Tuesday’s election brought an array of changes to Sonoma that, among other things, will likely bring the city more revenue and possibly galvanize a City Council that has been criticized for inaction.
A new City Councilmember, Logan Harvey, and an increase in a hotel tax levied on tourists could add up to some big changes. Other local campaigns and measures, including new board members for the healthcare and water districts, were decided Nov. 6 as well.
Incumbent Councilmember Rachel Hundley ran as a slate with Harvey, and Hundley included affordable housing in her platform. Hundley captured 23 percent of the vote and Harvey came in second with 16 percent. Right behind Harvey was current Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti with 15 percent of the vote, with all eight precincts reporting.
“We will absolutely get an affordable housing fund together in the first year I’m in office. I think that’s going to happen,” Harvey predicted in an interview the day after the election. He noted that Sitting Councilmember Amy Harrington endorsed all three of the eventual winners – suggesting that Harrington, currently vice-mayor, would be open to the duo’s ideas.
Key to Harvey’s prediction: the slam-dunk passage of Measure S, which increases a tax paid by hotel guests in Sonoma from 10 percent to 12 percent. Measure S only needed a majority to pass and the “yes” votes comprised 79 percent of the vote count, with all precincts reporting.
Bumping up the Transient Occupancy Tax to 12 percent – the same base tax amount charged at hotels in jurisdictions including unincorporated areas of Sonoma County and Napa County, and many tourism draws such as Healdsburg, Calistoga, Napa and St. Helena – is predicted to raise about $750,000 annually.
Councilmembers will also have discretion to raise the transient occupancy tax an additional 1 percent, which would raise approximately $375,000 more annually, city staffers have said.
Before the election, Harvey said, “having money from the TOT that is specifically scheduled for affordable housing will allow us to explore solutions.” Harvey made the remark at a City Council meeting this year.
The tax code does not require any specific use of the tax funds. These funds are discretionary in that the council can direct them to be used for any legitimate city expense.
The newly elected Harvey and the re-elected Hundley and Agrimonti will take office in December.
“I’m excited about the prospect of serving Sonoma for another four years,” Hundley said on election night as she gathered with supporters at the Town Square bar in downtown Sonoma. She added, “I am proud of the good work of Logan Harvey, who grew up in Sonoma and will be a great addition to the council.”
That same night, Agrimonti said, in a phone interview, “I’m very happy. There are things I want to continue to do. One is to get a free shuttle started and get this wine-tasting room issue done. I want to congratulate my colleagues Rachel Hundley and Logan Harvey. I was proud to be in a campaign with everyone who ran. Everyone really had Sonoma in their hearts.”
Runner-up Jack Ding, who got 14 percent of the vote, didn’t make it onto the council, but was hopeful about his future political prospects.
“I’ll run again in two years,” Ding told the Index-Tribune on election night. “I still expect the magic to happen. Most immigrants don’t do this in the first generation,” Ding said, referring to his status as a first-generation immigrant.