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Measure B – Numbers pulled from thin air

OpEd

By

By Michael B. Ross

Measure B is a grand social land-use experiment based on fear. There has been no testing of its possible outcomes, consequences or long-term potential impacts on our community. Measure B does not guarantee it will preserve Sonoma’s small town character – despite the fact our small town character already exists without Measure B in place. Why so?

Sonoma’s beauty and charm did not require Measure B to ensure its existence. Sonoma’s wonderful quality of life has been in place for generations, supported by our town government, the planning process in place and the many intelligent and engaged citizens who care and have a voice.

Passage of Measure B will hobble this. It’s passage will mean our thoughtful community will have lost the opportunity to discretely study an important type of land use decision on a case-by-case basis. We will lose our right to comment on a proposed 26-room hotel project, for example, no matter how great it might be.

Measure B wants to censor future community land use conversations now. Please don’t support this type of muzzle.

Measure B masquerades as precision. It is not. It is a totally untested experiment based on un-vetted criteria. Even the authors of the measure admit their numbers are arbitrary. Measure B defines “big” as more than 25 rooms, it sets thresholds for its own change at a nearly-impossible 80 percent room occupancy rate. These numbers are pulled from thin air.

The Measure B markers exist because this social and land use experiment is personal. It is based on the fears and opinions of a few – and their hopes to convince many. If they are wrong – and they are – even our children’s children will be affected by their failed vision.

As a longtime Sonoma resident and professional contributor to our current General Plan, I appreciate the quality of life we have. I cherish it.

Yes we experience traffic when the high school lets out, and Highway 12 does flow next to the Plaza – it always has. But the traffic we have isn’t here because the General Plan doesn’t work or because the town is growing too fast. Much of the traffic is basically we Sonoma Valley residents, going about our lives.

Everything, including growth, moves slowly in Sonoma. It took tons of hand-wringing just to approve a Peets Coffee on Broadway for example – but the process works.

One of the reasons Sonoma doesn’t have a “hotel problem” is that the current approval process for a hotel project of any size is extremely costly and rigorous. Hotel land use applications typically are years in the making and, if approved at all, subject to many compromises based on the General Plan, community input and formal conditions of approval. The current multi-step process requires numerous points of review, public comment, dialogue and consideration – none of which Measure B has. By comparison Measure B is a wild swing in the dark.

I urge all Sonoma voters to vote “no” on Measure B.

• • •

  Michael Ross is a 40-year Sonoma resident, the architect of the previously proposed West Napa Street hotel, a local business owner and an eight-year member of Sonoma’s former Architectural Review Commission.

  • Larry Barnett

    It’s understandable that Michael, architect for the proposed hotel on Napa Street near the Plaza, would be upset about the prospect of Measure B passing and becoming law. Michael is a talented architect and works hard to gain the best results for his clients.

    But when it comes to Michael’s opinions, and they are simply his opinions, I must respectfully disagree. His basic point is about limiting the public’s opportunity to comment on a hotel project, but the public is already limited in participation or official comment on all sorts of things. Our existing development code proscribes any number of proposals; for example a commercial use in a residentially-zoned neighborhood is not allowed, building heights are limited, floor area ratios and lot coverage are defined, and zoning limitations and regulations of all types are imposed. These rules and more, many of them “arbitrary,” represent the imposition of community standards on development, and are perfectly normal.

    Michael seems to object to allowing the citizens to establish such standards for hotels, while at the same time valuing community input and commentary. Are the citizens of Sonoma any less qualified to establish appropriate standards than three members of the city council or four members of the planning commission? Are they not bright enough or responsible enough to make such decisions? Measure B is on the ballot because 1,300 voter signatures on a petition were deemed valid; that’s nearly 20% of Sonoma’s voters. To continue to claim Measure B represents the view of a small group is absurd. Initiatives don’t happen here often, but when they do it’s because a lot of people want it to happen.

    The UGB, now widely viewed as having been successful and popular, used precisely the same initiative process to become law. I was deeply involved in the development and passage of that measure. The UGB received 67% support of the voters, against the objections of many of the groups now opposing Measure B. The hyperbolic fears about negative “unintended consequences” have been set aside as its positive intended consequences have been borne out. In their wisdom, the voters of Sonoma understood the UGB measure, appreciated it and welcomed the opportunity to affect Sonoma’s future. Similarly, I expect Measure B will be equally embraced by the voters and pass with a comfortable majority.

  • bob edwards

    What about Measure B does Michael hope to convey by calling it a “grand social land use experiment?” Isn’t EVERY General Plan and zoning ordinance a “social land use experiment” — a democratically recognized process whereby citizens decide the orderly organization and land use regulations in their communities? It’s how residents of our town decide what kind of commercial activity will be allowed, and where, and under what conditions.

    Such ‘grand social land use experiments’ — i.e., General Plan regulations — are passed every day in every town & city across the state & nation to prevent our neighbors from storing piles of scrap metal in their back yard or raising pythons; stop businesses from putting a slaughter house & feed lot next to the Safeway, or opening a rock & roll concert venue in residential neighborhoods next to the local church. Such “experiments’ — i.e., the will of the people — have stopped the Rosewood Hotel on Schocken Hill, a casino at Sears Point, a monster hospital on Joe Leveroni’s farm and more chain stores on the Plaza. And Measure B will restrain large hotels that will turn our town into Las Vegas West, or worse — Napa. Vote Yes on B.

  • Michael Lockert

    I guess Mr. Ross does not object to losing the right to carefully consider each application for
    a large chain store on a case by case basis. Sonoma passed a ban on these stores, yet he did not object and say that the people have now lost their voice, and Sonoma will now be ruined forever.
    There are some Sonoma residents that think that there has been a degradation of Sonoma’s
    character going on for some time and don’t like the direction things are going in, turning more and more and more space over to tourism. We realize that a great deal of our economy depends on tourism but not everything done to promote tourism is necessarily good for the residents.
    Promoters of Measure B make no claim to ” guarantee it will preserve Sonoma’s small town character”. I doubt that any one measure could do that. It’s just a small step in the right direction.
    I am getting really tired of the endless references to “the process” which we are supposed to trust. Qualifying a measure for the ballot through initiative is also part of the process. It’s legal and traditional, a time-tested way for the people to express their concerns. I think many opponents of Measure B don’t “trust” that process because it reduces the influence of money on the decision-
    making process. They seem to assume that anything that makes money is good for Sonoma and that anyone who disagrees will ruin Sonoma forever. Methinks thou dost protest too much, Mr. Ross.

  • umberto smith

    Please attend the open debate at Grinstead Theater on Sunday November 17th 3:00…

    No amplification will be provided. Moderators will be decided via coin toss. All questions shall be open and unscripted.