TOT heads to ballot amid hotelier outcry

08/02/2018

The Board of Supervisors has sent Dennis Rodoni’s ballot measure to the ballot: In November, West Marin voters will weigh in on the proposed increase, from 10 to 14 percent, of the transient occupancy tax. 

The hike would affect local hotels, campgrounds and short-term rentals—some of whose owners spoke vociferously against the measure—with the proceeds split equally between community housing and fire services.

Supervisors’ unanimous vote came after months of heated community debate, with fire departments and affordable housing advocates in firm support of the measure and many inn owners and the West Marin Chamber of Commerce blasting it on the grounds of unfair taxation.

During an hour-long public comment period on Tuesday, four people read a letter signed by nine West Marin inn owners protesting the measure and refusing to pay their T.O.T. until “a fair resolution is brought forward to support.”

The letter was spearheaded by Jeff Harriman, a longtime West Marin resident and owner of the Tomales Bay Resort who argued that the measure “offers no real solutions” to housing issues and discriminates against West Marin businesses.

His daughter, Ashley Harriman, insisted that the measure amounted to “ripping off a family trying to take a vacation to solve our community’s problems.”

Other inn owners directly attacked Supervisor Rodoni for initiating the measure. Greg Ferrando, who owns a bed and breakfast in Point Reyes Station, insisted that supervisors were “playing politics” with special interests instead of doing their jobs. 

“What a sham,” he exclaimed. “I think all of you supervisors have been duped by Rodoni and have not done your due diligence for the taxpayers of Marin County.”

Others voiced the need for extra firefighting funds. Pamela Lichtenwalner, a longtime resident of Stinson Beach, said the town relies on volunteer firefighters, many of whom are grandparents. "We are worried about their health when they go out," she said. "We need to be able to pass the T.O.T. tax so we can hire somebody to assist with the fire department.”

Mary Halley, manager of the Muir Beach Community Services District, said her board voted unanimously to support the measure since they are “heavily impacted by the increase of coastal visitors.” Over 90 percent of emergency calls in the district come from visitors and strain existing resources, she said.

Stinson Beach resident Chris Harrington, who is running Supervisor Rodoni’s campaign for the tax, pointed out that the 4 percent increase would amount to $8 a night on a $200 rental, which is “surely not a crippling amount that will damage the businesses.” 

Supervisor Sears agreed with Mr. Harrington, and added that of the nine inns that signed the letter in protest only two offered rooms below $200 a night. “I certainly assumed that there is an ability to pay for visitors to West Marin that would not be significantly impacted by the T.O.T. and, having looked at these room rates, I continue to believe that,” she said.

Supervisor Rodoni concluded the meeting by voicing his readiness to move forward. “I want to thank everyone who spoke today on behalf of the measure and compliment you on how you did it,” he said. “I do not feel the same way for the people that spoke against it. I thought they were rather rude and I apologize for the way they treated the Board of Supervisors today.”