OPINION: Measure B is bad policy and I won’t stand for it

By Crista Luedtke, SaveSonomaJobs.org, February 28, 2021

crista-luedtke

Crista Luedtke, owner, boon eat +drink, boon hotel +spa, El Barrio Bar, and Brot Restaurant, opposes Measure B, the west county TOT tax.

I don’t typically get political but Measure B is bad policy, and I won’t stand for it.

For much of the last 11 months, I have had three of my four hospitality businesses closed. I’ve had to get creative to pay the bills, negotiate with landlords, apply for more loans. It’s nearly a year of dealing with COVID, the hardest year of my life, and it’s clearly still a long haul before I’m back in the black, and we are out of these crazy protocols and restrictions. I can’t believe we are even considering an additional tax on hospitality which will only slow our recovery and hurt family-owned businesses like mine.

We all agree that we need solutions to help fund our schools and emergency services, but Measure B undermines that effort. Moreover, it places a tax with no end date on lodging operators to fix a short-term budget gap while not considering the long-term effects this tax will have our businesses and our recovery. This is not good policy making.

The lodging industry (which feeds restaurants, retail, wineries and so many other business) is down 40% in occupancy and is facing even higher operating costs to manage COVID mitigation. Building a funding mechanism on the backs of this already struggling industry is just bad policy that seems poorly planned.

The crazy spinning of the facts is frankly making me crazy!  

The proponents of Measure B have built their campaign on the message to “Tax Tourists Fairly,” yet this measure does anything but that. It only taxes overnight guests. Over four million people visit the coast every year. In 2020, even though over half the year all the lodging properties were closed due to COVID, our coast saw record visitation, clearly demonstrating that most visitors are actually day trippers and other Sonoma county locals, not overnight lodging guests. If we want to in fact tax fairly then let’s do that.  If the four million people that visit the coast last year each paid $1 that’s $4 million! Now that’s stable funding.  Proponents have said that 80% of the emergency medical service (EMS) calls are “tourists;” again that is another false statement.  Chief Mark Heine and Supervisor Hopkins admit that they can’t specifically tell you where these visitors come from, they only know they don’t live in the Bodega Bay fire district.  So unless you live in Bodega Bay, you and I are both “tourists.”

Let’s get creative, not regressive.

Let’s tax the people who use the services; that’s fair. Or tax all of the visitors, not just some. Where’s the equity in only taxing overnight guests?

It’s equally important for people to know that there is a sales tax measure coming in November that is poised to fix the EMS issue and provide more funding for our much needed emergency services. So why then Measure B?

Everything about Measure B was rushed, not well thought out. Do you know why?

I voted for Supervisor Hopkins because she said she was about the people, about equity, not politics.  Let’s shine some light on the truths. Because Measure B was hastily crafted in only three weeks as a Hail Mary pass, the taxation area actually crosses into another school district, Shoreline School District, not just the West County School District. Measure B was crafted to delay the consolidation of the West County high schools.  Where’s the equity in that taxation model?  Collecting TOT from all of the Bodega Bay lodging properties, the lion’s share of 5th District TOT, who also all happened to be in the Shoreline District, but then handing over the funds to WCUHSD does not seem fair to me nor the children of the Shoreline School District. Where’s the equity here? It doesn’t appear that anyone did their homework on this measure. How could they in just three weeks?

We need to work together to find solutions to fund our schools.

Let’s focus on the schools; let’s find them stable sources of funding. Let’s engage the people involved. Key stakeholders like myself and many others, never had a voice at the table to find real solutions. We are a very smart group of parents, business owners and community leaders — we can and should find real solutions.

Measure B isn’t the right fit and, with no end date, after the initial phase of funding, measure B becomes another Supervisor’s slush fund. There is no plan.

We need to hold our officials accountable, not just raise taxes and create new problems for businesses in a district and a community that is struggling to come back out of a pandemic (and fires and floods before that!).

Measure B slows our recovery!

Dr. Robert Eyler, one of Sonoma State University’s leading economic researchers, has provided data that Measure B will slow our economic recovery. I can’t say this more clearly, MEASURE B will SLOW our ECONOMIC RECOVERY. The truth is there if you want to read it, but many have been swept up in the emotion created by our elected officials. (Read Eyeler’s analysis here.)

Supervisor Hopkins continues to tell us that the last time the BOS raised TOT (from 9 to 12% in 2017) that it didn’t have a negative effect. This is false!  When the TOT was last raised, occupancy and room rate (per the STR report) for the county went down over all of our high season months (and I’ll remind you we were not coming out of a pandemic). We have the data. It’s simple math but the misinformation continues to be put out to the community by a trusted elected official. Where is the accountability?

I care deeply about this community and everyone in it, even if we don’t vote the same on this measure.  

But I won’t stand behind bad policy and regressive tax measures. I will fight for this community as I have since I moved here. I want to fight for our jobs and our schools but I won’t put up with bad policy that impacts us for the long haul.

I remember what my town looked like in 2007, so many things were boarded up and for lease…I don’t want to see us go back. We need a middle ground.  If this was a three-year tax measure, short term like the problem it’s trying to fix, we likely wouldn’t be having this conversation.

However, if passed, this tax will live on for us in perpetuity — only west county, not our neighboring towns of Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, putting west county at an unfair disadvantage. Only the 5th District will have a 4% higher TOT—totaling 16%—the second highest in the state, and our family-owned businesses will continue to suffer.

It’s real to me! I have 35 local people still on furlough that I want to bring back. Measure B won’t help that. For our elected officials to put this ballot measure out without seeking input from the very stakeholders that are affected, is just not right. We deserve better policy making. Our schools deserve better, more stable funding. Measure B is not the right fix.

To me this is about doing the right thing, opposing bad policy.  Vote NO on B. Then let’s continue the conversation to find real solutions. I’m committed to that. March 2nd VOTE NO ON B!

If you want real facts and data, please visit www.savesonomajobs.org.

Crista Luedtke is the owner, boon eat +drink, boon hotel +spa, El Barrio Bar, and Brot Restaurant and the chair of the Committee to SaveSonomaJobs.org.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an opinion piece. It represents the opinion of the author of the piece, Crista Luedtke, and does not reflect the opinion or beliefs of Townsy Media or its owners.