Impending economic doom and other scare tactics



By Will Shonbrun

It seems that those in the “No on Measure B” camp have primarily one argument, which is: If Measure B passes there will be an economic and financial crisis in the city. Has anyone noticed that such predictions of economic doom were precisely what were claimed if the Rosewood hillside hotel/resort wasn’t built, and similar fiscal scare-mongering tactics were used to oppose Sonoma adopting an urban growth boundary?

It was also the same cast of characters making these same dire predictions: some members on the City Council, city staff, the Chamber of Commerce and the wine industry. Yes, some of the names and faces have changed, but the song of fiscal doom is the same old tune.

And you know what happened when the hotel was voted down and the UGB was passed? Nothing. Nothing happened. The city didn’t go bankrupt, the services it performs continued as always, and all the hyperbolic fuming and warning amounted to nothing, zero, nada.

Why do think that was? How could council members, city managers and leaders in the business community have been so completely wrong? And remember, what they said then is exactly what’s being said now. The answer is easy: Sonoma is a tourist destination. It has been so for many decades and it will continue that way for many more.

And we all know the reasons why it has been that way. Sonoma has great climate, it’s in a beautiful valley that produces good wines and good food, and it still has a friendly, small-town character and charm that is increasingly disappearing in our country. And that has happened because more and more once-wonderful and unique towns and cities have fallen to corporate commercial development, ubiquitous chain stores and businesses that cater to tourist dollars.

There’s nothing wrong with tourism, its money is needed and appreciated, but when that becomes what a place is all about, when that supersedes what residents want from their town and why they chose to live here in the first place, then those qualities get lost and can never be regained.

I believe that most of us who have lived here for a time, raised families here and participate in our community’s needs intrinsically know this.

But the developers and investors and business people who only want to serve their own interests, knowingly and cynically try to use economic scare tactics, again and again, because they think we’ll fall for it.

And here’s the truth and it’s verifiable: If the city really needed more money it could have it tomorrow. It could: 1. Rescind the ridiculous subsidy handout to the hotel/motel-owners known as the TID (Tourisim Improvement District) and keep that money; 2. It could add an additional 2 percent to the TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax), bringing the total to 14 percent; 3. It could get after the deadbeat, under-the-radar vacation rental cottage industry. Those three simple things alone would add at least $1 million to city coffers, and best of all it wouldn’t require building one more large hotel.

So remember to vote “yes” on Measure B, keep new hotels small, and preserve those qualities that make Sonoma,


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  Will Shonbrun is a resident of Boyes Hot Springs and a member of the Preserving Sonoma Committee which sponsored Measure B.

  • Larry Barnett

    It’s understandable that Michael, architect for the proposed hotel on Napa Street near the Plaza, would be upset about the prospect of Measure B passing and becoming law. Michael is a talented architect and works hard to gain the best results for his clients.

    But when it comes to Michael’s opinions, and they are simply his opinions, I must respectfully disagree. His basic point is about limiting the public’s opportunity to comment on a hotel project, but the public is already limited in participation or official comment on all sorts of things. Our existing development code proscribes any number of proposals; for example a commercial use in a residentially-zoned neighborhood is not allowed, building heights are limited, floor area ratios and lot coverage are defined, and zoning limitations and regulations of all types are imposed. These rules and more, many of them “arbitrary,” represent the imposition of community standards on development, and are perfectly normal.

    Michael seems to object to allowing the citizens to establish such standards for hotels, while at the same time valuing community input and commentary. Are the citizens of Sonoma any less qualified to establish appropriate standards than three members of the city council or four members of the planning commission? Are they not bright enough or responsible enough to make such decisions? Measure B is on the ballot because 1,300 voter signatures on a petition were deemed valid; that’s nearly 20% of Sonoma’s voters. To continue to claim Measure B represents the view of a small group is absurd. Initiatives don’t happen here often, but when they do it’s because a lot of people want it to happen.

    The UGB, now widely viewed as having been successful and popular, used precisely the same initiative process to become law. I was deeply involved in the development and passage of that measure. The UGB received 67% support of the voters, against the objections of many of the groups now opposing Measure B. The hyperbolic fears about negative “unintended consequences” have been set aside as its positive intended consequences have been borne out. In their wisdom, the voters of Sonoma understood the UGB measure, appreciated it and welcomed the opportunity to affect Sonoma’s future. Similarly, I expect Measure B will be equally embraced by the voters and pass with comfortable majority.

  • Chris Finlay

    Excellent op-ed.
    I’m a big supporter of tourism and generally pro-business. (I was the director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers for many years, and I also owned a restaurant and retail store in Sonoma.) And I fully support Measure B.
    I believe that passage of Measure B will not have any negative impact on tourism at all. In past research conducted by the Visitors Bureau, tourists consistently told us that they loved Sonoma for its small-town charm and authenticity.
    I really hope that Sonoma voters are not fooled by scare tactics put forth by monied interests.
    Small scale development is best for Sonoma tourism and Sonoma residents alike.