San Diego hotel tax measure moves forward, but land still in limbo

Posted at 7:37 PM, Apr 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 22:37:50-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego voters are one step closer to deciding if hotel taxes should be raised to pay for an expanded convention center.

Wednesday afternoon, the city's Rules Committee voted unanimously to draft language for a proposed ballot measure to go before the full city council in June.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer applauded the move saying the convention center expansion is critical to moving the city forward.

"It means good quality jobs. It means more revenue to the city, that's going to benefit every single neighborhood. Our expanded convention center is an economic engine that benefits the entire city," said Mayor Faulconer.

RELATED: San Diego City Council requests ballot language for Mayor's hotel tax initiative

But the city will have to convince more than voters. Right now, the city does not have the rights to build on the land. The Robert Green Company, a local developer, currently holds the lease to the property.  Green spoke before the committee, telling city leaders he's moving ahead with his project.

"Extreme disappointment and concern for the callous disregard for our property rights by the city," said President and CEO Robert Green.

Plans for Fifth Avenue Landing are well underway. They include a convention style hotel, cafes, public space and an expanded marina.

"I think it sends a very poor message, that the city doesn't really have regard for land owners' rights or people who are serious businessmen trying to do exactly what is in the agreements that they made with the city and the port," said Green.

The company has held the lease for the land since the 1980's. The Port of San Diego owns the property. The city had the opportunity to take over the lease.

"In 2009, we sold the lease to the city for the purpose of building an expanded convention center. That transaction involved a payment over time for our lease, which the city defaulted on 5 years later. We gave them the opportunity to extend those payments so they could hang on to it, while they worked through whatever issues they had, legal issues, etc. But, they knowingly defaulted because, we believe, their intention was to essentially burn up a lot of time, so that they could pay us nothing or next to nothing for the land," said Green.

The mayor said the city was waiting for a judge to rule on a lawsuit aimed to stop development on the waterfront. The judge ruled in the city's favor in January.

"The lawsuit was just won 2 months ago, and when that lawsuit was won under great work with our city attorney's office and the city and the port all working together, we said we are going to move 100% full speed ahead," said the mayor.

The mayor would not say if the city plans to take the land through eminent domain, but he's confident a solution will be reached.

"The opportunity is to work together on a piece of property that has tremendous public support, city support, port support, Coastal Commission support," said the mayor.

Green said he's invested millions living up to his end of the bargain, he has no plans to give up the lease.

"There has been no honoring of our request to stop acting as though we don't exist or stop acting as though the city has the right to do whatever they want with the land and so at this point we are moving forward with our project," said Green.

The mayor said the developer should do the right thing for the "greater good."

 "I think most citizens would be completely appalled because it says very little for the city's regard for the rights of private business," said Green.