With a world-class reputation for its wines, it’s no wonder that the heart of Downtown Sonoma has its fair share of wine tasting businesses.
So far, the plaza features 24. But how much is too much?
With the high amount of first-time DUI offenders who come from these establishments, a concern that the wine tasting businesses are taking away from the character of the city, and that the businesses do not cater enough to locals, the Sonoma City Council had no shortage of things to talk about during last night's meeting.
Public comments during Monday's meeting were largely in favor of leaving everything as is. The commenters, many of them from the wine tasting businesses themselves, told the council that wine is the lifeblood of the valley, the tasting rooms bring people -- both locals and tourists -- to Downtown Sonoma, and benefit other Downtown stores by bringing tourism.
But not all were in favor of the status quo.
A Downtown Sonoma business owner told the council last night that her customers thank her for being among the handful of businesses in town that cater to locals. She also said there was a concern among non-wine tasting businesses that rents in the plaza were likely to go up.
"We are competing against a much more expensive industry," she told the council.
City Councilman David Cook agreed with one of the commenters during last night's meeting.
"I do not think that we do have a problem," he said. "I think that a business can regulate itself. Is it the government's responsibility to control? Everybody knows that I like local control. But the ABC does one of the best jobs regulating alcohol."
Councilman Steve Barbose didn't see it that way.
"This is a very tricky issue, it’s very easy to say we don’t have a problem (but) my e-mails are 20 to 1 that we do have a problem," he said. "A tremendous number of people feel that we are out of balance. That’s what I’m hearing from people."
"I think we do need balance," he said. "I grew up here and it didn't look anything like it does today. There were cows, there was not wine."
Barbose pushed for the city to define wine tasting businesses. As it stands today, the city defines wine tasting businesses as retail. But because the businesses do not garner the same type of parking demands that a normal retail business typically attracts, and the type of activities that they can do that any normal retail shop would not be able to, the classification may not fit, the city staff report read.
The report said that the council could seek to have the wine tasting businesses obtain a use permit, similar to those granted to bars, taverns, and restaurants.
Councilwoman Laurie Gallian was also in favor of offering up a clear definition of the wine tasting businesses and said she wanted to see more public input on the matter.
Mayor Ken Brown disagreed with the notion that the wine tasting businesses do not attract and cater to locals. Brown stated that during his years of working for the community center in town and putting on events in the plaza, he never heard complaints about the wine tasting businesses per se, but said that they did complain about crowds.
Through the years, Brown said that people have complained about everything from there being too many art galleries in the plaza to too many ground-level real estate offices.
"Sonoma is an ever-changing town," he said. "Tourism is a big, big part of the reality here."
The council voted to table the discussion until Councilman Tom Rouse, who was not present during Monday's meeting, had a chance to weigh in on the matter.