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.

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