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San Diego City Council To Consider Convention Center Expansion Initiative

August 9, 2018 1:43 p.m.

San Diego City Council To Consider Convention Center Expansion Initiative


Lisa Halverstadt, reporter, Voice of San Diego

Related Story: City Council Rejects Putting Convention Center Expansion Initiative On November Ballot


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on Midday edition Plan B is under way today at San Diego City Hall a City Council vote is scheduled for this afternoon. In a last ditch effort to get a convention center expansion initiative on the November ballot Mayor Faulkner's plan to raise the hotel tax to fund the expansion and provide millions for homeless services and infrastructure repair was supposed to have been a citizens initiative. But yesterday it was found that the signature tally did not meet the state threshold and that the effort had run out of time. Joining me is reporter Lisa Halvorson at a voice of San Diego and Lisa welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. First off what's happening today at the City Council.

Some council members have already left for vacation recess so today at 4 o'clock the City Council is going to be voting on what is now mayor Kevin Faulkner's initiative to increase hotel taxes to fund a convention center expansion homeless initiative and road repairs. Now as you'd said in your intro initially this was a citizens initiative and the City Council had set the stage to vote today on whether to place a citizens initiative on the ballot. But after some news came in yesterday suddenly the mayor's office was scrambling to try to make this his plan to update the language and then to have the city council vote to place his measure on the ballot.

So is this measure that the council will be voting on today the exact same measure the same wording that was in the Citizens Initiative.

It's very similar. In fact many folks are saying it's virtually identical there have been some updates mostly legal language. There are some different numbers in there. There's also an ability for the city council to make some amendments and spending plans later in the later years of the initiative but it's pretty similar to what was proposed by the Yes. For better San Diego campaign earlier this year.

Is there any question about the legality of calling this special session of the city council.

So what the mayor's team is saying is essentially you know they have the right to call the City Council has the right to call a meeting 24 hours in advance under special circumstances. I've asked the city attorney's office for more details on the legality of this and have not heard back yet.

Now it's complicated and you touched on it Lisa but can you remind us what this convention center ballot initiative is intended to do.

Sure. So the plan is to increase hotel taxes between one point to five percent and three point to five percent depending on what part of the city the hotel is located in and to use that money to expand the convention center fund homeless programs and road repairs. Now the lion's share of the money was set to go to the convention center expansion in bonds that would have to be gotten to fund that expansion. But the difference between this measure and a 2017 one pushed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer again is that it does invest more money in homeless initiatives especially in the earlier years of the measure.

Now as you say Mayor Faulconer wanted to put a version of this in on last year's November ballot. But the city council said no. Why did it become a citizens initiative so late last year.

There was a court ruling that kind of established that there was a possible end run around Prop 13. This is the famous or infamous depending on what your political perspective are rule that requires a two thirds vote to pass a tax increase. And there was a ruling last year that essentially said if that tax increase was instead proposed by a citizens group in the form of a citizens initiative potentially there would be an ability for a 50 percent plus one passage of a tax increase. And so late last year conversation started. You know the mayor was still very interested in expanding the convention center but some of his allies in downtown business interests and labor groups also started getting together and talking about a citizens initiative. And so early this year they announced that they were going to proceed in that way hoping that there was a potential to do just meet this lower threshold. Now that the mayor has decided to take this on himself and propose it to the city council that absolutely ensures though that this will require a two thirds vote. And that is hard to get.

Now you've reported the signature gathering campaign cost a lot of money. What did we find out yesterday about how it ran short of state guidelines.

So the county registrar was working on a random sampling of signatures that the campaign had turned in last month about one hundred fourteen thousand signatures were turned in but they looked at a certain percentage about 3 percent to figure out if they could project if the correct number of signatures were gathered they needed just about 71000 signatures to make the ballot. In that review process it was projected that the number of signatures had fallen short of the number required to just immediately be placed on the ballot and just be approved by the City Council. What's interesting is the threshold is 110 percent. And we obtained a memo yesterday showing that they were probably at about 100 percent based on the projection that was done. But as a result of this news a full count now must be completed of all of these signatures. And yesterday we were hearing that that would run through much of September. Well unfortunately for the mayor and the supporters of this initiative the deadline to put a measure on the ballot is Friday tomorrow. And so there was this mad rush then determine what to do. And the mayor decided to take the lead.

Do we have any idea how challenging it might be for this particular initiative to get a two thirds majority on the ballot so early polling that I obtained earlier this year has shown that early on they were at about 60 percent.

There was a telephone poll that had been done of about 600 likely voters and they were at 60 percent. Then once voters did get a little bit more information learned that hotel stays would be or hotel visitors rather would be funding this rather than taxpayers. There was a higher percentage about a 65 percent support level for this. But that's before all of the opposition. And now we know former City Councilman Carl de Milo who ran for mayor back in 2012 he's coming out saying he's going to oppose this. Michael McConnell a homeless advocate actually started a new committee this weekend to oppose the measure at least a citizens measure of what we thought was a citizen's measure at that point. So I would say this faces long odds to get a two thirds vote required. You know I've heard many times from political folks around town just about everything has to go just right. Well obviously there's been a lot of chaos around this. And so there are concerns and questions about whether this measure can hit that two thirds bar. The supporters though are saying they're confident they can do it.

And the first step is to see what happens this afternoon at the City Council. I've been speaking with the reporter Lisa Halvorson at a voice of San Diego. Lisa thank you.

Thank you.