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