

How much we should promote and exploit that resource is a fair question, but it is not one that can be addressed or resolved in a simple up or down vote on 25 rooms and 80 percent.

It is, however, a question that could be addressed in a thoughtful, collaborative process, utilizing the ad hoc committee model that last year produced a formula store ordinance to protect the Plaza from such indignities as a McDonald’s.

The creation of that ordinance inspired Larry Barnett, the father of Measure B, to heap praise on the process in a June, 2012 letter to the editor. Wrote Barnett, “In deciding that the City Council shall have a role to play in Sonoma’s future development, it is therefore the citizens who have been empowered … if (the character of Sonoma) is to be preserved, it requires a city code that keeps up with the times and provides a buffer between corporate billions and the citizens who live and work here.

I thank the majority of the (City) Council for their wisdom, courage and vision.”

The ad hoc committee that created that code was composed of representatives from the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and two public representatives of the people at large. They had reams of research, they debated appropriate numbers, they produced a policy that stood up to critical examination and they did it in public meetings open to all.

If we want to develop policies that address the growth of tourism, let’s do it that way, intelligently, thoughtfully and with real facts.