By JJ Abodeely
As an admittedly newer resident of Sonoma who already loves this town dearly, I have watched the public discourse regarding the Hotel Limitation Measure with great interest. I believe most residents of Sonoma more or less want the same things for this town, they just have different ideas about what is required to achieve them.
I believe most residents would like to see Sonoma remain a vibrant community with its small-town character. Most residents understand the importance of the wine and hospitality industries in attracting interest from visitors, providing jobs to locals and tax revenues to the city and which, if left unchecked, could ruin the attractive qualities that make this such a desirable place to begin with.
The question is, what is the best way to prudently manage these potentially conflicting interests and Sonoma’s best qualities while allowing enough vibrancy and change to protect Sonoma from a self-inflicted stagnation?
I believe the answer lies in the process we are all witnessing. The answer lies in the democratic process. And guess what? It is working.
At a time when the democratic process seems to be enabling epic failure on a national level, local democracy is alive and well.
The best part is that local democracy, in contrast to what happens in Washington D.C., does not necessarily require ideologically opposed parties to compromise in order to enact legislation.
Local democracy can work in many forms, from informal discussions and community input to more formal processes involving Planning Commissions, City Councils, General Plans, and ballot initiatives. Local democracy is about the laws that we collectively live by, not just the legislation we ask politicians to write.
Laws are patterns of behavior we collectively expect from one another. Legislation is consciously designed rules enforced by government (and implicitly, by the threat of force). Laws outline the general principles our society has chosen to live by and a framework for making individual decisions. Legislation can and does often cloud and clutter those intentions and carry unintended consequences, loopholes, or unequal treatment under the law.
So, prohibition on murder is a law, regardless of whether there is legislation making it illegal or not. On the much less serious matter of hotel development, the laws of the land are working to enforce our collective expectations for how this town continues to evolve, and I don’t believe we need new legislation, and the potential risks that involves, to further codify those laws.
The laws of Sonoma seem to be allowing Kenwood Investment’s proposed hotel project to proceed. After community input, the original design has been modified to reduce the size of the project, alter the aesthetic impact of the building to better align it with local character and reduce the impact on local parking.
The developer has responded to local interest in providing stable, well-paying jobs, as demonstrated by its choice to sign an agreement with the North Bay Labor Council. Finally, the project is also going through a seemingly comprehensive process with the seven-member Planning Commission, consisting of our fellow citizens and held accountable to the City Council consisting of our elected officials. Importantly, all of this has happened without a single new piece of legislation being written.
Yet, Measure B is not just about this project. The success or failure of Kenwood Investment’s project still rests on satisfying various laws, codes, commissions, stakeholders, and economic “hurdles.
Those who have worked long and hard to gather the signatures to put the Hotel Limitation Measure on the ballot should be applauded and thanked. They too are keepers of Sonoma’s laws and there is no doubt their involvement has changed the nature of what this and future proposed hotel projects will eventually become.
Or whether a particular project gets built at all. This process has provoked all of Sonoma’s aware residents, and the officials we elect, to really consider what we want Sonoma to be.
Yet, this proposal to alter Sonoma’s General Plan, which itself, is already the result of the democratic process on the state and local level, with the specific limit on a seemingly arbitrary number of hotel rooms, is an example of over-reaching legislation with the potential for unintended consequences.
What if generations before us had taken steps to “preserve” Sonoma by enacting reactionary legislation to address a specific concern of the day to limit the number or types of restaurants, businesses or even residents? What would Sonoma look like now?
I will be voting “no” on Measure B because it lacks the wisdom of, and the accountability to, Sonoma’s collective expectations that our laws and fellow citizens already enforce.
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JJ Abodeely lives and works in Sonoma.