SAN DIEGO - Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, slammed the City Council's approval of a financing plan to expand the Convention Center during a mayoral debate Wednesday with Councilman Carl DeMaio, a major supporter of the project.
In the forum co-sponsored by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and San Diego Police Officers Association, Filner said the council's action this week raises $1 billion for private interests.
The plan calls for hotels to raise room taxes to fund a major portion of the project's debt service on a construction bond. The owners of hotel properties voted to approve the arrangement.
"The public was denied a vote on how to spend the tax increase, and none of the billion dollars will be used for improving city services such as public safety," Filner said in his opening statement.
He said the arrangement makes it illegal to use the revenue for routine services.
"The entire billion dollars will be used to benefit private hotel owners," Filner said.
DeMaio countered that the expansion is important to San Diego's economy because it will create jobs and increase revenue to municipal coffers – and that the city's Independent Budget Analyst signed off on financing.
Filner's comments amounted to "wild accusations and claims," DeMaio said.
The debate, which will be aired Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. on ABC10, also featured questions on public safety and a proposed Chargers stadium.
DeMaio said he supports a five-year plan to raise San Diego Police Department staffing levels, while Filner said the proposal outlined over the summer by Chief William Lansdowne was too slow of a timeline. The stadium issue is the one issue where the candidates agree -- neither supports the use of public money for a new Chargers facility.
Outside the debate, those who attended the Mission Valley luncheon weighed in.
"We wanted to make the focus about public safety," said Brian Marvel, who is with the San Diego Police Officers Association, which cosponsored the event. "We are very concerned about public safety in the city of San Diego. We've had serious financial issues that have faced the city over a very long period of time and unfortunately, every department across the board has been cut, including police."
"This is going to be such an important race this November who our next mayor is," said Lani Lutar, who is with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which also cosponsored of the debate. "Our goal was to help educate on the variety of issues that impact every taxpayer in the city of San Diego and I think we accomplished that."
The councilman used a question about education to unveil an initiative to help San Diego's school system, which he called the "Clean and Safe School Program."
The proposal, which he detailed at a subsequent news conference, includes working with law enforcement on improving safety at school campuses; re-opening after-school programs throughout the city that were limited or closed by budget cuts; and ensuring city input in school reform discussions.
The program was developed with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who ran for mayor during the primary season. She did not endorse the councilman at the news conference, as some had speculated.