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Roughly $150,000 spent on both sides of Sonoma hotel measure


Rival campaigns have spent nearly $150,000 debating a measure that would limit hotel development in Sonoma, likely making it the most expensive ballot issue campaign in the city's history with a little more than a week until votes are tallied.

Campaign statements filed Thursday show that Protect Sonoma, which is opposing Measure B on the Nov. 19 ballot, has outspent the measure's supporters by nearly $30,000.

Nancy Simpson, Protect Sonoma's coordinator, said the money reflects a broad base of support for the group's opposition to the measure.

"We have thousands of people who have reached out to help out with this campaign," Simpson said Friday. "It's clear this is not just a developer-motivated campaign."

Larry Barnett, Measure B's main proponent, said backers are still feeling "confident and comfortable" that the initiative will pass.

Barnett, a former mayor of Sonoma who used to own a bed and breakfast, predicted that Sonoma voters will be turned off by Protect Sonoma's campaign tactics. Such strategies, he said, include "blitzing everyone with mailers" that are "misleading and fear-based."

Simpson said Protect Sonoma's campaign is "based on facts" and she accused Barnett and his allies of "name-calling."

The Hotel Limitation 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. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent.

The city's Planning Commission would have to determine that a large qualifying hotel project, defined in the initiative as more than 25 rooms, does not "adversely affect the historic, small-town character of Sonoma" prior to issuing a use permit, which is the city's current policy. That approval could be appealed to the City Council, but under the new ordinance, a four-fifths' vote would be required for the project to go forward.

The measure is widely viewed 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.

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.

Anderson, who has a home just outside Sonoma city limits, is a Sacramento lobbyist and principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

The special election is estimated to cost the city between $28,000 and $33,000. The city already spent $17,500 on a consultant's report related to the measure.

A county election official said Thursday that 2,296 of 4,727 vote-by-mail ballots had been returned, for a return-rate of 49 percent. The city has 6,782 registered voters.

Protect Sonoma to date has raised $80,191 and spent $89,191 to defeat the measure. That includes $37,556 in non-monetary contributions.

The group brought in $23,538 in cash contributions from Oct. 6 to Nov. 2, with some of the largest donations coming from labor unions, travel groups and construction firms outside Sonoma.

That includes from Unite Here Local 2850 in Oakland ($5,000); San Francisco Travel ($2,000); Sacramento insurance broker Jere Owen ($2,500); Midstate Construction in Petaluma ($1,000) and the California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC in Los Angeles ($1,000).

The bulk of the money paid for mailers, political consultants and research, records show.

Barnett's group, Preserving Sonoma, took in $4,428 over the same reporting period, bringing total contributions for the year to $48,446. That includes $25,000 Barnett loaned the campaign.

The group has spent $57,874, mostly on legal fees related to drafting the proposed ordinance.

Barnett said the group sent one postcard to absentee voters urging them to support Measure B, and that no more mailers are planned.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinderek.