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Pacaso: You can’t unring a warning bell

Rue Furch, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The latest assault on the social fabric of our rural neighborhoods has arrived. The Pacaso LLC business model sells a “fractional ownership” to eight parties, providing access to a rural mansion multiple times a year. There is no limit on the number of people occupying the timeshare and the model skirts the obligation to pay Transient Occupancy Tax. Pacaso’s “party pads” are now found in Santa Rosa, Dry Creek Valley and Napa County, with more timeshare sales underway.

Pacaso is just the latest destructive element in “Tourism’s Faustian Deal” – the term coined at a 2015 NapaVision2050 Conference, where tourism and economic experts presented compelling data about Napa’s tourist-based economy and its unintended consequences both to communities and public trust resources.

Organizations have formed across Sonoma County including in Sonoma Valley (StopPacasoNow) and Dry Creek Valley (S.C.A.T. – Sonoma County Against Timeshares). Preserve Rural Sonoma County presented data to Sonoma’s decision makers demonstrating that the “Arm’s Race” for winery use permits was resulting in destructive competition, and that the inevitable economic course correction would result in harm to our signature small, family wineries.

Despite subsequent disruption from fire, flood and drought, Napa and Sonoma officials ignored expert advice and gave in to the lure of “Tourism’s Faustian Deal” – seemingly ignoring tourism’s external costs. The 2020-21 pandemic brought the economic realities home to tourist-oriented businesses.

Meanwhile, cities continued permitting hotel rooms and large-scale restaurants, while County officials opened ag and forest lands to accessory dwelling units, with no restrictions limiting their use as vacation rentals. New residents are building massive water and energy-intensive structures for use a few weeks each year, or for the short-term rental market.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/pacaso-you-cant-unring-a-warning-bell/

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Guernewood Park resort developers seeking minor land use changes

Rollie Atkinson, SOCONEWS

120-room destination project has been proposed since 2008, delayed by local economy cycles

A 10-acre riverfront parcel at the center of Guernewood Park has set vacant for almost 50 years since the half-abandoned Ginger’s Rancho resort was torched by vandals. Before that it was the site for almost a century of the Guernewood Park Resort that hosted big band dances, tourists debarked from excursion trains, beach revelers and bowling and roller rink enthusiasts.

The current owner of the property, Kirk Lok, of Lok Hospitality, has been trying to win final approvals to build a new resort since at least 1998. On Oct. 28, Sonoma County’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will hold a public hearing to consider approval to allow for a streamside conservation plan and riparian zone encroachment for his 120-room development. Most of the approvals for a Guernewood Park resort have been previously granted as ebbs and flows of the local economy and tourism business have stalled Lok’s timing to break ground.

Lok recently brought in a new investment partner, Noble House Hotels & Resorts, which owns and manages high-end destination properties on the west coast and beyond. The firm is based in Kirkland, Washington.

The Oct. 28 hearing will begin at 1 p.m. and is a virtual meeting hosted on Zoom. The meeting I.D. is 962-4871-2760 and the passcode is 693832. The project was the subject of a recent a Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council meeting where concerns were raised about increased traffic on Highway 116 and a shortage of nearby worker housing for the proposed 37 employees. Several MAC members also voiced support for the project that includes public access to the river and the preservation of hundreds of mature redwood trees. The site is bordered on the east by Hulbert Creek.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_sebastopol_west_county/news/guernewood-park-resort-developers-seeking-minor-land-use-changes/article_82afdbd4-342d-11ec-bf71-6361653fa09d.html?

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A startup is turning houses into corporations, and the neighbors are fighting back

Greg Rosalsky, NPR

On a sleepy cul-de-sac amid the bucolic vineyards and grassy hills of California’s Sonoma Valley, a $4 million house has become the epicenter of a summer-long spat between angry neighbors and a new venture capital-backed startup buying up homes around the nation. The company is called Pacaso. It says it’s the fastest company in American history to achieve the “unicorn” status of a billion-dollar valuation — but its quarrels in wine country, one of the first regions where it’s begun operations, foreshadow business troubles ahead.

Brad Day and his wife, Holly Kulak, were first introduced to Pacaso in May after a romantic sunset dinner in their yard. “And we just saw this drone, coming up and over our backyard,” Day says. “And we’re like, what is that?”

Pacaso denies directing or paying a drone operator to film the neighborhood. But its website does have drone photos of the house in question, located at 1405 Old Winery Court. It says it bought the photos after the fact.

Nonetheless, after the drone incident, Day and Kulak got suspicious about what was going on in their neighborhood. About a week later, their neighbors told them they were moving and selling their house to a limited liability corporation, or LLC. But they were super vague about it.

Day and Kulak began speaking with other residents on their cul-de-sac. One of them, Nancy Gardner, had learned from a friend in nearby Napa Valley about a new company called Pacaso that was buying houses in the area. The company was co-founded by a Napa resident, and it converts houses into LLCs. Pacaso then sells shares of these corporate houses to multiple investors. Gardner Googled Pacaso, and, sure enough, the house on their cul-de-sac was on its website. The company had named the house “Chardonnay” and was now selling investors the chance to buy a one-eighth share of it for $606,000.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2021/08/24/1030151330/a-unicorn-startup-is-turning-houses-into-corporations

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Sonoma County winery events could be limited by Planning Commission

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After years of wrangling, Sonoma County officials are moving forward this week with a measure that will spell out what wineries can and can’t do when it comes to hosting events.

It’s the latest chapter in a long debate that has pitted the politically powerful sector against local activists and residents who say an influx of tourists is threatening their quality of life with traffic congestion and noise.

The county’s Planning Commission will hold a Thursday meeting in which the panel intends to vote on a draft ordinance that has been crafted by staff.

Planning Commission Meeting information

Planning officials searched for a middle ground between the interests of a main economic driver in the county against mobilized community groups in the areas of Sonoma Valley, Westside Road and Dry Creek Valley where the issue has become a flash point. Permit Sonoma held a virtual forum in February to solicit suggestions from stakeholders and their input went into the document.

The ordinance would set new standards for winery events, spelling out rules covering parking and traffic management; food service; event coordination with neighbors; and noise.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-winery-events-could-be-limited-by-planning-commission/

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Montage Healdsburg builder seeks to renegotiate deal with city as resort nears opening

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Initial discussions are underway between the builder of a long-planned luxury hotel just months away from completion in Healdsburg and city officials over public benefits in the original development deal that the builder wants to forgo, including on-site construction of affordable housing.

Montage Healdsburg, touted as the city’s first five-star hotel, is set to open by December, about 15 years after the previously named Saggio Hills project was put forward on 258 wooded acres on the north side of town. It includes 130 rooms and suites ranging from $695 to $1,695 a night, and plans for up to 70 villa-style homes.

But as the finishing touches on the hotel are put in place, the Robert Green Company, the Encinitas-based developer, and project subsidiary Sonoma Luxury Resort, are seeking to renegotiate some of the public amenities called for in the 2011 approval that paved the way for the project, previously estimated to cost up to $310 million.

In exchange for a $7.25 million cash payment to the city, Robert Green Jr., the company’s president and chief executive officer, wants to forgo on-site development of affordable housing and other public amenities he was required to provide, including a fire substation, construction of a community park, a trail network and two public roadways meant to aid emergency evacuation and link with the nearby Parkland Farms subdivision.

On the 14-acre affordable housing site, which Green was to grade for the city before handing over for construction, the developer instead wants place an open space easement, barring future building. The cash payment would be intended in part to help finance equivalent housing elsewhere in the city.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/montage-healdsburg-builder-seeks-to-renegotiate-deal-with-city-as-resort-ne/

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A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future

Henry Wismayer, THE WASHINGTON POST

…the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

A future without travel? Until recently, I admit, it’s not a concept I’ve been able to imagine, much less embrace. Ever since I turned 18, I have shaped my life, and scratched a writer’s living, around the pursuit of foreign places. In that time, the weeks that I spend overseas have often seemed like a prerequisite of contentment: a source of not only stimulation, but also self-actualization.

That is how vital travel can feel to those of us who let it. In an era in which spirituality has in many ways been supplanted by a quest for temporal experience, to venture abroad is to accumulate evidence that we are making the best of our short time on Earth. Bask in the afterglow of the last adventure. Count down to the next.

At least that’s how it used to be.

For the last few months, the borders have closed, and the skies have emptied. The cruise ships have all docked, the hotels have shuttered. Suddenly, those of us who love to travel have found ourselves living in a strange limbo, lavished with a surfeit of time, yet deprived of the liberty to take full advantage of it.

In the months since the coronavirus outbreak pushed much of the global population into quarantine, many of us have sought distraction, even enchantment, in photographs of the newly empty human world. Among these, tourist attractions can seem among the most poignant and uncanny, for it is rare that we get to see these places without the throngs of visitors that usually populate them. It is interesting to consider what our response to these images suggests about travel today.

Of course, there is longing. The sight of famous destinations, absent crowds and traffic, evoke a Sartre-like ideal — travel, without the hell of other people — that only accentuates their enticement. But alongside this desire, for me at least, there is also melancholy, for it is impossible to witness the serenity of the paused planet without feeling a tinge of regret for what travel has become. In the same way that some of us have found a misanthropic thrill in apocryphal tales of dolphins swimming up a Venice canal, or satellite images of pollution dissipating over China, the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

Recently, I marked 10 years of travel writing feeling uneasy about the state of modern tourism. In part, my idea of foreign places had become infected by the unavoidable backdrop of an angrier, destabilizing world. And while millions still jumped on planes for leisure, I couldn’t shake the creeping sense that so much of what we call travel is extractive, the commodification of someone else’s sunshine, culture and photogenic views. In my most cynical moments, I had started to see travel as something monstrous, a vector of humanity’s infestation that has evolved out of all proportion with what the planet can sustain.

Last summer, I looked on, aghast and complicit, as the world’s most celebrated sights and cities were inundated like never before. Regions once off-limits to all but the most intrepid now teemed with rubberneckers from every corner of the world. Those tourists brought with them a litany of collateral issues, from environmental damage and consumer price inflation to cultural insensitivity and urban displacement. Lines snaked beneath the summit of Mount Everest. Behemoth cruise ships jostled for space at the Venice quayside.
Continue reading “A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future”

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Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport sets record for January passengers

Kevin Fixler, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The popularity of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport continues to grow, with the regional hub recording its highest-ever passenger count for the month of January.

Nearly 37,000 commercial passengers traveled through the local airport during the first month of 2020, which represented a 30% increase from the same time last year. In January 2019, Sonoma County airport counted another record for the month, with 28,400 passengers — an 8% gain from the prior year.
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County airport adding more flights to major hubs

With the addition of new routes, including the introduction of nonstop flights to Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth in 2019, the local airport set a new record last year with more than 488,000 passengers. The all-time high maintained a decadelong streak of annual growth.

The airport, which began offering commercial service in 2007, expects to add three more flights later this year, which at its peak will bring the number of daily departing flights to 19. American Airlines already launched a second daily flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Feb. 13. Starting March 19, Alaska Airlines will add a second daily route to each of San Diego and Orange County.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10727039-181/charles-m-schulz-sonoma-county-airport

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Montage Healdsburg resort developer recommended for $4.9 million fine for environmental violations

Mary Callahan & Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a luxury Healdsburg resort faces a record $4.9 million fine for egregious environmental violations after allowing an estimated 6.6 million gallons of sediment-laden runoff to leave the construction site during heavy rainfall last winter, threatening already imperiled fish species in tributaries of the Russian River.

Staffers for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board documented 38 violations of the federal Clean Water Act between October 2018 and May 2019 by developer Robert Green Jr., the owner of Montage Healdsburg, previously known as Saggio Hills.

The violations — hundreds of examples of them — were observed during repeat inspections, despite warnings to the developer of inadequate efforts to control erosion and runoff at the 258-acre site, according to regulatory documents.

Board personnel twice suspended construction through work stoppage orders, yet deficiencies still were abundant once crews were given permission to resume work, regulators said.

Even though there were points at which improvements were made, erosion control measures such as straw wattles and coverings for bare, exposed ground were not maintained, said Claudia Villacorta, the water quality control board’s prosecution team assistant executive officer.

Eventually, the controls were removed while wet weather still lay ahead so that a storm that came through in mid-May rained on the landscape without anti-erosion measures in place, she said.

“We felt like the conduct was, frankly, grossly negligent,” Villacorta said by phone. “They repeatedly failed to take action, implement effective practices, and I think that’s the reason why the penalty — the proposed fine — was significant.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10619065-181/montage-healdsburg-resort-developer-recommended

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After another record-breaking year, Sonoma County airport adding more flights on established routes

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Commercial carriers operating out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport will add four direct fights on existing routes early this year, building on the growth in local air travel after another record-breaking year for passenger numbers in and out of Santa Rosa.

American Airlines will add a second daily flight next month to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The world’s largest airline launched service from Santa Rosa to its Phoenix hub in February 2017, and will increase service Feb. 13 with an evening flight, supplementing its existing early afternoon departure.

American Airlines also is set to resume its flights in April to Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles International airports. The routes debuted last summer as seasonal offerings but passenger counts were high enough on each flight that the airline is planning to offer them year-round this year, according to airport officials.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10590414-181/after-another-record-breaking-year-sonoma

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Sonoma County reviewing pitches for two large hotel projects near Santa Rosa airport

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Developers are proposing to build a pair of large hotels near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, more than tripling the number of hotel rooms to serve travelers at the growing transportation hub.

The two projects, each more than 100 rooms, could help the Santa Rosa airport draw more regional travelers who currently head to Bay Area hubs in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and even east to Sacramento to catch their flights, according to local airport and economic development officials.

The developments, which would open next year, are working their way through the county’s permit review process. The first, a six-story, 166-room luxury Hyatt Place, would offer conference rooms, a roof deck and restaurant about 300 yards away from the airport. The second, a four-story, 101-room Tru by Hilton, would be located near the Highway 101 offramp.

They would join the existing hotel near the airport, a 90-room Hilton Garden Inn next to the highway that also provides meeting spaces for guests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10571140-181/sonoma-county-reviewing-pitches-for