By Joe D’Alessandro
During the past 30 years that I have spent in leadership roles in the travel and tourism industry on the West Coast, I have seen Sonoma become a world-class destination, attracting domestic and international visitors from across the globe.
With this growth in visitor interest and prominence over the last three decades, Sonoma has realized significant economic benefits, including more jobs for local residents and additional tax dollars to help fund vital city services.
Sonoma has the opportunity to realize even more community benefits associated with tourism. As president and CEO of the organization that markets San Francisco and Northern California to the rest of the world, I have come to realize Sonoma is becoming one of those locations that travelers are putting on their bucket list as a place they must visit sometime in their lifetime. And who would blame them? Sonoma County has beauty, charm, outstanding wines, fabulous restaurants and some of the friendliest people anywhere. These are all the features and amenities that attracted us to purchase our home and become residents, and voters, in the City of Sonoma. My family has lived in Northern California for five generations and I care deeply about the future of our community.
My experience in the travel and tourism industry tells me the appeal of Sonoma will grow and visitors will continue to come to visit us. We can’t stop that, but we can make sure that we manage it properly. As a resident of Sonoma, I want to make sure our community has the opportunity to harness the great benefits of tourism – and we can do this if the growth in tourism is managed effectively and responsibly so we can protect our town’s character and charm.
A study commissioned by the Sonoma City Council found that the hotel tax accounts for 21 percent of the City’s entire General Fund. These taxes are used to pay for vital city services, such as police and fire protection, park services, road maintenance and community activities we all enjoy. And unlike other taxes collected in our city, every penny of hotel tax dollars is used here in our community – we are not required to share them with the county or the state.
We need to do all we can to ensure the benefits of tourism remain right here in our community – here in Sonoma – not just a few miles away. We know visitors will continue to come to Sonoma to visit our wineries, shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants – so shouldn’t we also capture the dollars and taxes they spend on lodging, rather than send those dollars to hotels in other nearby communities? Otherwise, we will be impacted by increased traffic with limited revenue for our businesses and city.
Measure B would severely disadvantage Sonoma’s economy by forcing tourists to find accommodations outside the City of Sonoma – thereby squandering much of the opportunity we have to create jobs and capture all of the other benefits tourism can bring to our community. People will still come to Sonoma, but if we limit their places to stay when they are here, by limiting new lodging opportunities in the future, they will be forced to drive here to visit us, cause increased traffic congestion and then leave to spend their lodging dollars just a few miles away.
Measure B only targets one narrowly-defined use. Measure B won’t limit strip malls, formula retail or gas stations. It would only limit hotels, severely restricting our city’s future revenue sources. While the thought behind it may seem honorable, the reality is Measure B will only create new problems that create more serious threats to Sonoma’s small-town character.
Traffic will be worse, our economy will suffer and we will be forced to live in a new era of fewer public services as costs rise and hotel taxes remain flat. Measure B is bad for Sonoma, plain and simple. I urge you to join me and look at Sonoma’s long-term vitality by voting “no” on Measure B.
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Joe D’Alessandro is a Sonoma resident and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.