Mayor Filner, San Diego City Council, Tourism Marketing District reach agreement

Resolution to be voted on in April

SAN DIEGO - Mayor Bob Filner, the City Council and the board of the city of San Diego's Tourism Marketing District Thursday ended a heated dispute over the promotion's agency's funding.

The City Council voted unanimously to accept terms of an amended operating agreement, and asked the City Attorney's Office to return with an appropriate resolution early next month.

The exact date has not been worked out.

The council re-authorized the district in November, but Filner refused to sign an operating agreement, which would start the flow of funding. The TMD is funded by a 2 percent charge on hotel rooms and uses the money to advertise San Diego as a tourist destination.

The standoff led to a failed lawsuit by the tourism district's board, the City Council passing a resolution requiring the mayor's signature, and Filner accusing council members and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith of being "bought out" by the hotel industry.

Unlike a raucous City Council meeting on Tuesday, there was no bickering at a special gathering called to address the issue Thursday.

Second District council member Kevin Faulconer smiled as he commented, "It's great that we are one big happy family."

That was met with some laughter and a reply from First District representative Sherri Lightner, who said, "I do agree. It's a kumbaya moment."

The deal mediated by Councilman David Alvarez calls for 20 to 25 of the largest hotels to indemnify the city in case it loses lawsuits that  challenge the agency's funding mechanism.

Money collected from major hotels that refuse to participate in the indemnification program would go into a reserve fund to help pay for any adverse judgments.

Also, the district will post salaries of employees of organizations that receive funding, and will entertain a request by organizers of a yearlong celebration of Balboa Park's 2015 centennial to get 10 percent of district funding the next two years.

All three points were priorities for the mayor, who accepted milder versions of the terms he sought. He chalked it up to "political give-and-take."

Alvarez, who was sick and missed Tuesday's contentious meeting, said he reviewed tape of the discussion and decided the sides were close.

"The mayor's right, I called him really late last night and talked to some folks from the TMD board and worked through this entire morning and I think it just maybe needed perhaps a different perspective -- it was already there," Alvarez said at a news conference.

The proposed amendments also include having the tourism district post its meeting agendas, provide backup materials and annual reports, as well as a performance reviews of groups that get public funds.

Filner had wanted to limit the salaries of officials receiving funding from the tourism district to $160,000. He later asked for employment contracts to be posted online.

He said the compromise of listing salaries provides the transparency he was after.

He had also wanted $6 million annual funding for the Balboa Park festival. However, tourism officials and Goldsmith said the district was legally barred from "earmarking" specific amounts of money.

Filner told 10News after the meeting that, "It wasn’t worth the drama. We could have done it in a 20 minute conversation.  This is not space science.  Maybe next time we won't have all the drama and just do it professionally."

A $5.4 million advertising campaign had been put on hold as a result of the dispute.

Tourism officials also issued 85 layoff notices to employees, in case funding isn't received by mid-May.

"We've lost some ground over spring campaigns and over the summer," San Diego Tourism Marketing District Executive Director Lorin Stewart told 10News. "This is a big step forward going toward the promotion and sales of the city of San Diego."

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