Tourism rears its ugly Bermuda shorts
EDITOR: Your editorial (“Is Sonoma Unbalanced?” Dec. 9) didn’t seem to articulate your own opinion about how the city of Sonoma should address tourism … That Sonoma Index-Tribune owners seek to build a new hotel near the Plaza would hint that you’d support more tourism.
I believe Sonoma is at a tipping point, falling toward too much tourism and away from community. I hope the new City Council can tilt the chair back to community.
The president of Sunset magazine, when announcing the company’s test gardens were moving to Cornerstone just outside our city limits, was quoted in your paper gushing, “Sonoma is like Disneyland for adults.” I didn’t see that as a good thing…
In your column, you said, “Tourism has always had its presence” in Sonoma. In fact, there was a day when tourism didn’t hold such a throttling grip on this community. A couple of decades back a restaurant owner bemoaned to me, “We can’t make money during the winter in Sonoma…” Was Sonoma better for it? Hard to say. But the explosion of tourism has brought many acrimonious issues before the City Council, including:
- Illegal vacation rentals – and arguments that we should allow legal vacation rentals in our neighborhoods
- A hotel proposal that will have a dramatic impact on the Plaza and traffic around it
- A business (Williams-Sonoma) that flaunted the permit process
- Dozens of wine tasting rooms and other businesses catering to tourists rather than residents
- A farmers market that many locals no longer seem to attend
- A running race that few, if any, citizens participate in, yet it affects the entire community
In addition to Cornerstone, beyond our city limits but within our influence, we have a race track that has applied for (and been denied, thankfully) permits for nonrace events that would boost Sonoma tourism even more. When they do have race events there, Sonoma residents must plan ahead to deal with traffic those events bring.
Speaking of increased traffic… Have you experienced driving to Marin or San Francisco on Sunday afternoons or returning to town on Saturday in the late morning? It is not hyperbole to say it’s practically gridlock from Bonneau’s to Sears Point. Then there are the tourist buses that fly down East Napa Street on weekends — to and from Napa, seemingly unconcerned with speed limits or the safety of others on the road, with a roar that puts gas-powered leaf blowers to shame. Indeed, tourism has never had such a presence in Sonoma as I’ve described above. And I hope that our new City Council will work diligently to bring more community and less tourism to Sonoma.
Editor’s note: Thanks for writing Greg. I should probably point out that the editorial to which you refer wasn’t an attempt to offer solutions to perceived tourism dilemmas – I, like everybody else in Sonoma, don’t have the answer to that one yet – but rather it was a look at the City Council’s seemingly renewed interest in curtailing large downtown events that cater to out-of-towners. (Not to mention a nuanced prediction that then-Mayor Pro Tem Madolyn Agrimonti was no sure-thing to graduate to the mayorship, which ultimately proved prophetic.) – J.W.