Sonoma’s Touristary-Industrial Complex

When President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned Americans about the Military-Industrial Complex he added a new metaphor into our cultural frame of reference, namely the emergence of collusion between government and industry systemically embedded within and affecting everyday lives. His prophetic comments fell on deaf ears, and America now has 800 bases around the globe and spends $600 billion yearly on its military.

So too, the power of the Touristary-Industrial Complex is now global; a network of massive hotel and hospitality corporations fuel tourist economies in locations ranging from Amazonian rain forests to artificial islands in Abu Dhabi and all points in-between, including Sonoma.

In becoming systemically embedded, the Touristary-Industrial Complex has spawned a development industry all its own, complete with banking, consulting, planning, politicking and propaganda divisions designed to seamlessly engage with government bureaucracy. Virtually impenetrable to the average citizen, the Complex presents economic, technical and procedural barriers intended to reduce the impacts of public opinion while creating the illusion of transparency and attention to public concerns.

This has been accomplished by mirroring a “scientific” methodology now entirely dependent upon specialists, experts, sophisticated digital technology, and legal strategy. Matters of traffic and circulation, for example, are now the domain of consulting specialists, their “data-driven methodology” declared far superior to the everyday experience of residents. The same is true of pollution, water, sewage, noise, and land-use; all first-hand resident experience has been subordinated to reliance on scientific reductionism, the victory of quantitative analysis over qualitative knowledge. So deeply embedded is the methodology of the Touristary-Industrial Complex that public opinion is now pejoratively deemed merely anecdotal, even by the courts of law.

The politicking and propaganda divisions of The Complex are used to confuse and obfuscate both citizens and elected officials. The Planning Commission and City Council are “buried in paper,” overwhelmed with data, statistics, land-use regulations, court cases, computer simulations, lengthy narratives, staff reports, policy declarations and arcane analysis. This is combined with aggressive lobbying, threats of litigation, financial promises, use of social media, phony “grass roots” campaigns, and massive budgets used to influence public opinion through public relations and advertising.

Official public participation in Touristary-Industrial development applications and regulatory decisions is limited to written responses, three-minute oral comments at public hearings, the privilege of paying $400 to appeal decisions to the City Council, and community organizing.

For the sake of tax crumbs, the City of Sonoma enables the expenditure of nearly $1 million-per-year between the Visitors Bureau and the Tourism Improvement District for visitor promotion to increase room demand, thereby used by The Complex to justify the “need” to create more hotel room supply. As new venues are created, yet more money for tourist promotion is generated, which stimulates higher demand and predictable calls for more hospitality venues. This industrial model effectively guarantees a continuous, and theoretically infinite, cycle of growing demand and supply, the creation of a perpetual “money machine.”

Establishing the perpetual money machine is the point of the Touristary-Industrial Complex. All the artifacts and apparatus of The Complex are merely by-products of the instrumentality necessary to keep the money machine in smooth and continuous operation. In this way, it mirrors the Military-Industrial Complex Eisenhower warned us about: an insatiable, ever-growing beast that distorts society and exploits social, ecological, economic and political vulnerabilities for its own advantage.

5 thoughts on “Sonoma’s Touristary-Industrial Complex

  1. So now how do we work to elect some city council members and a county supervisor that can say no to the Touristy Industrial Complex? Lots of catch phrases thrown around by them, “workforce housing, millionaire vacation rental owners, sustainable Sonoma, commercialization of residential neighborhoods” but never standing up to the real big money bent on developing our city and valley. This kind of talk makes the voter think they are on to and aware of the complex, but they do nothing to stop it from spreading.

    1. Those elected need to have their feet held to the fire, and this means paying attention to votes and being confronted about their “lip service” vs. voting record. It means going to meetings, speaking up and writing letters to the newspapers. It means working for candidates who stick to their principles and show courage in taking on “The Complex” while also respecting the institutions within which they serve. It’s a huge effort to keep up with the all-consuming “Complex”, and group efforts work better than single, individual ones. That’s my best advice! Thanks for asking.

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