Proponents of an initiative to limit hotel development in Sonoma say they have gathered more than enough signatures needed to qualify the measure for a special election.
However, politicking over the measure is well underway, with campaign literature paid for by opponents of the hotel measure already circulating around town.
Also, the developer of a proposed 59-room hotel that is at the center of the debate is making an unusually direct plea for people to support the project.
Darius Anderson of Kenwood Investments sent a letter to all 6,750 registered voters in Sonoma inviting their feedback and offering to meet with people one-on-one at his office.
"There's a tremendous amount of misinformation out there about me," Anderson said this week.
His plan is to build the hotel on West Napa Street a half-block south of the historic Plaza.<NO1><NO> It was initially proposed as Chateau Sonoma Hotel & Spa, a French-themed complex with two restaurants, a health club and spa, event center and 2,800 square feet of retail space. Anderson withdrew that proposal for revision, and said the new design calls for the same number of rooms but a smaller physical footprint, with one restaurant and a smaller event center. The French theme was replaced by a design that will celebrate writer Jack London, he said.
The proposed hotel limitation measure 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. The city has never had an annualized occupancy rate of 80 percent, according to City Manager Carol Giovanatto.
The measure is backed by a group called Preserving Sonoma that contends it is necessary to protect the city's quality of life from what its members consider to be major hotel development.
Larry Barnett, a former mayor<NO1><NO> and bed-and breakfast owner and the main proponent of the ballot measure, said volunteers have collected more than 1,500 signatures, about 500 more than needed to force the election. He said the group plans to submit the signatures to the city the first week of July.
The City Council could adopt the proposal as written or schedule a special election no later than November. City officials estimate the cost of such an election to be about $30,000.
A group called Protect Sonoma that received start-up money from Anderson's company has begun circulating flyers in the city. The flyers feature testimonials from people who say they are opposed to the hotel limitation measure and include several "key facts" about the initiative.
Barnett criticized the flyer, saying it contains inaccurate information. He noted that one <NO1><NO>of the listed facts states that the proposed ballot measure would not allow for any more hotel rooms in Sonoma unless the hotel occupancy rate exceeds 80 percent the prior calendar year. However, new hotels or hotel expansions of 25 rooms or less would not be affected by the measure.
"I and our committee members are counting on the basic decency of this community to not be fooled or swayed by the honey or vinegar that's going to be tossed around," Barnett said.
Anderson, however, said he's been the target of a misinformation campaign on the part of ballot measure supporters. Anderson is a Sonoma resident, Democratic fundraiser and Sacramento lobbyist. He also is the principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.