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San Diego's Deal To Secure Land For Convention Center Expansion Still Alive, $5 Million Payment Delayed

August 21, 2018 1:45 p.m.

San Diego's Deal To Secure Land For Convention Center Expansion Still Alive, $5 Million Payment Delayed


Matt Hoffman, reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: San Diego's Deal To Secure Land For Convention Center Expansion Still Alive, $5 Million Payment Delayed


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. The convention center expansion proposal may not be finished after all. The city has arranged to extend the deadline for a downpayment on the bayfront expansion site. In the meantime the San Diego County Registrar of Voters will complete the full count of signatures on the citizens initiative. If there are enough verified signatures the proposal would qualify for a future ballot not this November but perhaps before 2020. The convention center expansion plan promoted by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer would increase the hotel occupancy tax to raise money for the expansion plus create a fund for homeless services and infrastructure repair. Joining me is Cape PBS reporter Matt Hoffman who has been following this complicated story. Matt welcome. Hi Mary. Good to be here. So the last we heard the convention center expansion was dead. Not enough signatures. And the city council wouldn't put it on the ballot. Why is the County Registrar's Office still counting signatures.

Yes so that citizens initiative. Yes for a better San Diego a random sampling found that it didn't have enough signatures to automatically qualify for this November's ballot. But that triggered basically a more exhaustive review which is scheduled to be completed in September September 20th. And basically if it does have enough signatures to qualify it could qualify for the 2020 ballot or possibly a special election.

So it missed the deadline for the November ballot no matter how many signatures they find on this Citizens Initiative.

Right you have a Council deadline to put that on the November ballot has already passed so it can't go on this November.

Well there's another wrinkle in this story regarding the side of the proposed convention center expansion. That side is actually leased by a private company that had plans to build a hotel complex there. But the city made an arrangement to make a downpayment on that site. That payment was supposed to have been made on Monday. Tell us about that.

All these terms were signed back in June. And like you said the city was supposed to make a down payment within 60 days of signing those terms. Now that was obviously when we all were under the impression that this was for a citizens initiative and then we found out that there was going to be no citizens initiative on the ballot and then we found out that the mayor's ballot initiative proposal was also not going to go on the ballot. So for the last you know kind of couple of weeks all the parties have been figuring out where to go next the port's been meeting and close session trying to figure out where they want to go talking with their legal counsel and then we got this announcement just yesterday that everything's getting pushback.

And what was the new agreement reached by the city the port of San Diego and Fifth Avenue landing and they reached that over the weekend. Tell us about that.

Right yeah. I was expecting Monday that payment was supposed to be due so something going to happen Monday the mayor said would find out more on Monday. All the parties just just agreed to push the deadline back to September 25th. All deadlines. So that 5 million dollar nonrefundable downpayment has basically pushed back to September 25th. That's the new day we have to move forward. And yesterday Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he's just glad that the deal is still alive to modernize and expand our convention center about 7000 jobs.

That entails to have a dedicated funding source for homelessness and street repair. That's why I was so pleased to see not only fail in the port but they did the right thing. This issue is not going away. It's too important for San Diego.

Ok so I have one for you Matt. If it's found that the citizens initiative does not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot when all of those signatures are counted does the city still have to pay the 5 million down payment.

You know after reading the contract looking at everything it would seem yes but it's really unclear. I mean we thought that they would have to make this down payment by today and then we get this announcement that they've been renegotiating and all parties have agreed to move forward. So and in talking with Mayor Kevin Faulconer there's a lot of options on the table as far as what the city can do. It sounds like that the parties are open to negotiating a different kind of contract maybe something requiring the land and just waiting till 2020 or possibly a special election. So there are other options out there but it does sound like at some point the city is going to have to pay this five million dollars.

Mayor Faulconer continues to be very critical of the city council because of that vote not to put the convention center expansion on the ballot what is he saying about the people who voted against that you know in the last couple days I've been able to have a chat with them.

He's mentioned both times you know the city council can talk the talk you know they want more money for a convention center. They want money for homelessness and road repairs. But when it comes to it they had a chance to put it on the ballot. They did not take that chance. Now if you talk to some of the council members they say you know we didn't want to forego in place procedures where it had to go to different committees a ballot measure before coming to the council whereas Mayor Kevin Faulconer basically says that he feels like that's a cop out for them.

OK so he's criticizing the city council but if the mayor wants a special election for the convention center before 2020 doesn't he need the City Council to approve it.

Yeah he does need that City Council to approve it. And it's worth noting back in 2017 he did try to do the same thing he tried to have the Hounsell called special election for a convention center expansion. The council said that they did not want to do that. So you have the mayor does want to do this if he does want to call a special election. And I have asked him if it's possible he said it is possible sure. So obviously it doesn't mean he's going to do it or not but he does say that he wants to put this to voters as soon as possible and that he feels that there's a sense of urgency that both the port recognizes and Fifth Avenue land and who owns that leasehold.

Matt what's the next thing we should be looking for in this story.

You know I feel that there's really a couple of things. So yes for better San Diego the citizens initiative they're actually suing the company that went out and got the signatures firm because they say you know it didn't qualify and they feel like that they were cheated. But also obviously that September 25th deadline that I guess everything's been pushed back to about a month and five days. So all the parties kind of have some time now to go around and figure out what they want to do so hypothetically that 5 million dollar payment will be September 25th and obviously then we'll know more. If this is going to qualify for the ballot September 20th so September is going to be a big month for this convention center expansion going forward.

I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt thank you.