SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and City Council leaders made another push Tuesday to reverse the failed citizens initiative to expand the downtown convention center by increasing the city's hotel tax on guests.
In March 2020, Measure C would have increased San Diego’s hotel visitor tax from 10.5% to 11.75%, 12.75%, and 13.75% depending on hotel location through at least 2061. Advocates for the measure say that money would be used to fund expanding the convention center, homelessness programs, and fixing roads.
The measure failed to get the two-thirds vote (66.7%) needed for a citizens' initiative but earned about 65% of the vote.
Tuesday, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to validate Measure C, which puts it on track for the courts to make a decision as to whether the measure is valid or not.
Gloria and supporters of the measure say because recent California court rulings have said that citizens' initiatives only require a simple majority (more than 50%) to pass, Measure C must be implemented.
"Today’s affirmative vote by the City Council to validate Measure C is a necessary step to finally put to bed the long-awaited and much-discussed expansion of our Convention Center in addition to addressing two of our city’s most significant challenges: combatting homelessness and getting San Diegans back to work. The people of San Diego asked us to take up this measure and an overwhelming majority voted to support it. It’s time we implement the will of the voters," Gloria said in a statement.
Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera called the council's approval of the measure was "disappointing" and an "unnecessary loosening" of the city's democratic process.
"Today's vote was not about the merits of Measure C. It was not about expanding the Convention Center or funding homelessness and infrastructure. A strong majority of voters made clear their support of the Measure. However, that majority did not reach the threshold communicated to the voters by our City. For the City to certify that a measure 'passed' despite not reaching the threshold communicated to voters is a disappointing and unnecessary loosening of our commitment to maintain the purity of the City's democratic process," a statement by Elo-Rivera read.
Under the measure, the revenue from the tax would be split across three areas:
- From the date the tax takes effect through the city’s fiscal year 2023-2024, the revenue from the tax would be split 59% to convention center purposes and 41% to homelessness programs and services.
- After Fiscal Year 2023-2024, revenue from the increase would be allocated 59% to convention center purposes; 31% to homelessness programs and services; and 10% for street repairs.
Before the council's vote on Tuesday, Gloria and other civic and labor leaders renewed their push to see the measure's fate reversed.
Deacon Jim Vargas, President and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, said the tax increase is needed to fund programs and scale-up efforts to tackle homelessness.
"Every day, Father Joe’s Villages offers critical services that help people move off the streets and into homes of their own. In order to create diverse solutions to meet the need in our community, additional funds are necessary to scale up effective and necessary programs, and create additional affordable housing and shelter options for people experiencing homelessness," said Vargas.
Keith Maddox, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of San Diego’s Labor Council that represents multiple unions, said the pandemic has increased the need for expanding the convention center.
"San Diego’s tourism workers have been sidelined by the pandemic and economic crisis - and we need to do everything we can to get them back on the job," Maddox said. "Measure C will expand opportunities both in the convention center and beyond it - providing career pathways for stagehands and banquet servers, construction and hotel workers, zoo employees and more."
Opponents of the measure, however, say the effort is a bait-and-switch using the city's general fund. Local homeless advocate Michael McConnell, who fought against the measure last year, says to now reverse it would be a slight against those who voted against it.
"To go and tell those folks that their vote didn't matter... a year after the election, I think people are going to see that as awful fishy," said McConnell.
Last year in a statement to ABC 10News, McConnell claimed the measure also failed to guarantee housing and services for homeless families, seniors, or veterans.