The Sonoma City Council on Monday voted to put a controversial measure that would limit hotel development on the November ballot, setting the stage for a bruising and divisive battle tied to the city's identity and economic growth.
The council voted unanimously to set the so-called Hotel Limitation Measure for a special election Nov. 19. The measure would cap new hotels or expansion of existing ones to 25 rooms unless Sonoma achieves an annual occupancy rate of 80 percent, which the city has never done.
Fault lines were exposed Monday by the council's narrow decision to give Mayor Ken Brown and Councilman Tom Rouse the authority to draft an argument against the hotel measure that will be included in the voter pamphlet. Councilman David Cook supported the action.
Councilman Steve Barbose called the ballot argument a mistake, one he said would play into the hands of voters who believe city leaders have essentially been poised to rubber-stamp larger hotel projects and are seeking to do so in the future.
"I know you feel passionately about your position," Barbose said, "but it's ironic you're going to make peoples' case for them."
Brown said from the dais that he was "taken aback" by Barbose's comments.
"I don't see any reason to think my support for putting an argument on the ballot measure degrades confidence in the City Council," Brown said.
Councilwoman Laurie Gallian also voted against allowing the council members to draft the argument against the measure.
Cook participated in Monday's proceedings even though he previously took a vote against the hotel measure as president of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce. The city's attorney advised Cook Monday that he saw no conflict unless Cook considered himself biased on the issue.
"I really think I'm coming here with fairness," he said. He also called the hotel measure a "defining moment" for Sonoma that gets at the city's "identity crisis."