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Sonoma hotel-limit backers submit signatures to city

Proponents of an initiative to limit hotel development in Sonoma submitted signatures to the city clerk Monday that appear to qualify the measure for a special election.

City Clerk Gay Johann said Monday that a “sufficient” number of signatures were submitted Monday to force the election. Sonoma County election officials will have to certify the names, a process that could take up to a week.

A total of 1,667 signatures were gathered by proponents of the initiative, according to Larry Barnett, a former Sonoma mayor and bed-and breakfast owner and the main backer of the ballot measure.

To qualify for a special election, petitioners must gather 1,017 signatures, or 15 percent of the city's 6,782 registered voters.

The measure would cap any new hotel or expansion of an existing one to 25 rooms unless Sonoma's hotel occupancy rate over the previous calendar year exceeds 80 percent. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent. The city has never had an annualized occupancy rate of 80 percent, according to city officials.

The debate is centered on a 59-room hotel proposed by developer Darius Anderson on West Napa Street, a half-block south of the city's historic plaza.

Anderson on Monday referred a call seeking comment to Bill Hooper, president of Kenwood Investments. Hooper did not return a call left for him.

Under California election law, the city would have 30 days to complete a report analyzing the proposed ballot measure once county election officials certify the signatures. The City Council could adopt the proposal as written or schedule a special election no later than November. City officials estimate the cost of such an election to be about $30,000.

A group called Protect Sonoma that received start-up money from Kenwood Investments is opposing the measure.

Anderson initially proposed building a French-themed complex with two restaurants, a health club and spa, event center and 2,800 square feet of retail space.

He withdrew that proposal for revision, and said the new design calls for the same number of rooms but a smaller physical footprint, with one restaurant and a smaller event center. The French theme was replaced by a design that will celebrate writer Jack London.

Anderson is a Sonoma resident, Democratic fundraiser and Sacramento lobbyist. He also is the principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

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