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Judge Tentatively Approves Funding Plan For San Diego Convention Center Expansion

A San Diego Superior Court judge today gave his tentative blessing to a plan to fund the expansion of the downtown convention center.

Aired 3/12/13 on KPBS News.

A tentative ruling has been issued on whether San Diego’s method of paying for the latest Convention Center expansion is legal.

Concept photo of the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.
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Above: Concept photo of the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.

San Diego last year voluntarily asked a judge to rule on whether the chosen funding method for the Convention Center expansion was valid. According to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, the plan to charge owners of hotel properties a percentage of room rates on a sliding scale entered a gray area of the law.

A citizens group called San Diegans for Open Government and civic activist Mel Shapiro joined in the court action to challenge the plan.

Document

Tentative Convention Center Validation Ruling

Tentative Convention Center Validation Ruling

The tentative ruling on the funding plan for ...

Judge Ronald Prager ruled that the election of hoteliers to assess themselves "conformed with all applicable constitutional provisions, statutes and ordinances.'' His tentative ruling turned aside nearly all of the opponents' arguments.

However, the judge is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Wednesday. Afterward, he will issue a final ruling.

Under the plan, hotels would charge an additional 1 to 3 percent fee depending on how close they are to downtown. Those closer to the Convention Center would charge more. The money would go toward the $520 million Convention Center expansion.

When the construction work is complete in three or four years, the San Diego Convention Center will have the largest amount of contiguous floor space on the West Coast, according to the city.

Area tourism officials say organizers of the biggest trade shows have been bypassing San Diego because the local facility is not big enough. Comic- Con International, which originated here, had been courted by other cities but chose to remain when an expansion was promised.

The question is whether the fee amounts to an illegal tax because the public did not vote on the plan. Instead, city hotel owners approved it. Opponents of the financing plan contended that the assessment was a tax, which requires two-thirds approval in a public vote. The judge, however, agreed with the city's argument that since the tax applied to the hoteliers, they were the ones who should cast ballots.

City Council President Todd Gloria said in a statement he is grateful that the judge's ruling allows the Convention Center expansion to move forward.

"The expansion will greatly benefit our local economy, the city’s budget, and expand job opportunities in our region, with 4,000 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent new jobs anticipated," the statement said. "I was confident that the City Council moved forward appropriately with our approval of the expansion’s financing last year. The judge’s validation confirms that the hotel room surcharge agreed to by local hoteliers is a legal and viable way to improve our Convention Center and further strengthen San Diego’s economy.”

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said he's pleased with the ruling, but won't comment further until a final ruling is issued.

A hearing on the tentative ruling will be held on Wednesday.

This fee is separate from the 2 percent surcharge hoteliers are assessing to market San Diego. If both plans are found to be legal, hotel taxes in downtown could run at about 15 percent.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Roberto Rolando Salinas'

Roberto Rolando Salinas | March 11, 2013 at 1:48 p.m. ― 1 year, 5 months ago

Should the taxpaying public lose in this court to the multimillionaires, Mayor Filner should appeal. I would be more than willing to contribute to a legal fund to fight off the Republican leeches that think they are still in political control of the city coffers. Wake up, Jerry Sanders is long gone, and Carl DeMaio is still configuring his endless strategy of what public office he can buy. The snake in the grass is the City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. He is married to big business. Goldsmith is the worst City Attorney in recent memory, he has spent millions of taxpayer dollars referring out cases defending the city, and losing, and losing many of the the cases he has prosecuted. He won't protect the taxpayers cause he's to busy defending the money interest that got him into office. Mayor Filner has to hire his own attorney, one with proven experience and legal prominence, Filner has to defend himself from the Republican's and one Democrat on the city council, and defend against a City Attorney who should spend more time on city business rather than defending his corporate friends interest. interest.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 11, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. ― 1 year, 5 months ago

Roberto - agreed that Jan Goldsmith is a complete and utter hack, and I even question the legality of what he is doing.

He is supposed to be representing the city and the Mayor, yet he has chosen to go to battle with his own client.

This to me seems like an abuse of power and abuse of office as he is not doing what he was elected to do and instead going on political witch hunts against Mayor Filner.

I thought he was bad enough during the Sander's Administration when he seemed to be permanently out to lunch and did literally nothing.

He was like a little church mouse (with a bad toupee) who hid in his office all day and simply rubber-stamped whatever Sander's wanted.

Since Filner took office he has decided to come out of his shell and turn into this pompous, inappropriate, sniveling man.

He needs to be recalled.

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Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | March 13, 2013 at 12:01 p.m. ― 1 year, 5 months ago

The judge who issued this rediculous tentative ruling is Ronald Prager, and apparently he doesn't realize what a Pandora's Box he's trying to open. It's amazing that local right wing politicians and residents who usually hate taxes appear to be fine with this judge overturning Prop 13 and Prop 26, which require the voters, not special interests, to decide when to raise municipal taxes. Looks like this judge is so focused on remaining a member in good standing in the downtown old boys club that he's willing to repeal state laws which have protected us from taxes without representation for decades. Hopefully the voters will remember Ronald Prager when he comes up for reelection and vote him out of office. Maybe he can get a job in the city attorney's office, since you don't have to know the law to work there.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 13, 2013 at 1:10 p.m. ― 1 year, 5 months ago

Shouldn’t the hoteliers be able to agree to fund a park or host a parade with the profits they make on their hotels? Why not the convention center? They obviously think it worth the investment (otherwise they wouldn't have agreed to it). Why do we care what they spend their money on, especially if it is downtown city development likely to attract more business?

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