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San Diego City Council considers November special election for hotel room tax increase

Tax would help fund convention center expansion
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Posted at 7:30 AM, Jun 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-12 14:45:01-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The City Council is scheduled to consider Monday whether to call a special election for November 7 for San Diegans to vote on Mayor Kevin Faulconer's plan to raise hotel room taxes to pay for expansion of the convention center, street repairs and homeless programs.

That's where the simplicity ends, however, because the road to this point has been long and winding.

Faulconer included $5 million in funding for a special election in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but the money was redirected to other programs by City Council members who preferred to wait until the next regularly scheduled general election, in November 2018.

The mayor, accusing the council majority of "being squeezed by their political backers," subsequently restored the funding, which he has the power to do. The City Council can consider overriding the mayor's action this week, with six votes.

"I believe it would have been prudent to set aside the funding for a special election, and deliberate about the merits of a November special election at a future date," said Councilman Chris Cate, a Faulconer ally. "That is why I support the mayor's decision to use his veto power, and restore special election funding, so we may have a full discussion in the coming weeks."

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Faulconer wants his convention center plan to go before voters this year since construction costs are increasing and because most legal hurdles have been cleared.

The expansion plan was approved by the City Council six years ago, but the project has been tied up by court challenges since then.

The mayor revived the idea in his January "State of the City" address, proposing to raise San Diego's hotel room tax to fund the construction project and create a funding stream for homelessness programs and fixing pothole-riddled streets.

San Diego tourism industry leaders contend that the largest trade shows are bypassing the city because the convention center no longer offers enough space. Other cities have for years been trying to lure San Diego's biggest show, Comic-Con International, out of town.

The mayor's office estimates that $10 million each would be raised for road repairs and homeless programs in the first year of the tax hike.

Even if the special election for the convention center plan is approved, one more obstacle would have to be overcome -- the leasehold of part of the land needed for a larger facility is no longer controlled by the city.

The current leaseholder, Fifth Avenue Landing, is obligated by its contract with the Port of San Diego to build hotels. The port actually owns the property.

Opponents, who contend that a City Charter amendment passed by voters last year requires the convention center vote to go on the November 2018 general election ballot, are scheduled to hold a rally at City Hall beginning at 11 a.m.

The City Council meeting is scheduled for noon.

On June 19, the council is scheduled whether to place the proposed "Soccer City" redevelopment of Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley on a special election ballot or delay it until next year.