Connecting the Dots ~ Fred Allebach

Fred Allebach Fred Allebach is a member of the City of Sonoma’s Community Services and Environmental Commission, and an Advisory Committee member of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Fred is maintenance chair of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards and an active member of the Sonoma Valley Housing Group and Transition Sonoma Valley. As well, Fred has a KSVY radio show on Sunday nights at 8:PM, participates in the Sonoma Valley Action Coalition for immigration issues, and with the Sonoma Climate Coalition.


Tasting room moratorium: comments and suggestions

Posted on January 15, 2019 by Fred Allebach

The Bay Area region and Sonoma Valley in particular, is a world-class, Mediterranean climate, premier wine growing area. Wine is a natural crop to grow here and wine tourism has shown itself to be more than viable as an economic driver. The only thing lacking is to make the benefits more widely felt. 

There are two basic strategies for benefit sharing: trickle down and ripple up. Trickle down has not, and has never worked, it is an article of faith with no firm basis in reality. It would be great if trickle down would work; someone please turn on the faucet! Ripple up, or boosting wages and subsidizing housing, health, education, and other costs, has been shown to work. The New Deal and the post WW2 economic boom is one prime policy example, as well as the successful economic benefit sharing policies of Canada and the Scandinavian countries.

For ripple up, the principle is simple: the big fish don’t need all those extra millions. At a certain point, those millions only have marginal utility; the is for the profits to be distributed up front as higher wages. 

Bottom line, Sonoma Valley has a great economic driver that fits the land and climate, all that is needed is to put some more carts behind this horse team and driver, so that all, or most stakeholders can view the whole arrangement as successful. This leads to a few comments about Sonoma’s wine tasting moratorium. 

The doubling of wine tasting on the Plaza in the last few years, and the moratorium on tasting rooms has been a proxy process for addressing how Sonoma can properly manage the wine-tourism-hospitality economy. Many agree things have gone over the top. However, some maintain that no management or limits are needed at all. My own position has evolved to become more sympathetic to business owners, especially smaller independent businesses. Small independents are community, team members. Certainly, it is in everyone’s interest here to keep an eye on, and support the local economy. This is seriously important, to give everyone access to the means of survival. Let’s take this support for granted, and then also consider as critical, the needs, wants, and desires of residents and workers as well.

The hands-off, let the market take care of it approach seems to be fine for business advocates, until such time as an economic downturn, or to when workers and residents want to assert themselves, at which time calls are heard for policy to be more “business friendly.” 

Problem: The full public doesn’t really know who “business” voices are, or how to distinguish between small independents, corporate voices, hoteliers, Plaza landlords, ideologues, pundits, and the rest. Mostly these business orbit folks have not shown up during the wine tasting moratorium hearings, leading some to believe they are content to have their influence felt behind closed doors. More transparency as to exactly who “business” interests are would be good. 

David Goodison did hold a drop-in wine tasting meeting where a good cross-section of folks showed up, but most conversation drifted into how to address larger issues of which wine tasting on the Plaza is only a proxy and a symptom. The compass points to the General Plan, for how to resolve the bigger issues. 

Current and ongoing problem: there is no public square dialogue among critical stakeholders that centers around open, public meetings. Newspaper comment sections and Facebook are hot messes of anonymous, inflammatory statements that can’t be taken as a serious indicator of public opinion. The anonymous aliases could be all the same person. Exactly what business interests are at stake, and who the actors are, is obscured. A stasis exists where clear communication among critical actors and community stakeholders is not happening. 

Maybe to the extent that everybody is sequestered in their own tribe and echo chamber (silos), and only sees their own interests is the core problem here. I don’t know anything about Chamber-orbit actors and subtle differences among them. The Chamber circle of people doesn’t cross my circles. Other Chamber-associated circles are foreign to me as well. I’m sure that grass roots social and environmental justice circles and their nuances are equally foreign to the general Chamber orbit. Who talks to all and can bridge the gap? Council members? Cathy? David Storer? Are people seduced by purity considerations to the point where even talking to the other guys is seen as a sellout? 

At the end of the day, if we are not in the room with the people we disagree with, we’re not getting anywhere on anything. 

Back to free market, “business friendly”, and poorly shared benefits. For business, a hands-off, free market approach can’t really cut both ways and be consistent. For example, it’s not consistent to ask for no regulation in a boom but then bemoan shuttered stores and ask for help in a bust. If you want hands off, get ready to take your medicine alone. If workers and resident interests were put on the back burner the whole time the city, the Tourism Improvement District (TID) and the Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau (SVVB) intensified the tourism draw, and business benefitted greatly, is it fair that in a downturn that there continue to be no reckoning of resident and worker’s issues, and then business wants more help? 

No, it’s not fair. A sustainable tourism economy needs to serve all of local society’s interests. The more that tourists-only are served, the less residents and workers benefit from the deal. The fact is, a hands-off, unregulated approach to managing the local economy has resulted in a seriously unbalanced situation, as we see from irrefutable low wage and high housing cost indicators. These things are connected.

How to manage a local economy? There may only be a set number of things government can do. Whatever those are, do them! I have made a few bullet-point suggestions below.

The siren call for more, more, more tourists by the TID and SVVB, has been in an effort to boost local business. Theoretically this should be good and help all. But this has come at a cost to residents and worker’s quality of life. Why? Because elite inflation ripples out, and has run the working class about clean out of town; the prices for everything in Sonoma are through the roof. You can’t have a just society and mistreat 75% of the people. It’s all connected. The stoking of demand for the upper decks has about reached its max tolerable level. That’s why there was a tasting room moratorium. Frankly, the benefits of wine-hospitality tourism, as promoted by the TID and SVVB have not been felt by workers and residents, mostly only the costs.

As far as the moratorium, staff is now going to write up an ordinance based on the council’s 1/14 input, and take the ordinance go to the Planning Commission for ratification. This is the process, in a timetable to come back to the council in the Spring. However, to emphasize, all issues are connected to other issues, and the wine tasting issue connects directly to issues of sustainable tourism and the flavor of Sonoma’s economic policy, if the city has a specific economic policy. The General Plan process will hopefully make some more directional, less laissez faire economic policy for the future. In many respects, Sonoma economic policy has been based on free market inertia while the current wine boom is lasting, although you could see the TID and SVVB as interferences in a free market; straight-up competition doesn’t require any assists. And so, if assists are OK for business, they should also be OK for labor.  

In the 1/14 tasting room moratorium, the new council majority showed very good sensitivity to business interests. What is hoped for from my quarter, and that of the social/ environmental justice quarter, is to have an equal sensitivity, when the right time comes in council process, to bottom lines that extend beyond business only, i.e., to the labor that makes business run, and to the needs that labor force has, such as a living wage and affordable housing.   

Suggestions for an interconnected world, for how to make wine-hospitality tourism pay out more equitably for the community; some maybe applicable to a wine tasting ordinance some to the General Plan, some for business and landlords: 

  • Put a sustainability-focused council member on the TID Board.
  • Waive CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for all high density, area median income housing projects.
  • Expand the city sphere of influence and Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) so as to capture existing urban footprint areas that already have or would be easy to extend sewer and water to. If central land costs too much, get cheaper land at the edges.
  • Cooperate with the county to identify land where local, area median income, non-profit built housing can be mutually worked on. The city maybe help pay for projects where there is local affordable land, if such a thing exists. 
  • The city take its $500,000 a year SVVB contribution and put it to an affordable housing fund to buy land for a non-profit housing development. 
  • City council raise the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) by the extra 1% ASAP and dedicate the funds to the above land buying fund.
  • Enlist local philanthropy to boost the land buying fund. 
  • The city make a specific nexus with tourism boosting; for every dollar spent to boost, one dollar must also be spent to serve worker’s needs. 
  • The city look at the SVVB budget, see if 11 paid staff is out of proportion and too much money. (The city itself only has 30 some staff…)
  • The TID repurpose its mission and still be consistent with getting heads in beds, for example, pay for “sharrows” bike lane striping, so bike riding tourists (and residents) can be safe, and reduce transportation greenhouse gases (GHG).
  • Hotels pay a living wage to all help and then the SVVB advertise Sonoma as an equitable, green, friendly community.
  • The city prepare for the end the TID authorization period, and to use the same money for more community-balanced purposes.  
  • Plaza landlords lower their rents and become team players so tenants can pay higher, living wages. 
  • A $15 per hour minimum wage for all be put in place ASAP, to be soon followed by a push for $18, $23, $28, whatever it takes, with the larger goal of making all wages adequate to afford the basics of life.
  • If rents and prices go up with a raise in minimum wage, have the minimum be pegged to an annual cost of living adjustment.   
  • Expedite the General Plan process to stake out some immediate changes that will help with equity: rezoning for higher density so as to forestall more unnecessary market rate housing projects. Get innovative, make incentives fort what is needed; get three votes for a quickly-put-in-place workforce housing overlay for all the shopping centers.
  • Make a high-end real estate transfer tax to fund the affordable housing that is being taken away by high-end housing speculators. 
  • City staff be encouraged to push innovative ideas uphill, an environment created where creative solutions to an unbalanced economy can be addressed from within government. 
  • The city adopt a triple bottom line, full cost accounting frame for planning, environment and economic development, so all policy will be, by default, inclusive, balanced and adaptive.
  • Find city consultants for General Plan white papers that adhere to sustainability framing and not only business as usual framing. 
  • Explicitly run with wine-hospitality tourism, but also explicitly work to make the benefits ripple up and trickle down. 



One thought on “Tasting room moratorium: comments and suggestions

  1. No limit on wine tasting rooms ! Why would you ever do that ? It is against the American way of life. If a winery or wine label wants to rent a space on our plaza in Sonoma and they can afford to do so then they should be able to do so. This limit on wine rooms is un-American. Mr Allebach is against America and perhaps would be better off in Cuba or Venzuela. Millionaires for the most part are hard working Americans who happened to make it big somehow and usually through hard work. I know one multi millionaire who just donated 30 million dollars to the Seva Foundation to help fund the end to curable blindness. Not bad – I like the feeling of that trickle……Bill Gates gave away 4.6 billion last year. Mr. Allebach , haters of America like you are just jealous I think.

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