San Diego’s elected leaders took key steps on Tuesday to turn a loss at the polls a year ago into one that could potentially pave the way for funding a long-running expansion of the city’s convention center, homeless services and road repairs.
In question, measure C, which aimed to increase the city’s hotel tax to raise nearly $ 7 billion to finance the three civic initiatives. The proposal technically failed because it failed to garner the two-thirds majority required for approval, although it came close to it – to 65.24%.
Since then, however, there have been three appeals court decisions finding that a simple majority approval is sufficient when a tax hike is put to a citizen vote, which was the case with the measure. C. The State Supreme Court has so far refused review in two of these cases, which is seen as an encouraging sign for supporters of the measure C. A third case is awaiting review by the High Court.
Bolstered by these rulings, the council agreed on Tuesday to formally declare that the ballot measure was approved in the March 3 election last year and to ask the city attorney’s office Mara Elliott to file what is being done. calls for a validation process to legally confirm whether the measurement did or not. past. The council also approved a resolution authorizing the future issuance of bonds for the expansion of the convention center and programs for the homeless. No bonds, however, would be issued and no increased hotel taxes would be levied until there is a favorable ruling in the city’s validation process.
Mayor Todd Gloria, who had called on council to take action on Measure C, was pleased with the outcome, despite some dissenting voices.
“The city, by taking this particular step, we believe, will bring us to a judge more quickly than if supporters of the measure did,” Gloria said following the 6-3 vote, along with board members Vivian Moreno, Monica Montgomery Steppe and Sean Elo-Rivera opposed it. “It’s a big problem. We’ve already waited a year, longer than we should have. It’s time. We don’t need to take the slow boat on everything. We benefit from the case law, and this action will tackle homelessness, which is the number one problem people are telling me about. It’s time to stop talking.
Some council members, however, questioned the message they would send to the electorate by deciding that a ballot measure was passed when voters were informed a year ago that a victory required nothing. less than a two-thirds majority, which she did not get.
“My vote today is about the integrity of our democratic process,” Elo-Rivera said. “Today’s vote is not about the merits of Measure C. It’s not about expanding the convention center, creating well-paying jobs, or funding roaming and infrastructure. These are attractive red herrings… For the city, certifying that the measure adopted although it did not reach a threshold that we communicated to the voters is a disappointing and unnecessary relaxation of our commitment to maintain the purity of the democratic process from the city.
If the city is successful in its legal effort, an approved Measure C would increase San Diego’s 10.5 percent hotel tax to 11.75 percent, 12.75 percent, or 13.75 percent, depending on how close hotels are to it. the convention center. Those furthest away would be subject to the smallest tax increase. An analysis of the measure conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic slashed chambers’ tax revenues estimated it would generate an additional $ 6.8 billion over four decades, raising $ 4 billion to expand the convention center, $ 2.1 billion for the homeless and $ 700 million for street repairs.
It’s unclear how long it will take before San Diego can get a court ruling. The city attorney’s office said on Tuesday it planned to file its complaint shortly.
Representatives of the city’s business community, as well as union leaders, urged the council to act quickly in hopes the city can move forward with funding for urgent municipal needs.
“As a union that represents hospitality workers, we still have 5,000 workers who are not back on the job, and it has really become clear to me that leisure travel alone is not enough. get our people back to work, ”said Brigette Browning, who heads the local union of hotel workers. “Having a vibrant convention center that attracts very large groups and a large number of guests is very important to our people. “
Critics of the city’s decision on Tuesday told council its action went against what the electorate said in the vote last year – that approval of the hotel tax hike hinged on ” approval by a two-thirds majority.
Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, called the efforts of board members to now conclude that Measure C has prevailed as an example of voter manipulation.
“In elections, close enough is not good enough,” she said. “The question you are asked is not whether measure C is a good or a bad measure, but do you have the power to act beyond your ministerial duty to change the outcome of the election,” and you don’t. The voters decide the elections, not the city council.
Last year, the board set the stage for Tuesday’s action when it decided, following the election, to break with tradition and not call the vote on Measure C a defeat. Instead, he only indicated the number of yes and no votes for the initiative.
In the months following the 2020 vote, the coalition of business leaders, unions and homeless advocates who supported Measure C discussed behind the scenes a strategy to resurrect the initiative if business ongoing legal proceedings were to be concluded. Some outside the countryside thought donors should make the legal effort, while Gloria felt the city had a better chance of securing a favorable outcome if it took the lead.
“People who are content with a smaller convention center, more potholes and more homeless people, it’s up to them to defend their decision,” he said of the ‘opposition.
The continued enthusiasm for the expansion of the Bayfront Convention Center in San Diego comes at a time when the meeting and trade show industry has been at a standstill for more than a year because the pandemic has closed all major gatherings. . Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Tuesday that the state will likely abandon its color-coded reopening system by June brightened the prospect of a gradual return to conventions, but it could be years before the industry meetings did not return to levels seen before the pandemic.
Steve Cowan, general manager of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel, argued that in the short term, San Diego will continue to lose convention markets to cities with larger centers.
“The facility is aging, it needs to be renovated,” he said. “We are losing large citywide conventions that are getting too big for this facility and they are going to other venues in other states. My work depends on a strong tourism industry.