Guest Opinion by John Kelly. Fifth Street West carries the heartbeat of Sonoma on a daily basis. Running North from the Leveroni Ranch, its side streets contain the homes of our firefighters and police officers, our teachers and nurses. Past Sassarini School, Safeway, and Sonoma Market, its homes and apartments are inhabited by the people who run our restaurants and fix our power lines. They are our EMTs, our soccer coaches, and our supermarket clerks. These neighborhoods are the middle and working class of Sonoma — and they are the keepers of our authenticity.
Sonoma recently held a special election, ostensibly to decide whether to, effectively, ban more hotel construction (a “yes” vote). Measure B had interesting beginnings; its organizing committee was liberal, environmentally oriented, and if anything, seemed prone to criticism that they were elitist. The “No on B” campaign materials indirectly emphasized that fact, arguing the Measure would jeopardize public safety and worsen traffic. The measure failed narrowly at the polls — the election was a 51-48 decision, the difference being slightly more than a hundred votes.
While the result leaves the door open to development, it is the pattern of voting that I find more interesting. Sonoma is divided into precincts, and the County Registrar of Voters breaks down the votes in each one. While there are eight precincts in total, the major precincts are 1802 (essentially, the “East Side”, entirely south of Napa Street), and 1805 (both sides of Fifth Street West, again, south of Napa Street). These two precincts have nearly 60 percent of the voters, and constituted a similar percentage of the turnout on November 19.
While Measure B lost by eighteen points on the East Side, it won by fifteen points along 5th Street West. If you draw a line through the town running from the Leveroni homestead to the Cherryblock vineyard, Measure B lost in every precinct to the east of that line, and won every precinct to the west. That line divides the wealthier East Side from the middle-to-working class remainder of the City. And it is very close to the line between Prestwood Elementary and Sassarini Elementary.
I am hesitant to speculate as to why the middle and working class of Sonoma effectively voted to ban more hotels (and I think pretty much everyone on the East Side of Sonoma should be cautious in doing so, too). I suspect, though, that there are a number of East Side voters who, had they been aware of the broad support of middle and working class Sonoma for Measure B, would have found voting against Measure B troubling as a matter of distributive justice.
Perhaps the renamed Sonoma Hotel Project will proceed successfully through planning, the assorted commission hearings, and even ultimately review by the City Council. But the volunteers sitting on those commissions, and the elected council members, as well as a number of our leading citizens, will likely continue to be concerned by the de facto rejection of the project by Sonoma’s keepers of authenticity, and their de jure vote of no confidence in the City’s planning process. The City has work to do to restore the public trust amongst those who have been, should be, and hopefully will be its natural and normal supporters along Fifth Street West.