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Facts versus feelings

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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25 room limit of Measure B. One of them was approved, allowing expansion of a 19-room hotel to 27 rooms; a second was withdrawn because the Planning Commission was concerned about “the scale and intensity” of the proposal; and the third – the Darius Anderson proposal for the Index-Tribune site – was withdrawn pending further review and the outcome of the Measure B vote.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.

  • Jim Pacheco

    Sorry Mr. Bolling, but size is relevant. Munich has 1.4 million residents. Sonoma less than 11,000. Munich is 120 square miles. Sonoma is 2.74 square miles. To even smaller towns than Sonoma, even a 25 room hotel is too large.

    • Chris Scott

      Mr Pacheco;
      It’s a false comparison. Munich has brewers and beer gardens, Sonoma has vineyards and wineries.

      Your right size is relative. I’m tall for my height and big for my size.

  • Chris Scott

    A story of two small towns….

    Mr Barnett awhile ago wrote (seemly gleefully) about a small town he discovered that also planned to limit the size of hotels. Located on an island in Puget Sound area of Washington state, the town was really really small. They planned to limit hotels to 10 rooms. Mr Barnett true to his Measure B cause praised effusively the small town.

    But Mr Barnett missed something, the numbers. Turns out a limit of 10 room hotels in that town equated to a limit of hotels no more than (approx.) 58 rooms in Sonoma. Who would have guessed. I bet if Mr Barnett had figured this out he probably would not have brought up the town.

    I had a really good laugh over that one.

    Lest you think this but a story, I assure you… You just cannot make this stuff up.

    • Jim Pacheco

      Are there 2 Chris Scotts? One saying you can’t look at relative size to determine what constitutes a big hotel, and one saying you can?

    • Jim Pacheco

      You have been asked if you were a paid blogger for the opposition to Measure B, but have not answered that question. Are you being paid for writing these posts?

  • Fred Allebach

    I’ve been watching Measure B very closely and have seen no
    neutral traffic information that would counter the empirical impression that
    Plaza traffic is already too congested. Cars come in a solid line along Hwy 12
    all day, 7 days a week and then they run into the Plaza and heavy pedestrian
    traffic Friday-Sunday, rush hours and during endless events. This volume is
    beyond mitigation with current infrastructure.

    Who is supposed to believe a 59 room hotel right at the
    worst intersection in town won’t cause further congestion? To claim that
    traffic is a non issue seems to be an intentional misconstruing of empirical
    evidence. Plus there is no other way around. The rest of town is an ocean of
    stop signs with schools all along MacArthur and 5th West. What about
    people who live here?

    My sense of what the traffic facts are: seeing is believing.
    It’s already too congested and more will make it better? I’m from Missouri,
    show me, with neutral, reputable information how a Plaza 59 room hotel won’t
    make the current situation worse. The only sane choices to packing the center
    with infill are to reroute Highway 12, build a parking garage somewhere within
    walking distance of the Plaza and establish unimpeded cross town arteries for local
    traffic.

    • Phineas Worthington

      Regarding parking, maybe the Vets building with their often empty parking lots could contract with the city. Or the multitude of empty acres of public and park land in proximity of the square could be used, if only on a temporary as needed basis. There are plenty of options, people just need to let go of their opinions of how others ought to be ruled and learn to compromise to create solutions.

      A Hwy 12 bypass is a must, but not everyone will be happy about it, and some may even be hurt in that process that may well include eminent domain.

  • Mike Stephens

    Great fact checking Chris! Mr. Pacheco and Mr. Barnett should move to Puget Sound as far as I am concerned. Their ill fated logic on Measure B has created quite the controversy and often based on misinformation and scare tactics. 59 room hotel is a SMALL HOTEL! Vote No on Measure B!!

  • Jim Pacheco

    Mr. Bolling, you completely ignore Kessler’s inquiry to the planning commission regarding a hotel on the property at Broadway and MacArthur. Fact. And the planned hotel at the Bank of America site, as reported by Ralph Hutchison on the Sonoma Valley Patch web site. Fact. You say there have only been 3 hotel proposals before the city in the past decade. Measure B is not about the past 10 years, but about the future. We now know of 3 potential hotels in Sonoma. You are not being a very good newspaperman if you cherry pick which facts you present. By which, you are doing a disservice to your readers. If you want to be a credible source, better present all the facts.