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Preserving Sonoma reports new donors

By Pam Gibson/Special to the Index-Tribune

Preserving Sonoma, the group sponsoring the Hotel Limitation Measure in Sonoma, filed three donor forms this week, in accordance with Fair Political Practices Commission regulations.

The first was a loan from Larry Barnett, who has been the primary proponent and spokesperson for the measure, loaning the campaign an additional $5,000. This brings Barnett’s loans up to $25,000. The second was from Sonoma Attorney Len Tillem, who donated $1,000 to the campaign.

Warren Watkins of Healdsburg also donated $1,000 to the Preserving Sonoma campaign, creating speculation that recent interest by hoteliers in developing new hotels in that city might be sparking interest in limiting hotels there. Watkins, a retired math teacher, is a leader of Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, a Healdsburg group that filed suit against the $310 million Saggio Hills project on the northern edge of Healdsburg. That project, since approved by both the City Council and a superior court judge, has been stalled, reportedly over financing issues.

The next required filing period for both Preserving Sonoma and Protect Sonoma, the group opposing the initiative, is Oct. 10, according to City Clerk Gay Johann. But if a campaign receives a donation of $1,000 or more, it must file a notice of receipt within 24 hours.

During the previous filing period, Protect Sonoma, the group opposing the hotel limitation initiative, reported expenses of $26,371 and non-monetary contributions of $25,481. Protect Sonoma is sponsored by Chateau Sonoma Hotel Group LLC, an offshoot of Kenwood Investments, which is owned by Darius Anderson. Anderson is the managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Index-Tribune.

The subject of a successful petition drive by Preserving Sonoma, the initiative, if passed, will limit the size of new hotels to 25 rooms or less and holds expansion of existing hotels to the same number. A permit can be given by the Planning Commission if the previous year’s hotel occupancy has been above 80 percent and the proposal does not adversely affect the historic, small town character of Sonoma. The planning body’s action can then be appealed to the City Council and can only be upheld by a four-fifths vote.

The annualized hotel room occupancy rate would be calculated by comparing the total number of hotel, motel, bed and breakfast inn and vacation rental room nights rented in the city with the total number of room nights available for rent during the relevant calendar year. The city’s current occupancy rate is just below 65 percent.

The special election will be held Nov. 19.