By Wei-Ling Huber
If you’re reading this newspaper, you are probably already aware of Measure B, the Hotel Limitation Measure, that will be on the ballot in the City of Sonoma on Tuesdsay, Nov. 19. The measure has generated quite a bit of controversy in town, with strong opinions on both sides.
I am the president of a local union whose members work in the hospitality industry throughout the North Bay and East Bay. In exchange for their hard work welcoming visitors to our beautiful communities, our members have access to affordable, high-quality family healthcare and earn family-supporting wages that they can spend locally. Right here in Sonoma County, the jobs at the Petaluma Sheraton are some of the best jobs in the area. So I appreciate the benefits that hotels can provide to our community.
The Petaluma Sheraton is unionized today because, early on, the hotel agreed to a written, legally-binding agreement whereby the employees would have the free choice to join the union free from management interference. Kenwood Investments, a local developer, has signed such an agreement, and has even gone a step further with a written commitment to pay workers a living wage.
I can understand the wariness on the part of some Sonoma residents toward hotel development. Sonoma is a beautiful and special town whose residents care deeply about their community. And some developers don’t respect what makes communities special. They build developments that are too large or poorly planned or that don’t fit in with the character of the community. Some hotels pay poverty wages and disrespect their employees. In cases like these, my union has opposed hotel projects that are bad for the community and bad for working people.
But Measure B is the wrong solution. Its proponents would lead you to believe that the purpose of the measure is to prevent precisely the kinds of irresponsible development that we all oppose. But the truth is, it is an overly broad, extreme measure that would ban virtually all hotel development in Sonoma, most likely forever. It would throw the baby out with the bathwater, preventing the development of tasteful hotels as small as 26 rooms (such a tiny number as to be almost unheard-of in the hotel industry) and robbing the community of potentially good jobs and significant tax revenue. It would circumvent Sonoma’s local planning process, which provides the opportunity for the public to have input into development and ensure that new hotels (and other projects) are tasteful and respectful of the community.
Furthermore, Measure B could have other unintended consequences. The hotel tax accounts for 21 percent of the city budget, and limiting that revenue source so severely, indefinitely, could have serious consequences for the city’s ability to fund basic public services.
Property owners who are prohibited from building a hotel might build a strip mall instead, which not only would be ugly and out of character with the community, but would also generate more traffic than a hotel and, most likely, poverty jobs. For this reason, many environmentalists are opposed to Measure B.
The voters of Sonoma have an important choice to make on Tuesday, Nov. 19. For the sake of the local economy, the environment and the unique character of Sonoma, vote “no” on this misguided and misleading ballot measure. Then let’s get back to the business of creating and protecting a community that works for everyone.
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Wei-Ling Huber is the president of UNITE HERE Local 2850.