OPINION: Measure B – West County Funds for West County’s Future
By Lynda Hopkins, Kellie Noe, and Charlie Bone, Yes on B campaign, "Tax Tourists Fairly", February 28, 2021
“Good governance and equity require that visitors that are benefitting from local government services and housing help pay the burden of the services provided to them, rather than allowing the burden to fall mainly on the resident taxpayers.” — Proposed West County Transient Occupancy Tax Ordinance
It is time for tourists to fairly contribute towards the impacts they have on West Sonoma County. The impacts from tourism have reached a tipping point, placing undue burden on our fire and emergency response system, and on the ability of our schools to prepare our future workforce. Measure B seeks to amend these two areas of impact from the tourism industry in a fair way, by adding a 4% tax to overnight stays, called a TOT tax, to fund emergency services and education.
There have been direct impacts on both our schools and local fire departments from increased visitor stays, as evidenced on any busy day at the coast as traffic backs up Highway 1. Currently, fire and emergency medical services are funded solely by local taxpayers, despite the fact that tourists use the majority of the services in some areas of West Sonoma County. More concerning, is when public ambulance services are transporting tourists, locals are currently left without a nearby ambulance to respond to their own emergency medical needs.
The statistics speak for themselves. In Bodega Bay, 80% of the patients transported to hospitals by the District’s Paramedic Ambulance are tourists/non-taxpayers. Approximately 1,000 people live in Bodega Bay, but State Parks and the Tourism Bureau estimate that somewhere between four and six million visitors flock to our coastline every year. Adding a four dollar fee for every $100 that tourists spend on lodging will not stop them from visiting, but it will ensure tourists pay for part of the cost of providing the emergency services they use while they are here.
From public meetings to direct voter outreach, many West County forums have sought to address the ever-increasing impacts of tourism. The impacts described by residents include: litter on beaches; overflowing trash cans in parks and downtowns; illegal parking in residential neighborhoods; vacation rental noise; hotels operating in violation of public health orders; tourists monopolizing our public fire and emergency services; and loss of affordable housing stock.
To be clear, we don’t think tourism is a bad thing. We are lucky to live in a beautiful place that people want to visit. And we must also acknowledge the tourism impacts on small rural communities. We believe that tourists should pay modest taxes, as proposed in Measure B, the West County Transient Occupancy Tax, specifically to offset some of the impacts they create. Currently, locals are subsidizing tourists. We are simply asking for tourists to pay their fair share, and contribute to the public services they impact. In 2018, a similar bed tax measure passed in West Marin. The new bed tax has not deterred tourists from continuing to flock to coastal Marin, and the revenue generated has gone a long way towards offsetting their impacts.
Measure B will raise an estimated $2.7 million per year. Half of that revenue will go to paramedic emergency medical and rescue services. The other half will go to education.
Education may at first glance seem an odd linkage to tourism, but upon closer inspection, the two are closely linked. As our area has been discovered, we have experienced a proliferation of second homes and vacation rentals in West County. In fact 46% of the vacation rentals in the entire County of Sonoma lie within the West County area. As the price of housing has increased, families can no longer afford to live in the area, leading to declining school enrollment which is how schools are funded.
Additionally, the seasonal nature of tourism — too much in the summer, too little in the winter — has led to many low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet, and to live locally in an expensive destination housing market. Funding for education can support rural schools, and also enable us to invest in job training and skill building opportunities for residents of all ages. We believe that our local school system is critical to the success of our small towns, and that our local economy will benefit when our workforce has access to educational, career-enhancing opportunities.
A huge incentive for locals is the fact that Measure B guarantees return-to-source funding. With Measure B, there is no way to pull money away from West County, or away from the dedicated purposes of education and paramedic emergency services. Measure B also creates an oversight committee of local residents to ensure that education funds will be spent in a way that maximizes community benefits.
The opponents of Measure B would like you to believe that adding a four percent bed tax will stop people from visiting West County. In reality the last time Sonoma County voters approved an increase to the tourist tax, visitorship did not go down. In fact, tourism actually increased the following year. This trend has repeated in numerous examples across the State of CA.
It’s also worth noting that more than $8 million per year of tourist taxes currently go toward marketing and advertising efforts designed to bring more tourists to West County. The hoteliers opposing Measure B do not have a problem taxing tourists in order to fund a Destination Marketing Organization at a level of more than $8 million per year. If it is acceptable to tax tourists to fund marketing efforts, we don’t understand why hoteliers have a problem taxing tourists to fund firefighters and teachers.
We are honored to have the support of a number of respected and active community organizations. Education focused groups like the Forestville Education Foundation, El Molino Boosters, and the West Sonoma California Teachers Association have endorsed, in addition to the Sonoma County Democratic Party, the City of Sebastopol, and the West Sonoma County Union High School District. We are also endorsed by a number of worker and healthy workplace promoting organizations, like SEIU 1021, the North Bay Labor Council, Operating Engineers Local 3, Teamsters 665, and the Bodega Bay and Sonoma County Professional Firefighters Associations. Measure B is good for workers, and is good for our local economy because it supports the education of our future workforce as well as results in new hires via badly needed paramedics to bolster our local emergency medical response.
Our brave men and women firefighter-paramedics are our safety net, and our public education system is critical to our workforce and economic development. Tourist taxes can strengthen our safety net and train our future and current workforce. We encourage you to join us in voting Yes on Measure B.
Lynda Hopkins, 5th District County Supervisor
Kellie Noe, West Sonoma County Union High School District Board Trustee
Charlie Bone, Bodega Bay Fire Protection District Board Member
Find more information at https://www.taxtouristsfairly.org/
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an opinion piece. It represents the opinion of the authors of the piece and does not reflect the opinion or beliefs of Townsy Media or its owners.