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.
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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.