SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A Superior Court judge released a tentative ruling Wednesday upholding the California Coastal Commission's approval of expansion plans for the San Diego Convention Center.
The decision by Judge Joel Wohlfeil is another step forward for the long- stalled project, which was approved by the City Council when Jerry Sanders was mayor. Delays were caused by litigation over environmental concerns brought about by the commission's action, and over the way the project was financed.
The judge rejected most of the arguments by the plaintiff -- San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition -- ruling that the issues were either mitigated within the project or taken into account by the commissioners.
He set a hearing for March 3 to listen to any objections.
"This is a resounding victory that supports our efforts to bring new jobs, visitors and revenues to San Diego," City Attorney Mara Elliott said. "Just as importantly, this ruling protects coastal access and recreational opportunities on the waterfront while ensuring our region's needs are met."
In November, San Diego voters rejected a plan to build a downtown football stadium that would have included meeting space that would have precluded the expansion and voted down a measure that would have barred expansion of the convention center at its current waterfront location.
With the city no longer defending the former financing mechanism, Mayor Kevin Faulconer in his "State of the City" address unveiled a new plan to raise money for the expansion -- raising hotel room taxes. The additional revenue would also be directed into homeless programs.
The tax hike would have to go before voters for approval.
Backers of the expansion plan in the local tourism industry contend that the largest conventions are starting to bypass San Diego because the center doesn't have enough room.
Organizers of Comic-Con International, the largest local show, have been demanding more space. Other cities have been trying to lure the annual celebration of the popular arts out of town.
Opponents contend a larger convention center would "wall off" the waterfront and reduce public access.
While the revived expansion plan has cleared a couple of hurdles, one more remains. Property adjacent to the facility that was to be used for the project has reverted back to leaseholder Fifth Avenue Landing, which is required to construct hotels there as part of its contract with the Port of San Diego.
Officials with Fifth Avenue Landing said recently that their project was on schedule, with work being conducted on the property entitlement process.