Hotel Foot Traffic is Bogus

Posted on October 28, 2013 by Submitted


You don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; you don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger and you don’t bring up the Measure B among friends.

What started out as opposition to Darius Anderson’s proposal for a high end hotel near the Plaza has turned into a local civil war. The two biggest issues appear to be commercial growth and the Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT), a debate that’s caused our otherwise sophisticated and civilized residents to now be at each other’s throats. Everyone has a deeply held and intransient position about both this hotel and Measure B.

Larry Barnett is the sponsor of the Measure B. And while no one thinks it was ever his intention, the law of unintended consequences has raised its ugly head. This has deeply, deeply divided the people throughout Sonoma Valley, extending far beyond City limits.

I attended a semi formal debate on this initiative recently. A lot of those in attendance live outside the city limits and therefore can’t vote. Many of these people serve on our non-profit boards and donate generously through both their time and money. These people feel disenfranchised, and given our current state of affairs, I understand why.

Measure B requires an annual occupancy of 80% before a new or existing hotel can build 25 or more new rooms. As long as one of the four seasons includes winter, 80% is not going to happen.

Have you also noticed the Measure B requires four of our five City Council members to approve all new hotel projects, regardless of size? This little-talked about supermajority voting provision will further stymie any economic development potential for tourism-based businesses, weakening Sonoma’s ability to stabilize and enhance our community service funding levels in the future.

Sonoma currently has 527 hotel rooms. Mr. Anderson’s current proposal will add 59 rooms, or about 10% to the existing numbers. This first class hotel is projected to generate more than $3.5 million in TOT and $1.8 million in property tax revenues over the first five years, along with more than $40 million in additional spending at nearby businesses. The TOT revenues alone would increase by over 20% in the first year. TOT makes up 21% of the City’s total revenue. If we build this hotel, it will dramatically change our city for the better.

No alternative to the hotel will generate the same kind of income a high end hotel will. The tourists at a high end hotel are more likely to spend money here. Economists will tell you, every dollar spent at the hotel generates another four dollars in the community.

What no one has told me, if not a hotel, then what do they suggest? More tasting rooms, office space, retail?

I searched Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) for 95476. There are 260 vacation homes for rent in our zip code. If you add up the number of bedrooms in those 260 homes you get over 900 or at least that was the number before I quit counting. This is a big source of our traffic on town. Talk about foot traffic?

Speaking of such, the argument a material increase in automobile traffic will occur is so far-fetched it is not worthy of a rebuttal.

Several years ago Pat Kuleto, one of the nation’s premier restaurant developers, wanted to build what would have been one of Sonoma’s signature restaurants where Bank of Marin is currently located. Back then it was a Chevy’s. Thanks to Mr. Barnett, the restaurant never came to fruition. Barnett voted “no,” saying the Plaza was three parking places short of what was needed. His decision was a financial blow to the City then, but it will pale in comparison to the public dollars he will starve Sonoma of if Measure B succeeds. Don’t let him rob us again.

Joseph Aaron

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