It’s over. And maybe it’s just beginning.
Barring a stunning reversal in the delayed count of 308 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots yet to be certified at press time, Measure B was narrowly defeated on Nov. 19, following a voter turnout of roughly 60 percent.
From that outcome we can draw at least two conclusions.
First, neither side won a mandate from Sonoma voters.
Second, a majority of city residents were not, it appears, trembling with anxiety that the city is on the path to cultural ruin at the hands of invading hordes of tourists.
That was the claim made by some Measure B supporters who, in October, actually urged the City Council to forego an election and immediately pass an ordinance adopting the provisions of the Hotel Limitation Measure. “You could just say that we’re going to win this, and go ahead and adopt it,” prominent Valley activist Marilyn Goode told the City Council at the time. Facts, added Goode, “won’t change the hearts and the minds of the voters. There’s too much noise, too much traffic, too many tourists. Smaller is beautiful.”
And Measure B chair Larry Barnett, who spearheaded the “small” hotel campaign, worried aloud to the council that, “most residents feel Sonoma is getting too hurried, too crowded, too noisy and they don’t like it.” We’re of the opinion that those fears were dramatically exaggerated by proponents of Measure B, who wanted the public to believe that Sonoma’s small-town charm was at imminent risk and that existing oversight by city officials and the elected council would prove to be inadequate. We have far more faith than then they do in the wisdom and judgment of city government and we think the city’s record justifies that faith.
That said, we also believe that Barnett, Goode and others have given expression to a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed, perhaps in a forum that does not yet exist. The Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC) was created by a joint powers agreement between the City of Sonoma and the County of Sonoma to provide a forum for shaping policies, evaluating solutions and advising decision makers in the Valley.
It serves a valuable advisory purpose and is composed of 18 members representing the City of Sonoma, the county at large and four regions of the Sonoma Valley. There are currently five vacancies.
The SVCAC can and does weigh in on projects inside Sonoma city limits, although its membership does not provide for geographical representation of diverse city neighborhoods. It has occurred to us during the Measure B debate that the SVCAC, or a more narrowly-focused, ad hoc subcommittee with representation from the demographic range of the city’s neighborhoods, could be a useful forum for addressing and vetting issues such as vehicle and pedestrian traffic, tourism impacts, preservation of small town values and other topics that give citizens pause.
Another alternative might be a city-specific, ad hoc advisory committee, not unlike the body created to address and devise a formula store ordinance. Of course, the city already has seven other boards and commissions (some with vacancies) with the responsibility of addressing many of these issues.
Whatever body is used or created, clearly Sonoma is ripe for a more focused citizen effort to examine and plot its future.