Sonoma's identity at heart of hotel limits debate

  • Sonoma resident Laura Campoy walks to get her mail past her neighbor's signs supporting and opposing the Sonoma hotel limitation Measure B along Brockman Lane on Thursday, October 10, 2013. Campoy says she is still undecided on how to vote for the measure. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

As an autumn sun set over Sonoma, a chill crept through the city's leafy Plaza, where hundreds gathered to savor one of the last farmers markets of the season.

The scene last week reflected a community content with itself. Or so it seemed.

Sonoma has been roiled by a controversial ballot measure that could make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to build a new hotel in the city or expand a current one beyond 25 rooms.

Debate Over Sonoma Hotel Limits


More broadly, Measure B is viewed as a referendum on the city's future.

"I don't want Sonoma to be Yountville, where it's hotels and tourists and nothing else," Sonoma contractor Bob Baeyen said to friends who were seated on the grass, wine glasses in hand.

"But it's already there! Look at the tasting rooms and real estate offices," said Marsha Copeland, a massage therapist, as she gestured around her.

The pair ended the conversation amicably. But elsewhere, passions over Measure B have led people to storm out of public meetings, frayed longtime friendships and political alliances, sparked allegations of campaign shenanigans and fomented apocalyptic predictions of what will happen if the initiative passes or fails.</CW>

Sonoma voters will decide the issue in a special election Nov. 19, with absentee ballots scheduled to go out a week from Monday.

Sonoma, which has a long history of independence and ambivalence toward the world at large, again is confronting an identity crisis.

Is the city of 10,000 residents too welcoming to tourists? Or not enough? Would capping hotel rooms keep the city's economy humming, or curb growth? Does the measure promote the city's image of itself as genuine and historic? Or stuck in the past? Is the attempted end-around the city's planning process a noble act of direct democracy? Or an abuse of the ballot box?

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