Snark Infested Waters ~ Bob Edwards

Bob Edwards


The spirit of the off-season

Posted on January 5, 2023 by Bob Edwards

In 2013, City of Sonoma voters narrowly rejected Measure B, a ballot initiative that would have limited the size of new hotels built in town to no larger than 25 rooms until the annual occupancy rate of existing hotels reached 80%. The Measure sought to prevent the speculative addition of big hotels that would erode Sonoma’s charming small-town character that helps attract visitors here in the first place.

Measure B was opposed by the City’s then-existing hotel interests, even though it would have protected them from large new competitors as long as existing city hotels had too many unfilled rooms.  But oppose it they did, arguing that an annual occupancy rate of 80% was “unachievable” because the high Off-Season vacancy rate would always keep their annual bookings under 80%.  

In short, Measure B would have prevented them from building new hotels to expand their money-losing Off-Season under-capacity.  Or something like that.

Since then, local annual hotel occupancy percentages have occasionally reached the high 70s, and a big new hotel is (above) still in the works for W. Napa St. But despite boosterism by the Tourism Improvement District (TID), there’s no denying that City hotels are likely to remain underutilized in the Off-Season.  

And no wonder:  What fools would come to stay in local hotels in the cold, dark, rainy dead of winter when little or nothing happens in the Valley after Christmas, and even smart Plaza ducks migrate?  

Hmmmm, just maybe . . . .

  • Local families evicted by wildfires or skyrocketing rents, eager to get out of a car packed with all the possessions they have left in the world? 
  • Others down-on-their luck, turned away by over-capacity homeless shelters and dying (sometimes literally) for a hot shower, warm bed and a place to hang meager possessions until they get back on their feet; people who just want to feel human for a few nights?

 “Those People” might be persuaded to take an empty Off-Season hotel room for a while.  They might even pay whatever they could — from meager wages or disability, welfare or unemployment checks — to stay indoors and avoid exposure, mugging or worse.  

Hotels might take in some of Those People to fill rooms which otherwise sit empty, generating no revenue for hotels (or TOT for the City).  Alas, Measure B failed by 124 votes, so hoteliers needn’t fret about reaching an 80% annual occupancy rate that would prevent them from expanding to even greater off-season under-capacity.  Nonetheless, if only in the Spirit of the Off-Season, might they see their way to unobtrusively take in a few folks each night who might not be their typical In-Season clientele?  

With help from local non-profits and public agencies, that new clientele could be pre-screened to weed out the Potentially Ill-Behaved, lest other guests be put off by the presence of Misfortune, or even know it was there. City and/or county governments might find creative regulatory ways to reward participating hostelries, and at tax time accountants might even find a way to justify a deduction to reward compassion.

Sure, it’s probably a ridiculous idea not even worth entertaining. But no more so than fancy hotel rooms sitting empty in the Off-Season while out in the cold, the rain and the dark sleep the Tired, the Poor, the Huddled Masses, the Wretched Refuse of Wine Country, yearning to stay alive. For just one more night. 




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