By Thomas M. Jones
The Measure B ballot submission includes the statement that “No new large hotel over 25 rooms, and no expansion of an existing hotel to exceed a total of 25 rooms, shall be permitted unless Sonoma’s annualized hotel room occupancy rate exceeds 80 percent.”
In all of the letters and debates, I have seen no one dispute the finding that Sonoma’s annualized hotel room occupancy rate for hotels has never exceeded 80 percent. Therefore, Measure B could have simply stated, “No new large hotel over 25 rooms, and no expansion of an existing hotel to exceed a total of 25 rooms, shall be permitted unless pigs fly.” Stating Measure B in such clear terms will then provide a path for regulating any and all business development in ways that will preserve Sonoma’s small-town character and quality of life. For example, I dined out recently at one of my favorite Sonoma restaurants, and it occurred to me that much of the restaurant’s charm arises from its size. Smaller restaurants are so obviously more intimate and so much more in harmony with the small-town character of Sonoma that I am thinking seriously about how to preserve my vision of Sonoma’s charm. An “unless pigs fly” measure would be so much more honest than some convoluted measure like, “No new large restaurant with a seating capacity for over 40 patrons, and no expansion of an existing restaurant to exceed a total of 40 patron concurrent occupancy, shall be permitted unless Sonoma’s annualized restaurant concurrent patron occupancy rate exceeds 80 percent.”
Rather, we could have the simplified version that would read, “No new large restaurant with a seating capacity for over 40 patrons, and no expansion of an existing restaurant to exceed a total of 40 patron concurrent occupancy, shall be permitted unless pigs fly.” This measure would then relieve all of us from worrying about more large restaurants. Since we will all soon learn to just focus on large, we can skip over the cumbersome articulations of what constitutes large for any business development initiative, and realize that large is shorthand for “bigger than I want.” Thus, it will be important to constantly reference large (or big) when speaking in favor of such new measures.
In fact, we can see how the entire process for regulating business development can be streamlined by providing templates along the lines of “No new large ( name of type of business), and no expansion of a (type of business name) to a large size, shall be permitted unless pigs fly.”
The “unless pigs fly” phrase can serve as a notice for concerned voters to light their torches and sharpen their pitchforks. My pulse quickened when I realized that these measures can now rectify irritations such as traffic jams on First Street West on Friday mornings (“no new large stalls at the farmers market unless pigs fly”) and on West Napa Street at Fourth on Sundays (“no new large churches unless pigs fly.”)
Until now, I have been reluctant to comment about Measure B since I cannot even vote on it. While I have resided in the area year-round for almost 18 years and have somehow lived through Sonoma traffic for virtually all of my shopping activities, I actually reside in Diamond A.
Recently, I noticed that other folks who live in my area have commented on Measure B, and it occurred to me that the success of Measure B could lead to regulating business development outside of the town of Sonoma.
Everyone who lives up the hill on Grove Street sees evidence of how the establishment of a commercial business can alter a bucolic neighborhood. I am referring to the large business at the bottom of the Grove Street hill, established when a lovely ranch was converted to a conference and event center.
I cannot even count the number of times I have had to slow down while new guests bumble around trying to figure out the entrance to this large conference and event center (westranch.com/lodging.php notes that 50 overnight guests can be accommodated). Then there is the dramatic increase in pedestrian traffic from this large conference center. I have seen traffic stop on Grove Street to avoid hitting such pedestrians.
But I take heart because I expect that the success predicted for Measure B will have a profound ripple effect on Sonoma Valley, on nearby towns and throughout all of Sonoma County. After all, what is the point of having a conference center that accommodates more than six people? Anything more than six is too large for meaningful discussion. Thus, the way is clear to preventing the establishment of any more large conference centers, or the expansion of the one on Grove Street.
We can either go to the trouble of coating the measure in a shiny patina of apparent rationality by proposing that “No new large conference center that accommodates more than six guests, and no expansion of an existing conference center to accommodate a total of six guests, shall be permitted unless Sonoma’s annualized conference center occupancy rate exceeds 80 percent” or we can just use the “unless pigs fly” clause.
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Thomas M. Jones is a retired physician living in the Sonoma Valley.