Sonoma signature gatherers quarter way to goal

Proponents of an initiative to limit hotel development in Sonoma say they have gathered about 25 percent of the signatures needed to qualify the measure for a special election.

Larry Barnett, a former mayor and the main proponent of the ballot measure, said workers have collected about 250 of the 1,017 signatures of registered voters needed to force the election. He said the petitioning process of his group, Preserving Sonoma, is just getting fully organized.

Barnett, who formerly owned a bed and breakfast inn, also sharply criticized a poll paid for by a developer seeking to build a 59-room luxury hotel near Sonoma's plaza — a project that would be blocked if the measure succeeded. He denounced the poll as a deliberate attempt on the part of Kenwood Investments to influence public opinion.

"The poll completely distorts and misrepresents both what I'm saying and what the initiative technically does," said Larry Barnett. "It's more along the lines of a push poll."

Push polls are generally intended to sway or shape public opinion while conventional survey polls are intended to guage levels of public opinion on issues.

Darius Anderson, who owns Kenwood Investments, issued a statement Friday confirming that the company conducted a survey "because we want to know what the community thinks about the issue of hotels and tourism."

Neither Anderson nor Bill Hooper, the investment firm's president, would provide details about the poll, such as who conducted it or its methodology.

Anderson is a principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

The poll is another indication of how things are heating up in Sonoma over the proposed initiative, which would cap any new hotel or expansion of an existing one to 25 rooms unless the city's hotel occupancy rate over the previous calendar year exceeded 80 percent. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent.

Preserving Sonoma contends that the measure is necessary to protect the city's quality of life from what its members consider to be major hotel development.

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