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Filner, Goldsmith Clash Over Hotel Fee Agreement

It was supposed to be City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s press conference. But Mayor Bob Filner slipped in midway, and then took the podium.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner showed up unannounced to a press conference today and got into a heated debate with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith speaks at a press conference over the Tourism Marketing District agreement.

Filner crashed the party because of his dispute with the Tourism Marketing District over money raised from a 2 percent hotel room fee. He says that fee is really a tax, so it is illegal to impose it without a public vote.

Although the City Council already approved a 39.5-year agreement with the TMD, Filner has not signed off on financial transactions called for in the agreement.

Now Filner is negotiating with hoteliers over their agreement. He wants four things: legal protection for the city if the hotel fee goes to court, a shorter tourism marketing district agreement, a requirement that downtown hotels pay their employees a living wage and a cut of the hotel fee for other city services.

Goldsmith called the news conference to discuss legal aspects of Filner's four requests. He said the city already has legal protection and that taking a cut of the hotel fee for the city would be illegal, because then that fee would become a tax.

“Then it’s no longer just benefitting you, that is a tax, and it is illegal to impose a tax without a vote of the people,” he said.

Goldsmith said Filner’s two other requests are up to the City Council.

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Mayor Bob Filner speaks after crashing a press conference held by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

“The mayor under our City Charter is empowered to make recommendations to the City Council, the mayor may appear and argue in front of the City Council, and has a veto power over legislation adopted by the City Council," he said. "But he cannot unilaterally impose policies.”

Filner slipped in part of the way though the press conference. When a reporter asked if Goldsmith had shared these opinions with the mayor, Filner shouted “no” and then took the podium.

“He did not advise me," he said. "It would have been nice, Mr. Goldsmith, to have a memo, it would have been nice to have advice. I am your client. That’s privileged communication. You not only have been unprofessional but unethical in this press conference.”

Goldsmith said he could not comment on whether Filner has to release the hotel money, or what would happen if he didn’t, because it’s a legal matter.

But before he left the room, he let loose a final quip.

“We used to have a city attorney who wanted to be mayor, now we have a mayor who wants to be city attorney,” he said.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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