Citing a concern over the environmental and quality-of-life impacts of larger hotels, Sonoma County Conservation Action, the county’s largest environmental organization, has endorsed Measure B, Sonoma’s Hotel Limitation Measure.
SCCA Board Chair David Keller said that, after considerable study, the group “was persuaded by arguments of preserving town character and a small-growth approach that is more appropriate for a town the size of Sonoma.”
The measure would limit hotels to 25 rooms or less unless the city reached an annual occupancy rate of 80 percent. The issue will be decided in a November 19 special election.
The SCCA has been an advocate for city-centered growth for more than two decades, Keller said, but the dynamics are different in every town. “We ultimately felt that preserving the small town experience for both residents and visitors strikes the right balance for Sonoma,” he said.
Larry Barnett, chair of Preserving Sonoma, the grassroots group that collected signatures to place the measure on the ballot, said the SCCA endorsement helps make the case that unlimited growth of big hotels is not in the best interest of Sonoma or the local environment.
“Tourism is often cited as a painless industry, but its cumulative effects add up and over time can degrade the quality of life for residents in small towns and place pressure on limited infrastructure and resources,” Barnett said. “Measure B is designed to offer some relief from that prospect.”
The Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance have come out against the measure. They argue it would hurt the city economy by unfairly restraining revenue from hotel room tax and tourist-driven sales tax.
Tourism is indeed an important economic driver for Sonoma County, Keller said, but catering to the high-end tourist industry has impacts on the environment, residents, and farming. “High-end tourism prices out ordinary people such as farmers, renters, workers, and local businesses. Affordable living is slipping away.”
Measure B, Keller said, would preserve the small town experience for both residents and visitors. “It strikes the right balance.”