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Sonoma County Gazette
River Community Advocates

What’s Our Fair Share of the Tourist Tax?

Nov 30, 2018
by Jeniffer Wertz, Russian River Advocates


Transient Occupancy or TOT Tax.

There is always a lot of talk about how the West County generates the lion’s share of the Transient Occupancy Tax, or TOT tax.  For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a bed tax that hotels and vacation rentals in Sonoma County charge their guests.  It was 9% of the rental rate until Measure L was approved by the voters in 2016, which increased the tax rate to 12%.  It’s important to remember the additional 3%, or Measure funds, are supposed to be used to offset the impacts of tourism on our communities; however per State law the original 9% is discretionary.

The 5th District that encompasses the unincorporated Lower River resort and Coastal areas generates about 40% of the approximately $18.3m a year in TOT tax, not including the additional $4m generated by AIRBNB throughout the entire County.  The total TOT revenue to the County including AIRBNB for fiscal year 2017-18 is about $22.3m, however the additional $4m in AIRBNB revenue is not broken down by district, therefore it is difficult to determine how much of that is being generated by the 5th District.  It would likely bump up the number to about 47%, or $10.5m.  

The allocation breakdowns (as best that it could be determined based on the reports provided) indicate the money is distributed approximately in the following ways:

  • 33% of total goes into the County’s General Fund (a recent increase approved by the Board from the previous 25%)
  • $10.1m funds County Departments
  • $2.1m goes to Sonoma County Tourism Bureau
  • $1.5m used for Measure L (Fire Services, Tourism Impact Funds)
  • $1.5m is left for Grant Funds that are allocated to various things in specific districts
  • 5th District directly received $310k in Grant Funds, though may have also received some of the additional $500k in Workforce Grants allocated throughout the County (again, no specific break down provided for the Workforce Grants)
  • The TOT tax was addressed by the Board of Supervisors as an agenda item on November 13th.  The 5th District was well represented with members of the Guerneville Community Alliance, the Guernewood Neighborhood Association, Friends and Residents of Guerneville (FROG), and others from Forestville to Cazadero in attendance.  There was also a contingency of Fire Department representatives from Forestville and Bodega Bay Fire Departments.  Many speakers stood up and made their pitch to the Board.
  • Bodega Bay Fire representatives spoke of how in addition to generating much more TOT tax than other areas in the County, their property owners pay an additional $524 a year for Fire Department services that other areas do not pay.  Their Department covers a huge remote area, and sometimes does not have the resources it needs to respond to emergency calls for service.  Most of their resources are being used responding to emergencies involving tourists, who do not pay property taxes in Sonoma County, leaving property tax payers footing the bill, and being left without adequate emergency services.
  • Several member of FROG spoke to the Board and made the following requests –
  • a siren alarm system for fire & disaster alerts (cell service void in many areas)
  • unding for a new fire department building that can withstand an earthquake, and an advanced cardiac care ambulance
  • replace and expand all sidewalks downtown to eliminate hazards and comply with ADA rules
  • daily trash pick-up services for downtown and the walking bridge
  • additional public restrooms
  • pedestrian crosswalks with flashing lights at 3 main intersections
  • web camera installation at key areas for use by Fire and Sheriff
  • funds for clearing dead undergrowth and fire hazards on private lands for owner non-compliant properties
  • require PG&E and cable companies to install underground lines from the Fulton sub-station to the Coast

The Board of Supervisors primarily discussed and agreed that the TOT tax allocation is too complicated and needs to be updated and simplified.  The Board agreed to postpone the matter to be revisited after the 1st of the year.  

After attending the meeting, asking all the questions, and reviewing all the reports provided, I’m left with the same question I started with.  How much of the approximately $10.5m in TOT tax that the 5th District generates is being spent in the 5th District.  The answer is, I don’t know…and that’s the point.  Maybe we should try to get this question answered?

If you would like to be notified when the TOT tax issue is again addressed by the BOS, e-mail  When contacting the Board of Supervisors, remember – it’s not just our 5th District Supervisor that we have to convince, as that is just one vote.  E-mails should be addressed to all five Supervisors.

If you would like to learn more about the Lower River Area Community Alliances, become involved as a volunteer, or if you have some community concerns or solutions you would like to share, you can “like” our Guerneville Community Alliance and/or Russian River Alliance FB pages, or visit our website at  You can also contact Jeniffer Wertz at 707-483-7038 (Guerneville), or Chuck Ramsey at 707-239-1639 (Monte Rio).




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