PAC formed to oppose Sonoma hotel initiative

A new Sonoma organization describing itself as a broad citizens group opposed to a voter initiative to cap hotel development is getting its seed money from the developer whose controversial project could be blocked by the proposed ballot measure.

Nancy Simpson, the campaign coordinator for Protect Sonoma, which is being formed as a political action committee, said the ballot measure is not needed because the city already has adequate controls on hotel development. "This is not about any particular project," Simpson said. "This is about Sonoma as a whole."

She acknowledged, however, that Darius Anderson and his firm, Kenwood Investments, are paying her to manage the organization. Anderson is the developer of a proposed 59-room hotel near the city Plaza that has become a flashpoint in the debate over hotel development.

Neither Anderson nor Kenwood Investments was identified in last week's press release announcing the new committee and its members, nor are they referenced on the group's website or Facebook page.

"This is seed money to start a group that was starting anyway," said Simpson, co-owner of a wine consulting business. She would not disclose her compensation or the amount of Anderson's contribution.

Neither Anderson nor Bill Hooper, the investment firm's president, returned calls seeking comment this week. Anderson also is a principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

The proposed ballot measure would cap any new hotel, or expansion of an existing one, at 25rooms unless the city's hotel occupancy rate over the previous calendar year exceeded 80percent. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent.

Simpson, who is Sonoma Valley's designee to the county Landmarks Commission, said residents already have a say about what kind of hotel development they want in town. "We have a process in place that evaluates every project that comes into the city of Sonoma on a case-by-case basis. It's based on the general plan," she said.

Other critics have said the measure would stymie economic growth in Sonoma and result in a de facto ban on most hotels by setting an impossibly high occupancy standard.

Sonoma has never experienced an annualized occupancy rate of 80 percent, according to City Manager Carol Giovanatto. She cited a national travel survey that found only three U.S. locales have achieved that rate — San Francisco, New York City and Waikiki Beach.

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