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Pimping Sonoma

Posted on January 4, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

We hate sounding harsh, but find it difficult to mince words when it comes to exploiting Sonoma’s charm and reputation for money. Fact is, trading on Sonoma’s name is now so commonplace it almost feels normal, but it is anything but.

Don’t get us wrong; we think Sonoma and the Sonoma Valley are terrific places to live and work. It’s beautiful, temperate, and close to the cultural hub of San Francisco; that people who live elsewhere like to visit is a compliment. Speaking as residents, however, we want to go on the record saying this is our home, not a product to be sold to the highest bidder. To those who think our area is all about tourism and making money, we declare, “enough.”

Many small towns across California and the west are charming, hospitable and beautiful, but not all of them are bought and sold the way Sonoma now is. Literally millions are spent each year hyping the tourist-trade in the name of the almighty dollar. Sure, money from tourists is nice to have, but we believe that moderation in all things – drinking, eating and yes, tourism – is the healthier way to live. As it is now, we’ve put a money-pump into motion called tourism promotion, and just as oil wells come with social and environmental costs, so too does the continual pumping, or pimping, of Sonoma.

We’ve gone on record saying it was a mistake to extend the Tourism Improvement District to a ten-year term. Over the ten years, upwards of $10-million dollars will be spent to pump tourist dollars out of the ground. Ten-percent of that will fall into the City’s coffers in the form of TOT and sales tax revenues, but the vast majority will fall into the hands of tourism speculators like the Marriott Corporation, the largest hotel chain in the world, owners of the Lodge at Sonoma. The Lodge is a perfectly lovely hotel, but does the Marriott Corporation really need “corporate welfare” in promoting itself to travelers? We think not. The millions of dollars of TID money would be more valuable in the city treasury than the crumbs the city gets now.

And while we’re on the subject, we’re curious as to why the city continues to fund the Visitors Bureau, when the TID brings in millions for its own promotional spending plan? And why is half the Carnegie Library, a prime city property, being leased to the bureau at a “sweetheart deal” rate? There was a time before the internet when a physical location for visitors to stop by for help in finding a place to stay made sense, but today? In today’s smart-phone world a visitors’ bureau need be nothing more than a website and phone number.

Finally, we’d like to add that we need new housing not new hotel rooms. New hotels will fuel the spiral for more promotional spending to fill more rooms; once the rooms are filled, we’ll be told we need even more hotel rooms to meet growing demand. It’s a vicious cycle, a perpetual pimping which makes tourism investors richer but leaves residents wondering how it is their town got sold-out right from underneath them.

The buck stops with the City Council. Only it has the power to say “enough.”

Sun Editorial Board



13 thoughts on “Pimping Sonoma

  1. Well said. The hordes of tourists are fueling the vacation rental fad that destroys neighborhoods and eliminates housing for residents.
    Hordes of tourists are bringing ever-more hotels that destroy City character and jam streets with traffic.
    Pimping Sonoma is indeed what is happening, and City Council needs to throttle back on the hordes of tourists before Sonoma a city of horde-houses.

    1. I used to tell people that usually after Thanksgiving there was plenty of parking and less tourists. Not this year. Packed to the gills.

  2. There is a reason we all live in Sonoma Valley rather than Napa Valley. Napa has already fully embraced the tourist in every way possible and it shows. Nobody goes over there unless it’s to eat in an expensive restaurant, drink wine in a monument to wretched excess, or buy a billion dollar home on the hill. Downtown Napa, after it’s transformation is ONLY for visitors… Nobody who lives in town goes down there for anything but food. It is a playground for out-of-towners. In Sonoma you still run into your neighbors while out and about, have a chance to find a great place to eat for not a lot of money, and there is still at least 2 shops on the plaza that cater as much to locals as tourists. Carefully planned and regulated, Sonoma can avoid becoming the rich-persons piggy-bank and the San Franciscan’s Disneyland.

    DON’T NAPA SONOMA.

  3. I wish you had included the entire valley and not just the city of Sonoma. In addition to the new hotel going in on the Plaza, there is an even bigger development slated for the north end of the valley, that includes an event center, winery and hotel. The county government also needs to be brought into the equation. The vacation rentals have been now stopped in both the city of Sonoma and most of the valley by law. So there is no longer an excuse to blame their growth for the influx of tourists or catering to tourists. It falls completely on local governments to stop large scale event and hotel development. And yes most or all TOT should be spent on us, not bringing in more tourists. We need to demand it from both city and county elected officials.

  4. After many years of attending city council meetings, I decided my concerns for the welfare of the residents fell on deft ears of the council members. I’ve watched their body language and mostly noticed that they glance at David Goodison, and the city manager, and the city attorney for voting instructions. All three of the people in these positions need to be warned by the community that if they don’t get on board with the residents wishes, that they will be replaced by people who are interested in preserving Sonoma as a small town. Also, People who do not live in Sonoma city limits should not be allowed to comment on projects inside the city limits.

  5. The more traction this issue gets the better. This is what most of us who grew up here have been feeling for the last 10 years. There used to be a hardware store, grocery store, (actual) movie theatre on the square for crying out loud. Now, its Disneyland. Forces from OUTSIDE Sonoma saw a place that had yet to be exploited like Napa and Calistoga and brought their capital to make a killing here and pervert what made this town great.

    The city council and the politicians are obsessed with this idea of economic growth and being a “world class” tourist destination. Well, guess what? That is a FAKE Sonoma. That is a packaged product. That is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what drew people to this place 20,30,40,50 years ago. That was what Napa valley was all about.

    Don’t try to be like Disneyland for rich people. Its a hostile takeover folks, and we’ve all pretty much lost our town to people with dollar signs in their eyes.

    You have to be willing to FIGHT this.

  6. While I am usually reluctant to jump into these kinds of open ended discussions I feel it necessary to let you know that the way you characterize tourism here in Sonoma Valley is not only incorrect but it’s NIMBY-ism at it’s worst. Me and my friends live here to enjoy the many “fruits” of this valley which thankfully include nice things that aren’t usually available in small towns in abundance like great restaurants, shopping and markets like Sonoma Market and Whole Foods..Those things would not be possible without visitors and our visitors bureau that welcomes them here. Why be so negative about tourism? Of course, it needs to be managed but also embraced and welcomed as it’s part of life here in California and especially in a historical town like ours. Thankfully we are a place that people want to visit and even move to ..Please don’t push our visitors away!

  7. Leaving aside the missed opportunity of a fracking metaphor, an insightful article. The first step towards the St. Helenafication of Sonoma, I feel, was the installation of those signs on the corners of the town square, pointing to where all the shops are. That’s never done anywhere for locals. The next inevitable step will be to update the sidewalks with the occasional inlaid brickwork, just like downtown Napa. By the time that’s done, we will be talking about sun-powered certified organic parking meters that you can pay with your phone. I don’t offer any particular solutions, but the cautionary tale is that if this goes on, Sonoma will be like everywhere else where people with money like to play and where people who work here can’t afford to live.

  8. I have to say, Steve has some good points. Tourists are not demons from hell, they are just people on vacation. And on not letting people from outside the city limits comment on city projects, why? We shop in the city and support it’s businesses and pay sales tax in the city, just as residents of the city venture out into the valley once in a while. Everyone in the entire Sonoma Valley has a stake in development both inside the city limits and in the unincorporated areas of the valley. What I wish for and will vote for are elected officials at both the city and county level that will support slow growth and keeping tourism at the level it is now, rather than attracting more and more. There is no reason to hate or blame the people who visit our area because it is attractive to them, we just need to use our energy to elect people who will put a cap on the growth and not green light any more tourist focused development.

  9. I just read this article and found the title of this article offensive and tone antagonistic and confrontational. Such a shame, but pretty much in keeping with the hostile political rhetoric of the past year. So I was happy to come to the website and see some of the other responses on the issue of development and tourism. As a long-time resident, I welcome the addition of new stores, restaurants, spas, etc. These serve to keep me (and other residents) in Sonoma, instead of us having to go elsewhere to find what we need. I too, chose this town because is seemed “real” to me and not “over the top touristy”. But time does not stand still. We have seen what has happened to many Americans that have held fast to living in the past, refusing to retool or reeducate themselves for inevitable change. Those towns have died and the people that remain are disgruntled, angry and resentful of others that made different choices. Let’s not get stuck in a mindset that refuses to accept change, let’s work to manage that change and be inclusive of all people in Sonoma. Encourage a community spirit that is not divided between past and future. In my opinion, this is NOT just a money grab, it is a lifestyle choice. I love the agricultural nature of our community but worry about the mono-culture. I would welcome the addition of crops other than grapes. I agree that decisions made by the city council impact all residents of Sonoma particularly those in the county immediately surrounding the city. Those citizens’ input should be welcomed, not shunned. Commercial development can add to the quality of our life if we chose it wisely. Remember, tourist dollars do help many small and large businesses stay viable and grow. Our schools are badly in need of upgrading; tax revenues could help them. I hope for a strong economy and in our special situation, agriculture and tourism do go hand in hand. Trying to hold on to the Sonoma of year’s past is futile. Creating and managing growth, can maintain it character and enhance all of our lives.

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