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Op-Ed Are more hotel rooms inherently detrimental?

By Byron Jones

By Byron Jones

Are new hotel rooms that create or expand hotel capacity to more than 25 rooms per lodging facility, inherently detrimental to Sonoma’s unique small town character?

Not necessarily.

The Inn at Sonoma, located next to the Shell station on Broadway, recently expanded to 27 rooms. Did you even notice? The El Pueblo, a family-owned hotel with more than 50 years in Sonoma, expanded to 53 rooms without losing its character or its important niche in our community.

MacArthur Place built 33 rooms in 1997, and then expanded to 64 rooms, and has been a great addition to the community.

None of these hotel room additions would have been possible, and none of these hotels will be allowed to add additional rooms, under the proposed Hotel Limitation Measure.

What about the effects of new hotels with more than 25 rooms? The Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma constructed 182 rooms at Four Corners more than a decade ago. The property could have been developed into yet another shopping center, as could other commercially-zoned properties within city limits. Which do you think better preserves Sonoma’s unique small town character?

The Lodge has provided a large boost to our local economy via direct employment. It fuels other local businesses, has generated significant tax revenue, and generously supports various local non-profit activities. Hotel guests directly contribute to the health of our restaurants, wineries, artists and cultural events.

The stated purpose of the Hotel Limitation Measure is to slow the growth of large hotels. It would in effect stop the development of new hotels, and stop the expansion of existing hotels, within city limits.

But there is nothing stopping a large hotel from being built just outside the city limits. In that scenario, the city would not reap one cent from the taxes collected from hotel guests. And without a strong tax base to support city services, how will we maintain our unique small town character over the long haul?

We have an existing public planning process to thoughtfully manage hotel development and shape or deny inappropriate proposals. For better or worse, the existing public planning process has effectively scuttled other hotel projects. Just recently, the Artisan Lodge, a 30-room hotel proposed for the area next to the Blue Wing Inn, was withdrawn at least in part due to the rigors of the planning process.

I am concerned that a large hotel project could be “out of scale” with other Plaza area buildings. But I also believe that qualified hotel proposals should have a right to be heard and reviewed by the public on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, I oppose the Hotel Limitation Measure and encourage city residents to vote “No” on measure B.

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Byron Jones is co-owner of Auberge Sonoma and Cottage Sonoma. He lives in Palo Alto.

  • David Eichar

    Bryon Jones, your letter is full on contradictions, unsubstantiated claims, and misrepresentations. I don’t have time at the moment to address them all.

    You say “there is nothing stopping a large hotel from being built just outside the city limits.” This is a falsehood. The county has zoning laws and a planning commission. And if this is so, why was the Rosewood project not built just outside the city limits? There will be people like those volunteering their time for Preserving Sonoma, that will stay vigilant.

    As for the strong tax base, the hotel limitation measure would result in absolutely no drop in revenue to the city, as all of the existing hotels will remain, and new hotels with 25 rooms or less will be built. A slow increase in the number of rooms is the best way to maximize TOT revenue. A large increase risks oversupply, and an actual drop in revenue. Just take a look at what happened in Yountville when the number of hotel rooms jumped from 345 to 402, a 57 room increase, the annual occupancy rate dropped from 75.6% to 72.6%. And even though the number of room-nights sold in the year increased from 95,341 to 106,724, the total TOT revenue dropped from $3,381,677 to $3,149,857, a 6.9% drop.

    And when you speculate about what may have been built in place of the Lodge at Sonoma, maybe it would be something that would actually be better for the residents. Maybe low cost housing. Maybe a nice neighborhood park. Maybe a business with high paying all-year round jobs, not low paying seasonal hotel jobs. Maybe something that would be beneficial to the small town character of Sonoma, rather than detract from it.

    You say the Hotel Limitation Measure “would in effect stop the development of new hotels.” Have you not read the Impact Study prepared by KMA that the city council ordered and paid for? They concluded that “Sonoma will continue to be comprised of independently operated small inns and hotels.”

    I could go on. The residents of Sonoma will do the right thing to keep Sonoma a small town charm and vote YES on Measure B.

  • bob edwards

    Admittedly, it is difficult for someone who lives in a dense urban area like Palo Alto to appreciate the value Sonoma residents place on living in this precious and unique small-town we call home.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to live in a densely commercialized money-oriented urban area like Palo Alto, but that’s not why people visit or live in Sonoma. Our lives and our town are about far more than investment, money and commerce.

    Yet virtually all opposition to Measure B – and Mr. Jones’ letter is typical – is couched in terms of ‘money’ and ‘investment,’ ignoring the inevitable corrosive impact on the character of our town and quality of life impacts of large hotel projects on residents.

    This is no surprise considering that “Protect Sonoma,” the group leading the opposition to Measure B, is funded by a group of developers. Kenwood Investments, the sole sponsor of ‘Protect Sonoma’ according to its FPPC filings, is not a hotel operator but an investment firm.

    But to calm those with a choking Midas-like addiction to money and development, the Study commissioned by the City found that Measure B would NOT be the End of Civilization as We Know It. It would, in fact, merely have exactly the desirable effect its supporters claim. Namely, that unless & until annual room occupancy of existing hotels reaches 80%, Measure B will restrict new hotel projects to small independently operated hotels of 25 rooms or less. In other words, hotels that preserve the very small-town character of Sonoma that draws tourists – and residents — here in the first place. The Study concluded:

    “If the ballot measure is approved and the 25-room cap becomes effective, it is likely that new lodging development in Sonoma will continue to be comprised of independently operated
    small inns and hotels. Examples of these types of properties include: Hotel Les Mars in Healdsburg, the North Block Hotel in Yountville, and the Ledson Hotel in Sonoma.”

    Ironically, Mayor Brown and a majority on City Council (who oppose Measure B) recently honored the six-room Ledson Hotel with a Proclamation because it ‘fit neatly with the historic character of the Plaza,’ and ‘increased TOT and sales taxes.’ As the Proclamation proves, that’s exactly the kind of small hotel that fits Sonoma’s character.

    As to its effects on money & tourism, it helped Sonoma make the Conde Nast list of the country’s “10 most friendly cities,” which described Sonoma as “charming and picturesque,” “quaint, yet up to date,” “a wonderful place to unwind and just enjoy the day.”

    These are not terms that describe Napa — or Palo Alto — neither of which made the list.
    Join the thousands of city residents who already intend to Vote Yes on B.

  • Mike Stephens

    Those opposed to the hotel are all missing the point. Conde Naste may rate Sonoma a desirable place to visit, but the $$$ people are spending on lodging and providing handsome TOT to the city as well as improve the economy of local merchants and restaurants all ends up in Healdsburg or Napa Valley. Sonoma will die on the vine if we vote Yes on Measure B. VOTE NO on Measure B to preserve our Small town from the likes of Staples, Peets Coffee and all the other chain stores that find their way to Sonoma.

    • Jay Tierney

      I’m confused how voting yes on measure B opens up the town to chain stores? Huh?

      • David Eichar

        Jay,
        I agree. Voting no on measure B may actually open up the town to chain stores, strip malls, and big box stores. Measure B has gotten much bigger than just Sonoma and is about more than just hotels. It is my personal opinion,shared by many others, that voting YES on measure B will send notice to developers, the City Council and the County Supervisors that the people of Sonoma want smart slow growth, not unfettered development. If measure B fails, developers will be salivating, knowing that the citizens of Sonoma will not fight back in any numbers.

        • Jay Tierney

          I don’t really think measure B will affect chain stores one way or the other. There’s already other policy in place for that.

          • David Eichar

            And the process in place can work for regulating strip malls and big box stores, but only if the citizens stay involved and are vocal.