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Measure B bad for economy and environment

OpEd

By

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.

• • •

  Wei-Ling Huber is the president of UNITE HERE Local 2850.

 

  • bob edwards

    If Mr. Huber and UNITE HERE Local 2850 were concerned only about Sonoma and providing so-called “living wages” for hotel workers, why have they not long ago organized existing hotel workers in town, and provided them a so-called ‘living wage?” Why, too, has his union steadfastly refused to publish a copy of the alleged “written commitment to pay workers a living wage,” which in the City of Sonoma is currently $15.15/hr? Not that anyone could actually live on $15.15/hr in Sonoma without a lot of help.

    Voters can be forgiven for thinking it’s because no such “written commitment” actually exists and that, like the No on B campaign itself, there is No There There.

    His opinions, however misled, misguided &/or irrelevant to the hotel limitation purpose of Measure B, are of course nonetheless welcome. However, they might make more interesting reading if they didn’t parrot the by-now shop-worn script dictated by the ‘No on B’ PR firm which, like Mr. Huber, is located very far from Sonoma.

    Finally, tor his information, 25 room hotels are not “almost unheard of” — they are the soul of Sonoma. If he lived here, he would know that the majority of lodging places in Sonoma ARE less than 25 rooms, including those surrounding our Plaza now are that size or smaller. Including the beautiful and profitable six (6) room (non-union) Ledson Hotel, recently honored by a Proclamation from our City’s mayor for fitting in with the historic character of our Plaza and for bringing so much transit occupancy tax into the City treasury.

    • Lisa Maldonado

      Firstly, It’s Ms. Huber. Secondly when will Mr Edwards, who I understand made his living as a management consultant working AGAINST labor, abandon the hollow and disingenuous pretense of concern for union organizing and low wage workers as the motivation for his long winded diatribes about “what unions and the Living Wage Coalition should do” ? It’s fairly obvious that he can’t stand it that so many respected community and public interest groups OPPOSE Measure B and support the hotel. Give it up please Mr.Edwards, making a living off of WORKING AGAINST UNIONS and workers for your living means you DO NOT get to pretend to be Norma Rae.

      • bob edwards

        Ms. Maldonado, please be assured that I would not nor have I ever pretended to be Norma Rae, who was a tireless and courageous champion of worker rights.

        Out of respect for her & her legacy, and despite being a “union brat” (parents were hardcore, head-knocking railroad stewards and union local presidents) I would never even attempt it. I say that also out of respect for the real union representatives with whom I made a very good living negotiating (and litigating) over several decades. They were some of the finest (and toughest) union people anywhere who had the respect of their members – and management – because they were people of their word and they “delivered the goods” for their members.

        Out of that experience and background, what concerns me — and should concern both you and Ms. Huber — is the TOTAL lack of union representation among Sonoma’s existing hotel & winery & retail workers.

        If Norma Rae is your measure of strong union representation, I can say without fear of contradiction that she isn’t a member of your union and would be embarrassed to join.

        • Lisa Maldonado

          One final question and then I will give the poor readers a break from our game of dueling ideology….if you are truly respectful of union workers and truly concerned about the “lack of union representation in the hotel and restaurant industry” why are you trying to kill the ONLY opportunity for union card check in the city of Sonoma?

          • Mike Stephens

            I agree with you Lisa! Why are we trying to kill the ONLY opportunity for union card check in the city of Sonoma? It doesn’t make sense. VOTE NO ON MEASURE B!!

          • bob edwards

            Lisa – I’ve tried to send a more detailed response to your question, but the Index Tribune is apparently ‘moderating’ my comments. But the long & short answer is that Measure B has nothing whatever to do with unions or their ability/inability to negotiate wages with a particular employer.

            Measure B is about preserving Sonoma from the deleterious impacts of unbridled big hotel developments, not any particular project. As Ms. Huber had the sense to understand,”Sonoma is a beautiful and special town whose residents care deeply about their community.”

            After it passes, unions will still be able to organize workers and negotiate higher wages with both existing hotels and any new ones that are built. In fact, nothing has stopped the union from doing that for the last several decades in Sonoma. Why that hasn’t happened is beyond me. But if yo want to inject union organizing issues into a Quality of Life matter, at least you might respect the community by releasing a copy of the agreement you are so proud of.

          • Lisa Maldonado

            Bob that’s a pretty disingenuous and flippant response and since you seem to have ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE about the “union avoidance industry” your flippant suggestion that “nothing has stopped the union from organizing in Sonoma” is even more distasteful, as you
            certainly know how corporate business such as the Fairmont pay hundreds of
            thousands to 300 dollar an hour “union avoidance consultants” just to keep their
            workers from a few dollars an hour raise and a voice at work. Thanks for
            unmasking yourself as a member of the 1% who cares more about the “atmosphere”
            and “quality of life” for yourself but cares nothing about those who actually
            have to work for a living.

          • Emily_Charrier_Botts

            Bob – the Index-Tribune is in no way “moderating” your comments – there is a character max that you may have hit, but we have not and will not take down comments unless they don’t meet our editorial standards of profanity and libel.

          • bob edwards

            Emily –
            What? Me? Talk too much? Gee, no one has ever said that before! ;-) How are things over in Petaluma? I’m sorry I missed your “sort of going away” shindig at Farmer’s Market. But if you promise to come back, I’ll definitely drink to that.

          • Jim Pacheco

            Lisa, as Bob pointed out, Measure B is not fighting against
            unions, it is fighting to preserve the small town character by limiting
            the size of new hotels to 25 rooms or less. The ballot measure was deep
            into gathering signatures when the agreements between the union and the
            Chateau Sonoma Hotel was announced. So, stop saying we are trying to
            kill the agreement. Won’t the agreement stand if the number of rooms is reduced to 25 rooms?

          • Phineas Worthington

            Seems a bit ironic to read a heated debate on who has the real bona fides defending big labor from people who are likely using electronic devices produced in societies without individual rights or free labor.

            We live in Sonoma, we are all the 1% in the bigger picture.

  • Jim Pacheco

    Mr. Huber, we have heard a number of claims about what is in the agreement, just to find out that we have been fed sound bites like “local hire” don’t really mean hiring workers who live in or even close to Sonoma. The “local hire” clause is defined to be within 50 miles of Sonoma. Now how is that local?

    Please release a copy of the agreement, otherwise many people will not believe a word of what is said about it.

    If you actually know anything about hotels in Sonoma, you would know that the last 2 hotels in Sonoma were built with less than 25 rooms. Also, that the impact study report concluded that new 25 room hotels would continue to be built and operated in Sonoma by locals.

  • Jim Pacheco

    Mr. Huber, the Sonoma County Conservation Action disagrees with you on the environmental impact of Measure B. The SCCA is the largest environmental group in the county of Sonoma, and they back Measure B.