The ballot box is a critical vehicle for correcting all kinds of civic maladies, from recalling reprobate politicians to overturning errant government decisions. But it can also be used as an instrument for spreading fear. Such is the case with Measure B in Sonoma.
Proponents of this Nov. 19 ballot measure would have the 10,000 residents of Sonoma believe that the city is in danger of being overrun by tourists and large hotels, so much so that voters need to approve an initiative prohibiting the expansion of existing large hotels and banning new inns of more than 25 rooms.
Worse, they give the impression that the city's existing general plan, zoning regulations and planning processes are insufficient — or are not to be trusted — to properly review and decide on a hotel proposal when and if one comes forward.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As Mayor Ken Brown, an outspoken opponent of Measure B, points out, no new large hotels have been built in Sonoma for 13 years, the city has a reputation for rigidity in its land-use regulations, and no one is complaining about anything the city has approved in years.
“Show me one (inappropriate) thing we have done,” says Brown. “It's just not there.”
Moreover, history has shown that when projects have been proposed that are out of scale with the community's character, they've encountered intense scrutiny, including the campaign 14 years ago to reject the proposed 105-room Rosewood resort on a hillside overlooking the city.
If approved, Measure B would prohibit new hotel construction and expansions beyond 25 rooms unless the city reaches an occupancy rate of 80 percent for an entire year, a level that has not been achieved in Sonoma's history and, opponents note, is unlikely to ever be achieved. Plus, if such a project is ever approved and is appealed to the City Council, it could only receive final approval with a four-fifths vote of the council.