Lets support the General Plan: Downtown survives on tourists, lifestyle retailers



By Laney Thornton


As a 30-plus-year Sonoma property owner, and as a board member of Greenbelt Alliance, I strongly oppose Measure B. For the past 20 years, Greenbelt Alliance has worked to put teeth into the General Plans of Sonoma County cities by helping local communities pass Urban Growth Boundaries around themselves to prohibit haphazard, non-conforming development outside city limits – what we call suburban sprawl.

This highly-successful campaign by Greenbelt Alliance and others has been overwhelmingly approved by voters in each of the nine towns and incorporated cities in Sonoma County.

In fact, Sonoma is the only example of democratically-initiated, “European style,” county-wide zoning to be found anywhere in the country. It is something that county residents have good reason to feel proud of.

In almost all of America, a county land use plan had only been a suggestion: it was something that was constantly subject to any good sales pitch necessary to make an exemption and therefore set a precedent for housing tracks that would sprout up in the middle of a farm belt, or a shopping center at a rural intersection.

The Urban Growth Boundary Campaign was an effort to say to developers that the county plan will be followed and “smart growth” will occur only in urban cores and downtown business districts where critical masses of housing, retail, jobs and transportation can reinforce each other in a virtuous cycle.

The proponents of “Yes on B” would have it both ways. They want to say, “You can’t build it out there AND you can’t build it in here.” That is simply being an “environmental bully” and it is not a smart way to manage growth. Urban Growth Boundaries themselves are not permanent; they have to be re-drawn by voters and politicians. Ultimately, UGBs are vulnerable if they do not work as envisioned. Trust me, if Measure B passes, hotels will be built “out there” eventually, and more traffic will result as drivers drive further to get “in here.” A “yes” vote on Measure B will create urban sprawl.

Urban areas need constant reinvestment, or they die. That is why so many downtown merchants, business owners and the mayor of Sonoma are adamantly opposed to Measure B. It will hurt local businesses and erode the Plaza as the main business hub of Sonoma.

I remember the old days when downtown Sonoma was where everyone went to shop, but outlying shopping centers killed the bread-and-butter trade in the core, as it always does. Now the downtown has to survive on tourists and lifestyle retailers that are seasonal/weekend driven and it is tough going for many. Anyone who has the courage to invest in our downtown should be encouraged – it ain’t easy money to make a go of it.

If you want a vibrant downtown that is exciting to go to, then do not make it even harder to invest in downtown Sonoma than it already is. The urban lots in Sonoma are small, and so anything built in Sonoma will automatically be small as a result.

We have a General Plan. It was approved by the people. Let’s respect it and let’s be proud of it. And let’s get on with the business of making Sonoma an exciting, special and welcoming town.

• • •

  Laney Thornton is a Sonoma property owner and a Greenbelt Alliance board member.


  • Jim Pacheco

    As a member of the Green Belt Alliance, you should know that the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Executive Board and by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved the Plan Bay Area in July. In that plan, Sonoma is designated for limited development, specifically because it does not have the transit infrastructure in place. According to the Plan Bay Area, the Primary Development Areas (PDAs) are mostly along the 101 corridor in cities such as Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Petaluma, which will be served by the SMART train.

    And from what I understand, this is a big reason why the Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA) endorsed Measure B.

    If you really believe in reducing the carbon footprint, you would also endorse Measure B and encourage development where the Plan Bay Area does, not in Sonoma. Measure B fits in with the goal of Plan Bay Area to minimize green house gases as the population in the Bay Area grows.

  • bob edwards

    What “killed” the downtown was outlandish rents seeking to milk the Plaza tourist trade for all it was worth. What is killing retail shopping just about everywhere is online shopping. Hint: the busiest business in town is theUPS truck.

  • Chris Scott

    Mr Edwards;
    Random thoughts. How come Measure B proponents are so against PACs yet accept the endorsement of the SAAC-PAC, isn’t it actually Measure B’s only endorsement? A 501(c)3 that’s been investigated at least twice by the CA FPPC for mixing funds? Might want to revisit SCCA being the largest or leading county org of it

    You’re not going to sell your house for what the market says it’s worth but either give it away, sell if for what you paid for it, or something in between?

    What is trade worth in your estimation? What milk should tourists be providing Sonoma and Sonoma’s merchants.

    What if the business owns the building and doesn’t pay rent?

    Mr Barnett has written increased tourism is why there are more wineries. Hotel rooms cause tourists. And, Measure B will manage tourism. Interesting theories.

    Chris Scott


    • Mike Stephens

      Another great response Mr. Scott! Mr. Barnett should be ashamed of the nonsense he spews around town. I don’t think he will rise to his senses, but hopefully retreats to a small town in the middle of the USA where even a 10 room hotel would never be built because no one would want to live or visit his town.

      • Jim Pacheco

        It is the opposition to Measure B who is spewing nonsense. They say a strip mall brings more traffic than a hotel. Hotels bring in people in their cars from out of the area. Any new retail would just redistribute traffic within the city, not increase it overall. Do you really think people travel from all over the Bay Area and the country to Sonoma just to shop at our retails places?
        Also, the General Plan calls for mixed use on the Plaza, not strip malls.

    • Phineas Worthington

      Mr. Scott, you make excellent points and a reasonable, compelling argument. Thanks for taking the time to contribute.

    • Jim Pacheco

      There are almost 30 tasting rooms around the Plaza. The locals don’t need this many tasting rooms. These tasting rooms cater to the tourists, and drive up the cost of rent for the other merchants. Who knows how long the Sign of the Bear and Eraldi’s can survive.

      Measure B opponents say the measure it is “poorly written” and “ham handedly written”. Measure B has been written by a respected law firm which has experience with city ordinances. Most of the cost to the proponents of Measure B have been attorney fees.

      The opponents of Measure be have deep pockets and can afford to pay for huge billboards with deceptive slogans. The opponents know they cannot win on the factual arguments (they know this because of the “push pull” and the services of a Sacramento political consultant), so they use scare tactics and try to confuse the voters. The opponents also have plenty of money to pay bloggers as well.

      And who are these opponents of Measure B with the deep pockets? According to the filing with the city of Sonoma, Hotel Chateau Sonoma Group, LLC has given tens of thousands of dollars to the opposition of Measure B. Hotel Chateau Sonoma Group, LLC is the company name of the proposed hotel just off the Plaza, and was formed by Kenwood Investments.

      By the way, I am not getting paid to write this post.

  • Fred Allebach

    With Roman cities, when the planned size was reached, another city had to be built somewhere else. They knew the more rats you pack in a cage, the worse things get, a common sense principle. Sonoma’s infrastructure is obviously not adequate for the current traffic volume let alone packing the center with more development. Quality of life is degraded in any situation where the commons keep getting subdivided for future generations, this is what is known as unsustainable. At the very least a major infrastructure upgrade would be necessary to pack the Plaza area more and more.

    Oh and it is tract housing I believe, not track housing.

  • bob edwards

    “We have a General Plan. It was approved by the people. Let’s respect it and let’s be proud of it.”

    Measure B has been placed on the ballot by nearly 20% of the City’s registered voters (the people) to allow all the voters of Sonoma to decide whether they want to amend the General Plan vis a vis limiting large hotels.

    As or more important than respecting the existing General Plan is respecting the democratic right of the people of Sonoma to change it, & to determine what that “existing process” will be. If the majority of City voters adopt Measure B & thereby amend the General Plan, we will have a new General Plan that everyone can definitely respect and be especially proud of, because it will be the freely expressed democratic will of the majority.

    As the campaign for Measure B enters its final weeks, it seems the main reason its opponents have become so shrill of late is that they realize the people really intend to have a say-so about future development in their own town, instead of deferring to special interests who think of it as their personal ATM machine.

    For those who don’t trust the wisdom of ordinary people, the whole prospect of letting them actually vote on Measure B must sound alarmingly ‘subversive.’

    Yet Ms. Thorton claims to approve of General Plans in Sonoma County as “the only example of democratically-initiated, ‘European style,’ county-wide zoning to be found anywhere in the country. It is something that county residents have good reason to feel proud of.”
    But if she truly loves democratically-initiated General Plans, surely she will be extremely pleased and proud when city residents pass Measure B, thereby democratically amending Sonoma’s own General Plan to limit the growth of big hotels in our town.

    • Chris Scott

      Mr Edwards
      Phone too small, just short little reminder. Remember 80% of voters did not sign the petition. Don’t want you to get overly excited and suffer premature winning.
      Chris Scott