Measure B erodes tourist revenue, promotes urban sprawl



By Joanne Sanders, Ken Brown, Tom Rouse and David Cook

Voters in the City of Sonoma will decide next month whether to ban hotels with 25 rooms or more. Measure B, commonly known as the Hotel Limitation Measure, arose in response to the first new hotel proposed in over a decade. But as is often the case with measures engendered by a single, isolated event, Measure B’s overreach undermines the substantial investment made to promote Sonoma as a world-class tourist destination.

Technically, Measure B’s ban lifts following years when annual hotel occupancy rates reach 80 percent, if that ever happens. But the average rate in the city of Sonoma over the past 10 years is just 62 percent. Even during the peak tourism seasons, the rate is only 66 percent. Because of low occupancy rates during winter months, and the concentration of weekend room demand during the peak months, an 80 percent rate is simply unattainable. Measure B will effectively ban forever any new hotel, or any attempt to expand an existing hotel, of 25 rooms or more.

Tourism is so important to our economy that the city of Sonoma operates a special tourism district to capture money from tourists to create a marketing program. The county of Sonoma and the cities of Santa Rosa and Napa have similarly recognized the value of tourism and do the same. Overall, we have spent millions of dollars promoting the region as a tourist destination. For the City of Sonoma, we rely on hotel tax to fund vital city services.

Tourism is the number one industry in Sonoma County and hotels are a necessary amenity to accommodate our visitors. As a community, we encourage event planners to bring their conferences and conventions to Sonoma, we urge brides to bring their weddings and we ask everyone to bring their families. Even if you’re not directly employed by a hotel, restaurant, winery or other visitor attraction, your neighbors are. Money generated by tourism circulates throughout our community creating demand for every product and service imaginable. All of us, whether we’re directly connected to the tourism industry or not, depend on the influx of tourism dollars.

Measure B erodes the positive impact of tourism to the region. It dilutes the investment we have made to create it and sends the wrong message to our visitors, telling them they are not welcome and encouraging them to take their business elsewhere.

Measure B also promotes urban sprawl. Banning hotels of 25 rooms or more inside the city limits simply creates pressure to build these hotels outside the city.

That in turn creates additional demand for well water from our limited aquifers and increases traffic outside urban boundaries. Measure B undercuts our efforts at creating the city-centered growth that allows our rural areas to remain pristine and attractive to locals and visitors alike.

Measure B will put a financial strain on city services as well. Hotel taxes are the largest single source of revenue for the city of Sonoma’s general fund. Measure B will deprive Sonoma of much needed revenue, which in turn leads to further diminishment of traditional government services, such as roads, parks, police, fire, affordable housing, environmental programs and so on. Depriving ourselves of the revenue generated from these hotel taxes only creates additional need to develop other sources of revenue, such as sales and parcel taxes.

We have in the city of Sonoma a general plan and zoning regulations that ensure hotel development is planned and tasteful. Measure B is not only unnecessary, it threatens the tourism industry and all of us so reliant upon it. Please, vote No on Measure B.

• • •

Joanne Sanders is a former Sonoma mayor; Ken Brown is current Sonoma Mayor; Tom Rouse is mayor Pro Tem of Sonoma; David Cook is a member of the Sonoma City Council. The views expressed in this column are those of the individuals signing it, not necessarily the views of the City of Sonoma.


  • Hugh Black

    Money, money, money… oh my is that all there is???
    I waked Napa St from 8th Street east past Fifth Street today, Monday, around 11:00 am traffic was bumper to bumper from the square to beyond the Chevy dealer on a Monday. I guess I was safer because of the gridlock..
    Money, money, money!!!

  • bob edwards

    Such unfounded fear-mongering, pathetic distortions and untruths about Measure B by current and former elected officials have not and will will not fool anyone who – every day – can see what unbridled commercialism is doing to our town.

    Most Sonoma residents — those who live in and experience our fair town every day — understand that trying to ‘compete” with Napa and other urban wine-country theme parks is exactly the thing that will destroy the Sonoma we love. In fact, things like unrestrained big hotel developments will kill the very reason tourists come here in the first place.

    Those who don’t believe that only need ask the tourists. Conde Nast travel magazine did. As confirmed by its readers responding to the the 2012 Conde Nast survey which placed Sonoma in the “Top Ten” friendliest places in the country to vist, they love Sonoma precisely because it is “NOT NAPA.” Napa didn’t make that list, and neither did SAnta Rosa — or Healdsburg or Rohnert (Casino) Park, or or Yountville or San Francisco or any of the other Bay Area cities and towns with big hotels and wall-to-wall tourists. In short, the places that these City officials want to compete with for big conventions and “events.” ONLY Sonoma made the list, and it dod so because it isn’t any of those other places.

    People who choose to live here and visit here do so because it is NOT any of those other places. Those who want to defeat Measure B don’t care if they destroy that Sonoma as long as they or their well-connected friends make more money in the process.

    Make no mistake: The only thing the developer-supported anti-B group “Protect Sonoma” wants to “protect” is an unfettered right to use our town as their personal ATM machine. They are pouring tens of thousands of dollars into Halloween billboards, bizarre yard-signs, out-of-town union labor and glossy harum-scarum mailers in a desperate effort to defeat the Measure that will truly Preserve Sonoma.

    Finally, voters can be forgiven for not believing for a minute that the elected officials endorsing the above letter aren’t expressing the “view of the City of Sonoma.” City Council voted three to two (Brown, Rouse & Cook in the majority) to actively oppose Measure B. Most of them signed ballot arguments opposing Measure B. While it is technically true that legal gymnastics can “officially’ separate their individual opinions from their “official” rolls as members of Council, rest assured that voters are not fooled; they are well aware of who – acting in their official capacities — hijacked our City government and put it on the side of big developers and special interests in a desperate no-holds-barred attempt to defeat Measure B. Perhaps they will win, but not if enough residents who really love Sonoma “Vote Yes on B.”

  • Jim Pacheco

    I have asked tourist what they think about Measure B, and they have said they applaud the people of Sonoma who are trying to keep the small town character. That is why they came to Sonoma, and not Yountville or Napa.

    Also, the TOT revenue to the city has continued to increased the past 10 years, without any new hotels being built in Sonoma. And it will continue to increase even if no new hotels are built.

  • E.Hedtke

    I visited your area for the first time this past weekend. After seeing the signs on B I Googled it on my lunch break (It’s 12:45 here in the Midwest) to see what it was about.
    We didn’t go to Sonoma because of the small town charachter, we stumbled into it. But it is that charchter that I enjoyed much more than Healdsburg or any place in the Napa Valley that we went.
    I’m a tourist and don’t have a vote, but for what it’s worth, I’d vote Yes on Measure B. Once you lose that small town feel it doens’t come back. Development is a one-way street; you can choose to go down it later, but you can’t ever reverse it.
    We had a great time and are talkikng about future trips next year and beyond. I don’t think we would avoid Sonoma if it has hotels bigger than 25 rooms, but if hotels that size cause it to develop like Napa or other places in Sonoma County (from an outsider’s perspective) we could as well stay at those places.
    (Sorry if this comes up twice. I had a challenge registering.)

  • Fred Allebach

    The antagonists of the hotel debate conform to the “principle of certainty”: when there is evidence both for and against something, this doesn’t result in a middle of the road, split the difference view but rather, convictions on each side get more entrenched. What we see on these pages is an endless repetition of the same points and obviously, nobody is listening to or convincing each other. But for well-entrenched positions, there sure is a lot of muddy, ill-defined water as to what is good and bad here, for any undecided voters to have to wade through. One example, is this a labor justice issue or a chance to properly regulate a bloated consumer culture? Curtailing consumerism is an environmental justice thing to do. I am reminded of ballot explanation pamphlets from the state where you can’t tell what to be for or against because of the intentionally misleading and vague wording. In those cases I usually look to see who is supporting a measure and if I find protagonists who typically support other policies I don’t like, I vote opposite of them. League of Women Voters is a reliable green flag for me. As a liberal, when I see Chamber of Commerce, that is a red flag for policies that go against my preferred bent. In this issue, after watching for a long time, I am more against the Chamber than I am for it’s shotgun marriage with labor.

  • Robert Piazza

    Joanne, Ken, Tom and David, I applaud your rational and logical point of view and equally important , your expressing it in this OP/ED!

    The free enterprise system must be preserved! As a local businessman, I can affirm the trickle down effect of of tourist and business money coming to Sonoma from outside Sonoma! The community cannot flourish if the money just recirculates. I have customers visit more frequently because of where we are. I hate to send them to Petaluma, Novato or Napa because we cannot accomodate them in town. When they stay elsewhere, their spending for hotel, TOT, meals, wine and the taxes that go with them go to other communities. Our customers provide jobs for over 30 Sonoma county residents and bring millions of dollars of sales to my business. I in turn spend much of that money in Sonoma and support various charities, youth groups and veterans organizations with donations.

    If it becomes too difficult to do business in the community business will just move! Remember Mazzetta, Doweling Miner Magnetics and Elaine Bell? All were located in Sonoma and moved elsewhere because it became too difficult to deal with government and taxes. There are many more who left the county for the same reasons.

    Destroy the tourist trade and Sonoma will be a bedroom community of retirees and vineyard workers. No need for hotels or a lot of other businesses. Of course the lost tax revenue will have to be made up with additional sales taxes or parcel taxes.

  • Bob Dobbs

    I have to shake my head at the subtle manipulation employed by the authors of this column. Although Sanders, Brown, Rouse, and Cook state their official positions with the City of Sonoma, they would remind us, as a bit of an afterthought, that the column may not necessarily reflect the views of the City of Sonoma.

    Not necessarily, indeed.

    Sanders, Rouse, Cook, Brown: Come on. If you are writing as private citizens then sign your column as such. Sanders, you own a staffing agency focusing on wine industry employees. Rouse, you’re an executive with POM Wonderful. Cook, belly up to the bar and tell people you own a vineyard management company and that you’re the prez of the Chamber of Commerce. And Brown, umm, well geez fella, I don’t know what the heck it is that you do for a living. Uhh, just say you’re retired.

    You get my point? If you’re going to take a public stance as private citizens then don’t use your elected titles and thus imply that your column amounts to an official position. To do so is arrogant, presumptuous, and suggests the best strategy you have to defeat Measure B is to confuse voters.