San Diego City Council shows strong support for city's Tourism Marketing District

SAN DIEGO - San Diego City Council members on Monday expressed strong support for the city's Tourism Marketing District and declined to offer amendments to an operating agreement that is being held up by Mayor Bob Filner.

The mayor has refused to release funds needed to operate the TMD, and since the agency is in limbo, a $5.3 million campaign promoting San Diego as a vacation destination has been postponed. Filner opposes four areas of the deal and says hoteliers could assess themselves without city involvement.

While Councilman David Alvarez expressed some concerns about the legality of the district, neither he nor his colleagues took up council President Todd Gloria's offer to introduce an amendment to the TMD deal.

The council extended the district for 40 years last fall.

"It's a disservice to San Diegans, and offensive to those who elected the eight of us, not to honor the council's legislative intent," City Council President Todd Gloria said. "To shoot ourselves in the foot, by not marketing our destination, only adds to our economic troubles."

With no interest on the panel to amend the agreement or kill the TMD outright, the council members will go into closed session on Tuesday to discuss their third option, which would be to compel Filner to sign the operating agreement.

Gloria said such an action would be to "litigate with themselves."

Several lawsuits have been filed against the way the TMD funds itself -- a 2 percent addition to the city's 10.5 percent hotel room tax.

According to Filner, a clause in the deal that indemnifies the city against any adverse court ruling is not strong enough. The mayor also wants more of the revenue to go toward public safety, the length of the term shortened to one or two years, and a provision that calls for hoteliers to pay workers a "living" wage.

Brigette Browning, president of a union representing hotel workers, said a living wage in San Diego would be around $14 an hour. She said many hotel and restaurant employees make much less.

Browning's union filed a lawsuit against the district Monday. The TMD itself sued the city Friday to force the mayor to sign the agreement.

Most TMD opponents contended that it benefits large hotel chains at the expense of local employees.

TMD supporters said during a nearly three-hour public hearing that spending by the district is a crucial part of selling the city as a vacation destination in a competitive tourism marketplace. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are in the midst of two large promotional campaigns, according to Joe Terzi of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Terzi said the state of Colorado once eliminated its tourism marketing program and ended up losing 30 percent of its business.

"We can't spend zero and commit economic suicide like Colorado did," Councilwoman Lori Zapf said.

Such an action would cause "a downward spiral" of less revenue, fewer jobs and reduced city services, she said.

In his concluding remarks, Gloria reminded the audience that he was the son of a hotel housekeeper, and was willing to take up a minimum wage increase "directly," but not in a way tied to the TMD.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the TMD wasn't empowered to impose a minimum wage on hotels and restaurants, anyway.

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