A ringside guide to Friday’s fiery debate on Measures A and B

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Media, February 22, 2021


Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins (left) and allies debated the merits of Measure B with opponents Crista Luedtke (top right), chef owner of Boon Eat and Drink and three other businesses; David Wabel (middle right), campaign manager for No on B; and Bryce Skolfield (bottom right), owner of the Mine + Farm Inn at Guerneville. (The image above is a photo collage from debate video.)

The Russian River Chamber of Commerce sponsored a debate on Friday, Feb. 22, on Measures A and B, which are on the ballot for the March 2 Special Election. (Full disclosure: The author of this piece also served as the moderator at the debate.)

The point of this article is not to repeat the points in the debate video — which is a must watch if you want to understand the issues — but rather to serve as a guide to the debate. There is a time-stamped guide to the video and a video link at the end of the article.

Measure A

Measure A is a three-year, $48-a-year parcel tax, benefitting the West Sonoma County Union High School District. The summary of the measure reads as follows: “To renew and provide stable funding at Analy, El Molino and Laguna High Schools that the State cannot take away; protect music, art, dance, shop, culinary and other career technical programs; retain teachers/staff; keep class sizes low; shall the West Sonoma County Union High School District measure to levy $48 per parcel annually for three years be adopted, raising $1,150,000 annually, have no funds for administrators’ salaries, provide a senior citizens’ exemption and have all funds stay local?”

The language of Measure A doesn’t mention El Molino High School in the text, but the direct result of its passage would mean that the district could put off closing El Molino High School, which is operating at 50% capacity, for another year, while the Sonoma County Office of Education finishes a new unification study. One goal of the unification study is to see if the money saved through unification with surrounding school districts could put the high school district on a surer financial footing. (See more info on unifcation study here: https://bit.ly/3pOEjCN.)

No one appeared in opposition to Measure A, but three El Molino parents — Josh Nultimeier, a former member of the Forestville School Board; Mary Bracken, president of the El Molino Education Foundation; and Steve Griffith, a parent of two El Mo grads and a retired teacher — gave passionate defenses of the measure.

Measure B

Measure B would charge a 4% TOT tax on overnight accommodations in west county.

The language of the measure’s summary reads as follows: “To address tourism impacts on West County communities and paid only by guests, shall the measure be adopted to add an additional 4% transient occupancy tax in West County for hotels and short-term rentals, to support sustainable paramedic emergency medical and rescue services provided by local fire agencies, and to support West County schools and education, raising approximately $2.7 million annually, with all funds exclusively used for West County, effective until amended/repealed?”

This 4% tax would be added on top of the County’s existing 12% TOT, for a combined 16% TOT tax in west county. This would be the second highest TOT in the state. (First place is held by a special economic zone around Disneyland in Anaheim.)

The tax would be paid by tourists as a part of their lodging bill.

Half of the estimated $2.7 million Measure B would raise would be used to fund emergency services in west county and the other half would be used for education in west county.  For the first few years, most of the money for education would go to the West Sonoma County Union High School District to stave off budget cuts at Analy and help keep El Molino High School open for another year.

The debate on Measure B was substantive and feisty, with 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who is spearheading the campaign for Measure B, under attack by a well-organized group of hoteliers and local business owners.

The case for Measure B, which flies under the banner “Tax Tourists Fairly,” was presented by Hopkins, Sonoma County Fire District Chief Mark Heine, and El Molino student Jeanne Broom.

The case against Measure B, with the motto “Save Sonoma Jobs,” was presented by Crista Luedtke, chef owner of four businesses in Guerneville, including Boon Eat and Drink and the Boon hotel and spa; David Wabel, a marketing consultant and campaign manager for No on B; and Bryce Skolfield, owner of the Mine + Farm Inn at Guerneville.

Here is a time-stamped guide to the debate:

0:03:21 Intro to Measure A Discussion.
0:20:41 Intro to Measure B Discussion
0:24:10 The Argument in Favor of Measure B
0:32:34 The Argument against Measure B
0:44:09 Rebuttal from Yes on Measure B
0:50:13 Rebuttal from No on Measure B
0:57:30 Wrap up in favor of Measure B
01:01:32: Wrap up against Measure B
01:04:48 Q&A begins

Watch it here: https://bit.ly/3dF4Mk9