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August, 2003

New Tax Would Promote West Marin Tourism

By Jeanette Pontacq

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Supervisor Gary Giacomini helped facilitate the first small batch of Bed & Breakfasts in West Marin. The stated idea was that such home-grown small businesses could help residents keep their properties and generate needed income. West Marin was a different place then, with less people, less businesses, less traffic, lights and noise.

Fast forward to 2003 and one sees the result of a heavy proliferation of B&Bs throughout the area. Many are still small (with 3 rooms or less) and fit the definition put forth by Supervisor Giacomini. But now there are a growing number of larger hostelries, built specifically as businesses and bearing no resemblance to the original paradigm. The larger establishments have developed a higher political profile with the county and are able to mobilize members more effectively than the much larger number of small businesses in West Marin.

Those larger establishments in West Marin, led mainly by Jeff Harriman of the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge and the 20-member Point Reyes Lodging Group, are promoting the creation of the Marin County Tourism Business Improvement District (MCTBID). The MCTBID is envisioned to reach out to trade shows and business groups to solicit off-season, mid-week bookings of incentive groups and corporate meetings which might help the larger establishments in Marin to weather the present long economic malaise many are feeling. However, opponents offer that advertising is rarely able to target just off-season, mid-week bookings, and would probably just add to the Friday-Sunday masses in West Marin (i.e. the law of unintended consequences).

The MCTBID, first proposed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors on June 24, 2003, proposes to "fund projects, programs and activities that benefit the lodging establishments within the boundaries of the MCTBID, within the participating cities and the County of Marin, including promotion of the MCTBID region as an overnight tourism destination, plus the provision of tourism management and visitor services." The money to fund these purposes would come from a 1% additional tax on lodging establishments and is estimated to be a maximum of $660,000 a year, if all areas participate. Sausalito and Mill Valley have already said they do not want to participate and hope to opt out.

Most of the smaller lodging establishments in West Marin are in strong opposition to it, not only because they would probably not benefit, but because they fear "killing the golden goose" of West Marin (i.e. the reason visitors like it here) by opening the door to industrial tourism.

Opponents also object to another tax to bring in more tourism to West Marin, when the area already seems overrun and is having trouble paying for the very infrastructure (fire, police, roads, paramedics) that such tourism requires. The present Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) of 10%, they say, has been duly collected for years from guests, only to be hijacked into the general fund, with no return to the lodging establishments. What would be different this time, they ask?

Voting on this proposal is screwy....it is constructed in such a way that larger establishments, like Embassy Suites in San Rafael or even the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, have more voting clout than the average small B&B in West Marin. Votes are tabulated according to how many rooms an establishment has. So Embassy Suites gets 235 votes and the average West Marin B&B gets 2 or 3. Since the proposal is automatically enacted unless at least 50% of lodging votes protest, it is almost a physical impossibility for the smaller B&Bs to prevail, although they may be numerically the majority.

Grassroots opposition seems also based on the fact that residents of West Marin who do not have a B&B have no official say on this issue. As one resident of Inverness told me, "only lodging establishments get to vote on whether or not tour buses will show up out here. It impacts my life and I want a voice in the future of my area. I vote no."

Beyond what opponents are calling "the undemocratic protest process" on this issue, opponents hope that the Board of Supervisors will just take West Marin out of the new tourism district, much like Sausalito and Mill Valley. Supervisor Steve Kinsey has told this reporter that he is open to hearing from his constituents on this matter. Steve is smart enough to realize that this is a hot-button issue and that he needs to pay attention to more than just Jeff Harriman. Steve's email is [email protected] Phone number is 415 499 7331. Deadline is August 26, 2003.

KWMR will have an interview/debate on this issue on August 13th at 5:30 p.m. on the Epicenter: West Marin Issues program. The basic question is whether or not West Marin should opt out of the proposed district, much like Sausalito and Mill Valley and what it would mean for residents if the measure goes through on August 26. If you want your voice heard one way or the other, contact Steve Kinsey directly or write the Board of Supervisors at Room 329, Marin County Civic Center, 3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael, California 94903.

 

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