With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, voters have about 10 weeks to digest an issue that has dominated debate in the city of Sonoma's hotel and business circles for much of 2013.
Measure B, the so-called Hotel Limitation ballot initiative, is the sole item on the docket for the city's special Nov. 19 election. It proposes to limit the size of new hotels in the city to 25 rooms unless the annual hotel occupancy rate reaches 80 percent for the previous calendar year. The town’s average annual occupancy rate is 62 percent.
And while there's plenty of time for the campaigns for and against the ballot measure to dig in, a pair of groups has staked out firm positions on each side of Measure B and already spent money to do help their cause, according to July 31 campaign filings.
Preserving Sonoma, the committee that supports limiting new hotel construction, spent more than $42,000 during the filing period of March through June, while Protect Sonoma, the committee that opposes the measure, spent more than $26,000 to oppose the measure.
Behind votes from Mayor Ken Brown and Councilmembers Tom Rouse and David Cook, the Sonoma City Council voted last month to official oppose Measure B and submit an argument against it in the voter pamphlet. That argument was due Monday.
If adopted by a majority of the voters voting on it, this initiative measure would amend the Sonoma General Plan and Development Code to require that the establishment of a hotel with more than 25 rooms must receive a use permit approved by the Planning Commission. Similarly, the expansion of an existing hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast inn to more than 25 rooms will have to receive a use permit approved by the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission would be prohibited from granting such a use permit unless it found, among other things, that (a) the annualized hotel room occupancy rate for the calendar year (January 1 to December 31) preceding the filing of the hotel application exceeds 80%, and (b) the proposed hotel will not adversely affect the historic, small town character of Sonoma. The measure provides that the annualized hotel room occupancy rate would be calculated by comparing the total number of hotel, motel, bed and breakfast inn and vacation rental room nights rented in the City with the total number of room nights available for rent in the City, during the relevant calendar year. In calculating whether the occupancy rate of 80% has been exceeded, the measure requires inclusion of the rooms available for rental and rented at (i) bed and breakfast inns, which are defined to mean rental facilities possessing 5 or less rooms and (ii) vacation rentals, which are defined to mean rental properties containing one or two residential units.
If the Planning Commission’s decision concerning a hotel governed by this measure is appealed to the City Council, the hotel could only be approved by a 4/5th’s vote of the City Council.
The General Plan and Development Code provisions re-adopted and adopted by the measure could not be changed or repealed except by a subsequent vote of City voters.
The measure would apply to any hotel development proposal subject to its provisions that has not received final approval by the time the measure becomes effective. The measure does not apply to the renovation, maintenance, or repair of an existing hotel unless the renovation, maintenance or repair increases the total number of rooms of the hotel.