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City Council Moves Against 'Formula Business', Toward Tourism District

Chains and other businesses with more than 10 outlets barred from Plaza, under review for much of the rest of the City.

About 20 people were in the audience when Sonoma's evening at the Community Meeting Room.  When the Council approved the , in a 4-1 vote with Mayor Pro Tem Ken Brown alone in opposition, half of the audience left with smiles on their faces.

They were the managers and marketers for the hotels that supported the measure to establish a local tourism board that would promote the city of Sonoma as an overnight destination. The plan, which has been in , would levy a surcharge on visitor's hotel bills (transient occupancy tax, TOT) to help fund a  "mechanism for a strong and sustainable marketing program for tourism promotion," according to city documents.

The tax would go into effect July 1, and a board of directors for the STID would be allowed to include a member of the City Council if they, the Council, so chooses.

Marketing promotions would include lodgings of all sizes, including the smaller beds-and-breakfasts () as well as the resort level hotels ().

The surcharge would be applied to hotel bills, not winery-related businesses or others in the downtown area. Presumably, however, they would benefit indirectly from the marketing promotions of the STID.

Brown's objection was that the city should have placed a transient occupancy tax increase on the ballot.

Another Council resolution took another tack toward preserving if not promoting Sonoma's distinctive town character. The so-called Formula Businesses ordinance was adopted, which restricts chain stores with more than 250 outlets altogether from the historic plaza, and requires use permit review most other locations, aside from the four largest shopping centers - Marketplace Center, Plaza West Center, Sonoma Valley Center and Maxwell Village Center.

There are several standing exceptions to the rules already in business in the Plaza and downtown area, points out this article in the Press Democrat, including Massage Envy, Ben and Jerry's, Chico's clothing store and Mary's Pizza Shack.

Sonoma is not the first wine country town to restrict chain stores from downtown development. Calistoga has a similar policy, according to the Press Democrat.

After some discussion and pointed questioning of the city staff that presented the recommendation, the Council also voted 4-1 to apply as a Priority Development Area, a status that would allow for applying for funding from regional sources such as FOCUS, "a regional development and conservation strategy that promotes a more compact land use pattern for the Bay Area" according to their website.

Priority Development Areas are generally areas of at least 100 acres where amenities and services can be developed to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment served by transit.

Mayor Joanne Sanders expressed suspicion that a PDA status would involve Sonoma in the One Bay Area program, which has proven controversial . She cast the sole vote against the application.

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