Real issue, wrong solution



For all the passion, proclamations, pronouncements, accusations and denials flowing from the river of rhetoric inspired by Measure B – the Hotel Limitation Measure on the $30,000, Nov. 19 special election – two important observations can be distilled from the steam of debate.

First, the issue is legitimate and the passion behind it is real.

Many Sonomans are concerned about the future of their town, about what it should look like, feel like, live like and be defined by, now and into the distant years ahead.

Second, Measure B is a clumsy solution, poorly conceived, badly focused, illogically written and won’t solve the problems about which people are concerned.

The two notable numbers driving Measure B are 25 and 80 – 25 being the number of rooms to which new hotels will be limited, unless the occupancy rate for all city lodging reaches 80 percent in a prior year. And, in the extraordinary unlikelihood that such an occupancy rate should ever be achieved, it would still take a four-fifths, supermajority of the City Council to approve a hotel with more than 25 rooms.

These are numbers pulled either from thin air, or from the deliberate intention to forever ban future hotels with more than 25 rooms, and to deprive existing hotels that already have 25 rooms of the chance to ever add even one more.

Confronting the issue of future hotels, and how big they should be, requires that we confront the issue of tourism – how big a role it already plays, and how big a role we want it to play in the culture and economy of Sonoma.

The economy of Sonoma is built on wine and the tourism that Wine Country generates. That’s our reality, just as automobiles were once Detroit’s reality. Our reality is not the product of voracious, development greed, it is the product of the singular, world-famous resource we have to market.

How much we should promote and exploit that resource is a fair question, but it is not one that can be addressed or resolved in a simple up or down vote on 25 rooms and 80 percent.

It is, however, a question that could be addressed in a thoughtful, collaborative process, utilizing the ad hoc committee model that last year produced a formula store ordinance to protect the Plaza from such indignities as a McDonald’s.

The creation of that ordinance inspired Larry Barnett, the father of Measure B, to heap praise on the process in a June, 2012 letter to the editor. Wrote Barnett, “In deciding that the City Council shall have a role to play in Sonoma’s future development, it is therefore the citizens who have been empowered … if (the character of Sonoma) is to be preserved, it requires a city code that keeps up with the times and provides a buffer between corporate billions and the citizens who live and work here.

I thank the majority of the (City) Council for their wisdom, courage and vision.”

The ad hoc committee that created that code was composed of representatives from the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and two public representatives of the people at large. They had reams of research, they debated appropriate numbers, they produced a policy that stood up to critical examination and they did it in public meetings open to all.

If we want to develop policies that address the growth of tourism, let’s do it that way, intelligently, thoughtfully and with real facts.

  • Mike Stephens

    Excellent article and it speaks so clearly to why Measure B is BAD! Please educate yourself and don’t vote out of FEAR that Sonoma will change. Sonoma will change regardless and it best that we work with those that have intentions to better our community rather than devalue it. Sonoma has always been a tourist town and always will be. This doesn’t mean we need hotels and tasting rooms on every corner, but what we do need are some quality hotels and quality tasting rooms versus a bunch of mediocrity. Look around. There really isn’t much room for future development in town. Everything is pretty clearly spoken for. Vote No on Measure B!

    • Fred Allebach

      City planning values have three broad categories, economic
      development, environment sustainability and social equity. These are three legs
      of a stool. The commercial/ tourism/ economy leg in Sonoma has become
      substantially out of balance with the others, hence Measure B as one corrective
      step. To bring the legs of the city planning stool back into balance is not
      devaluing any one leg but part of an ongoing dynamic tension to reckon the
      above three values. All the protagonists in the B debate are people of good
      intentions; people disagree on what is good or better but the fact remains you
      can’t have effective, comprehensive planning policy that is too stilted in any
      one way. The stool of city planning has more than the economic leg. All Measure
      B is doing is to speak up for legitimate community values and interests which
      need to be included as part of a vital whole.

  • Larry Barnett

    I appreciate that David has recognized that the concerns underlying Measure B are legitimate, and that when 1,300 valid signatures on a petition qualify a measure for the ballot, it represents something significant and meaningful.

    Where we part company, however, is in characterizing Measure B as a “clumsy solution, poorly conceived, badly focused, illogically written.” To the contrary, City Planner David Goodison conceded in his report to the city council that Measure B will be simple and easy to administer. Granted, it’s logic is ground-breaking; Measure B replaces a largely subjective process of determining the appropriate size and compatibility of hotels in Sonoma with one that is far more objective, tying hotel room supply to demand. This would appear, at minimum, to be internally logical; the present alternative defies logic and leads to disruptive boom and bust development cycles.

    City council member comments about relying on “free market principles” and the “evils of government regulation” helped fuel the development of this measure. The lack of substantial discussion or interest in developing forward-looking policies in the face of multiple hotel developer interest and proposals spurred interest in a citizen-driven process. David was not here during the Rosewood or UGB initiatives in 1999 and 2000, so his discomfort with this approach is understandable. Nor does he live within the city limits of Sonoma. The fact remains that the voters of Sonoma will now have the chance to evaluate this Measure for themselves, and decide if it’s something they want to enact. Those of us who have been working on educating and informing the citizens about the Hotel Limitation Measure for many months sense widespread support, but this is just the beginning of the discussion David contemplates, not the end.

  • bob edwards

    Citizen empowerment in the creation & design of the city code sounds a lot like what Measure B is all about. It empowers every citizen with an actual vote on how Sonoma will codify its — their — management of large hotel growth in the future. Citizens get an opportunity to amend the General Plan.

    After Measure B passes, citizens will continue to have the right to participate in the process, just as they do today. In passing Measure B,they will be clearly saying that they don’t want the process to entertain any hotel application larger than 25 rooms unless & until the annual occupancy rate of existing hotels hits 80%. If that happens, they’ll get to participate, & in the meantime, they’ll continue to participate if any application is filed for a hotel of 25 rooms or less.

    As to doing it “intelligently, thoughtfully and with real facts,” that’s what those who support Measure B have been doing from the very beginning, unburdened by financial motives or commercial interests. Sadly, the same cannot be said of those opposed to Measure B, whose hysterical fact-free campaign has been anything but intelligent and thoughtful, or even respectful of Sonoma voters. That may be due to the fact that it is primarily being run and funded by people who don’t even live here.