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Don’t squander our economic opportunity – Vote ‘no’ on Measure B

OpEd

By

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.

• • •

Joe D’Alessandro is a Sonoma resident and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.

  • Jim Pacheco

    Joe, your conclusion that hotel taxes will remain flat are entirely false. Are you saying the Tourist Improvement District is completely a waste of money. That the TID efforts will not increase off season occupancy in Sonoma?

    Without one hotel room built in Sonoma from 2002 to 2012, 10 years, the Transient Occupancy Tax (aka hotel tax) has risen over 70%. And that 10 years included the Great Recession. If no hotel rooms are built in Sonoma, the TOT revenue will continue to increase, because occupancy rates and room rates would rise. And with 25 room hotels built, the TOT revenue to the city will increase even more. That study you cited also said that 25 room hotel room are likely to be built Sonoma by independent hotel developers and operators.

    You mention the benefits of tourism. How about the detriments of too much tourism for a city? Just ask the residents of Yountville, Solvang, or Carmel.

    • Chris Scott

      TOT will remain within historical averages of (nominally) 60-65% as it has been for decades. If Measure B had included a provision to repeal Winter and replace it with Sonoma’s Summer climate and activities which drive occupancy it might increase – might because Winter would have to be repealed for Earth to make it so. Plus Measure B would have to reverse or eliminate human behavior and societal norms such as kids in school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, pro-sports, and all that. This is an example of Measure B proponents wishing and hoping Sonoma residents forget their personsl life experiences of living in Sonoma.

      Since you and Measure B proponents purposely misrepresented TID for the purpose of Measure B advocacy (or ignorance, having yet to be determined – but odds on the latter) discussion of TID is pointless.

      MEasure B proponents always fail to mention the Impact Study’s statement, the sentence follow your summary/quote, that 25 room or less hotels are unlikely to be built as they lack both sufficent economies of scale and there is a lack of investor pool as compared to larger hotels.

      Solvang? Really, now you have to go all the way to Solvang. Why don’t you stretch your argumetn as far as Panama, not that Solvang isn’t enough of a stretch.

      Lovingly yours. Vote No on Measure B.

      • Jim Pacheco

        Chris,

        Here is the entire section from the report. It does not say that small hotels are “unlikely” to be built. It says the investor pool is limited. Limited does not mean unlikely.

        “The lodging properties with 25 or fewer rooms that are currently serving the Sonoma and Napa Valley markets range from single cottages to small luxury hotels. If the ballot measure is approved and the 25-room cap becomes effective, it is likely that new lodging development in Sonoma will continue to be comprised of independently operated small inns and hotels. Examples of these types of properties include: Hotel Les Mars in Healdsburg, the North Block Hotel in Yountville, and the Ledson Hotel in Sonoma. The depth of the investor pool for these types of properties is limited, however, as these properties do not have the room count, the operating efficiencies, and typically the marketing advantages of properties that are associated with a national or international reservation system.”

        As for the TID, if the occupancy rate remains within historical range and no new hotels are built, then the TID is a total failure, as its purpose is to increase occupancy in the off season. From the TID’s web site:

        “The Sonoma Tourism Improvement District (Sonoma TID) was formed to
        provide a stable source of funding for a sustained marketing program
        with the goal of increasing occupancy and room revenues at lodging
        properties in the City of Sonoma.”

        • Chris Scott

          Yep, I paraphrased it pretty well, “limited investor pool.” Add Measure B killing Sonoma’s business climate for hotels. I’d say you don’t understand such things as business climate.

          TID, If that’s the sum total of your knowledge of TID’s then it would appear my conclusion was correct, “…it’s the latter.”

          You have to do your homework if you want to appear credible, and you haven’t. All the more reason…

          Vote NO on Measure B

          • Jim Pacheco

            Name the last 2 hotels built in the Sonoma and the number of rooms.
            Answer: Ledson Hotel, 6; Inn at Sonoma, 19 when built, now 27.
            There may be a limited investor pool, but at least some part of that pool chooses Sonoma. Why do you think that would be different in the future, especially if they know they won’t have to compete with new 50, 60 or 75 room hotels?

          • Chris Scott

            You forgot or got the numbers wrong leaving out the El Dorado.

            Mr Barnett first touted the 27 something size hotels as “the right size for Sonoma.” Then he touted the last few hotels built in Sonoma were all under 25 rooms. Those hotels expanded to their current size of more than 25 rooms. If Measure B passed anyone considering building a less than 25 room hotel brings to their planning the inherant consideration of future expansion with proven success would know they were limited to 25 rooms. Whether 25 rooms was end result of expansion down the road or not the limit would be considered aa negative business climate for carrying out the long term success of their small hotel. Business Climate is a euphanism for a not insignifcant risk factor. Investors, particularly those speculationg in propterty developments are, compared to the norm, more risk averse. This is why and what limits the investor pool.

            That’s why hotels under 25 rooms are more than unlikely to be built if Measure B passes. Coupled with stoping all hotel development greater than 25 rooms because 80% can and will never be achieved results in the total ban on future hotels in Sonoma.

            While advocacy for an initiatve can be understood why proponents are unyielding all this is untrue during the campaign the mere fact that the initiative was crafted with paramneters lacking reality from those so obviously knowing better, common knowledge of Mr Barnett’s 12 years a council menber intimately familar with occupancy rates, TOT, etc., causes both disbelief, shines a spotlights on and makes suspect the motives behind the initiative.

            Mr Barnett’s expectations seems to be collective amnesia on the part of Sonoma’s citizens. For some yes, obviously. For the rest of us are justifiably feeling insulted at MR Barnett’s low regard for our intelligence.

            Vote NO on Measure B.

    • Joe D’alessandro

      Jim,
      It appears that you are just anti-tourism. If that is the case, just say it. Measure B will not fix any of the problems that you believe exist, it will just make them worse. It will force the development of quality lodging properties outside of the city limits and other communities will receive the economic benefits. Tourists will still come to Sonoma, however instead of walking to the plaza, they will be forced to drive and then search for parking making our neighborhood congestion worse, not better. I believe in sustainable tourism and believe that too much tourism in a small community can be harmful. However, Measure B is poorly written and won’t address those issues. For example, it talks about 80% occupancy. Do you know that hotels are not required to report occupancy? It is totally volunteer and there is no way to audit those numbers. How can you base a ballot measure on a number that can’t be proven? Poorly written and bad for Sonoma. There are other ways to address your concerns that make sense. Measure B is an emotional measure that is unnecessary and does not make sense for Sonoma. Why do you think that all professional associations in the field that have taken a position on measure B say to vote no? B is bad for Sonoma.
      BTW, I have lots of friends in Yountville and Carmel that love their communities. I wouldn’t trash talk them.
      Best,
      Joe

  • Mike Stephens

    Attention readers! VOTE No on Measure B. Mr. Pacheco and Mr. Barnett continue to spew lies about the proposed Hotel and the negative impacts it will bring to town. Have they thought of the alternative?? Read the cover story in this weeks newspaper and see what could be built on these parcels? How will this add to the betterment of Sonoma? It won’t! It will be another cluster of nothing architecture that would fit in perfectly in towns that are not historic or have charm. Sonoma will only continue to erode her name further by allowing cheap and common projects. Sonoma is better than this. Vote No on Measure B for a quality project and not more congestion with more housing and commerical development that will be more harmful than a 59 room hotel.