Petition drive begins for initiative to raise San Diego’s hotel tax
Article by Lori Weisberg – Website : sandiegouniontribune.com
Signature-gathering has officially begun for an initiative that would raise San Diego’s hotel tax to finance a convention center expansion, services and housing for the homeless, and road repairs.
Backers need more than 71,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify the initiative for the November ballot
The Yes! for a Better San Diego campaign also announced the endorsement of the San Diego Police Officers Association.
Major San Diego hotels have so far contributed more than $460,000 to the campaign committee. The signature-gathering effort could cost as much as $1 million.
Backers of an initiative that would raise San Diego’s hotel tax to pay for an expanded convention center and boost funding for the homeless formally launched their signature-gathering drive on Monday.
Yes! for a better San Diego, as the campaign is called, used the start of the petition drive to also announce that it has added the San Diego Police Officers Association to a diverse group of supporters that includes business leaders, hoteliers, labor unions and homeless advocates.
In order to qualify the measure for this November’s ballot, the campaign needs to collect more than 71,000 valid signatures of registered voters. Its plan is to aim for roughly 112,000 signatures.
During a Monday news conference held at a Father Joe’s Villages apartment complex to announce the signature-gathering effort, the focus was largely on the money that would be raised to address homelessness — about $2 billion over 42 years. The greatest share of revenues from the tax hike — nearly $3.8 billion — would go for a convention center expansion, as well as upkeep and marketing of the bayfront facility. In addition, $604 million would be set aside for road repairs.
“We know better than anyone that policing alone isn’t the solution,” Police Officers Association President Jack Schaeffer said of the homeless crisis. “We know more arrests are not the answer nor is moving people from place to place without help. As members of ths community, we care deeply about the safety of those who are homeless. We see the devastating loss of life that happens when homeless men, women and families have nowhere to go. That is why we support the measure.”
The proposed measure calls for increasing the city’s hotel room tax by 1.25 to 3.25 percentage points, depending on how close hotels are to the convention center.
Over the life of the measure, the tax hike would generate $6.4 billion, although in the first five years it is designed to accelerate homeless funding, generating an estimated $147 million that could be used to finance services and housing.
The measure also seeks to revive a long stalled expansion of the convention center, which originally was to be funded with a hotelier-approved hike in the visitor tax. The tax increase was later ruled to be unconstitutional because it was not approved by the electorate.
Should voters approve the ballot measure, it would be up to the City Council to determine how to spend the funds within the prescribed allocations for the convention center, homelessness and streets. Carol Kim, of the San Diego County Building Trades Council, pointed out Monday that a citizens advisory committee would be formed to provide input on homeless expenditures.
The city’s largest hotels already have started raising funds to help pay for the signature-gathering effort, which could cost as much as $1 million. As of Monday, the hotels had contributed more than $460,000 to the campaign. Yes! for a Better San Diego has declined to disclose how much it plans to spend on the signature-gathering effort.
Should the measure qualify for the ballot, backers are hoping to secure two-thirds majority approval of San Diego city voters, the normal minimum required to raise taxes. While a recent court decision suggests only a simple majority is needed for a citizen’s initiative, the ruling remains open to interpretation.
It is still unknown whether a formal opposition campaign will emerge to defeat the initiative. A committee known as No on Bayfront Convention Center Tax already has been formed by the lessees of a bayfront site where the convention center expansion is proposed.
They are part of a development team seeking approval from the Port of San Diego for a $300 million hotel complex. They have so far contributed $500,000 in support of the opposition effort but have spent very little, focusing instead on processing their development plans.
San Diego port commissioners are expected to consider the project in April.
Meanwhile, two construction groups are weighing whether they will oppose the initiative, which they fear opens the door to union-friendly labor pacts they have a history of opposing.
At issue is whether the convention center expansion, if approved, would be built using a project labor agreement, a type of collective bargaining pact that effectively guarantees union-level wages and benefits.
The initiative does not call for such an agreement but representatives of San Diego’s Associated General Contractors chapter and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction believe there is specific language in the measure that paves the way for such a pact.
Brad Barnum, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors, said before taking the question of whether to oppose the initiative to his board, he wants to meet with the initiative’s backers to clarify whether their goal is to secure such an agreement.
“I also want to talk to the mayor’s office about how they’d do the selection process for a contractor,” he said “We want to make sure the selection process for the contractors is fair and open, no back room deals.”
Tom Lemmon, business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, said Monday that while a project labor agreement is always a possibility, there is no guarantee now that there will be one.
“A labor agreement on a big construction project of this size makes lots of sense,” he said. “It would create work uniformity, it has cost-saving measures and you get the best trained workers available.
“No deal has been cut at this point but once we know who the contractor is, then that conversation would become real.”
Paid for by "Yes! For a Better San Diego" - supported by a coalition of downtown tourism and lodging organizations, civic and community activists and homeless advocates. Sponsored by the San Diego Lodging Industry Association and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. 7185 Navajo Road Suite P, San Diego CA 92119. With major funding from Sunstone Park Leasee LLC (San Diego Bayfront Hilton), Host Hotels & Resorts Inc. (Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego) and CCMH San Diego LLC dba San Diego Marriott Marina.