Letters to the Editor, Dec. 16

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.

Greg Brennan


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.

Tourism is destroying Sonoma

EDITOR: We have lived in and around Sonoma for almost 40 years. We have owned a home in downtown Sonoma for the last 16 years. We have watched the Square turn in to an adult Disneyland and the streets clog with traffic first hand. It has gotten much worse in the last five years or so. The money that is being generated by the Transient Occupancy Tax and events like the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon has not made Sonoma a better place to live; it is destroying it. Your articles on this particular event (“Wine Country Marathon Runs Afoul of City Council,” Nov. 22; “Wine Country Marathon Races Ahead Despite Council Rebuff,” Dec. 2) appear biased toward encouraging tourism. You note that businesses who want the event are mostly wine tasting shops. Increasing tourism that benefits wine tasting shops around the Plaza is another sore point for people who actually live and pay taxes here in Sonoma. We once had a campaign to Shop Sonoma First. These days that would be a little difficult on the Square. We have written to the City Council members who originally opposed the marathon as well as to race supporter Councilmember Agrimonti and suggested that we would rather pay additional taxes to support local nonprofits rather than get the money from tourism (through events like the half marathon but especially from TOT funds).

Ms. Agrimonti has a valid point about this coming year’s event being too far in the planning mode to cancel altogether, but she agreed to the overall concern about tourism. And that appears to be the direction that the new City Council will be taking in the new year. Obviously this is not going to be an overnight fix and will take a lot of community discussion about such things as decreasing/limiting vacation rentals, valid EIRs for new hotels, finding alternatives to wine tasting room saturation, etc. We look forward to hearing what the new City Council will be doing to protect this jewel. We hope to read about it from all viewpoints in the local press.

Deb and Steve Scholey


Changing political ‘climate’

EDITOR: The climate is changing — due to specific human activities, the earth is getting warmer. Each year for the past many years has been warmer than the last. Objective science-based evidence has been showing us this is true for many years now.

To the Climate Change Deniers: how does it make you feel to know that the only people on earth who deny this reality are right-wing Republican Americans? You would be the laughing stock of the world if it wasn’t so scary that you got your favorite climate denier into the White House against all odds, even losing the popular vote by practically 3 million (rounding up from the current 2.7 million and counting).

Doesn’t it ever seem curious to you that you are told not to believe science-based facts by your political leaders and their talk show host enablers? What are their motives for misleading you in this way? Please, look a little closer at this.

What kind of world do you want to leave your children and grandchildren? What will you say to your grandchild who asks you what you did to help save polar bears from extinction? Will you tell them you didn’t believe it was happening because your political party told you it wasn’t true? Can you hear how ridiculous that sounds?

True leadership would be addressing the problem and getting people to rally around fixing the problem. Not sticking one’s head in the sand and denying its obvious existence.

God help us.

Anne Petersen

El Verano