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Nearly $200,000 spent in Sonoma hotel limits fight

  • 10/13/2013: A1:

    PC: Sonoma resident Chris Blunk walks with his dog and young son past his neighbor's signs supporting and opposing the Sonoma hotel limitation Measure B along Brockman Lane on Thursday, October 10, 2013. Blunk himself says he is waiting to read more about what the measure means before deciding on how to vote. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Last year's bruising ballot-box fight in Sonoma over the size of hotels likely set a new spending record in the city, with rival campaigns shelling out nearly $200,000, reports released Friday show.

The amount is breathtaking for a city the size of Sonoma, where voters on Nov. 4 rejected Measure B by a mere 124 votes.

The Hotel Limitation Measure would have capped new hotels at 25 rooms or expansion of existing ones beyond that threshold unless Sonoma achieved an annual occupancy rate of 80 percent, which the city has never done. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent.

Advocates on both sides of the controversial issue Friday disputed Measure B's lasting impact on the city.

Many viewed it as a referendum on Sonoma's future and whether the city of 10,000 is in danger of being overrun by tourists and by businesses and services that cater to out-of-towners.

"It started a discussion. It activated a community that in my opinion had fallen asleep about its future," said Larry Barnett, Measure B's main proponent.

He said the money spent on the campaign, including $25,000 out of his own pocket, "absolutely was worth it."

Mayor Tom Rouse, however, who opposed the measure, said Friday it had "zero impact" on the city, other than there will "maybe be one more look" at proposed projects.

He said Measure B supporters "put out the word that they're watching. I don't think we need the watchdog, quite frankly."

No hotel projects are officially pending in Sonoma. The current debate was sparked by developer Darius Anderson's proposal to build a 59-room luxury hotel on West Napa Street a half-block from the Plaza, on the site of the Sonoma Index-Tribune, which Anderson owns.

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