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Breaking Down San Diego’s ‘Citizens’ Initiative’

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A multifaceted proposed ballot measure is now part of San Diegans' holiday shopping experience.

In front of many stores, voters are being asked to sign petitions in support of an initiative that "could save Comic-Con" or "help build a downtown stadium." But what the measure would really do is far more complicated.

It's called the "The Citizens' Plan for the Responsible Management of Major Tourism and Entertainment Resources," proposed by attorney Cory Briggs of San Diegans for Open Government.

If approved, it would increase hotel room taxes in San Diego from 10.5 percent to 15.5 percent and eliminate the Tourism Marketing District, which collects a 2 percent charge on hotel room rates.

Among other things, the measure would also prohibit the expansion of the Convention Center along the waterfront and prohibit the use of public funds for a downtown stadium.

Donna Frye, a proponent and former San Diego City Council member, said the money can be used for general fund purposes.

“It’s essentially going to keep San Diego competitive with other cities,” Frye told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “The main thrust is that it allows the public to vote — public policy that they have been shut out of for as long as I can remember.”

Frye said hoteliers are typically the ones who decided on tourism tax increases.

“The voters have not had a seat at the table,” Frye said. “When they’re not allowed the vote, they’re also left out of receiving any benefit.”

Scott Lewis, editor in chief of news website Voice of San Diego who has researched the initiative, said there’s a lot of interesting parts in the plan.

For one, it reserves 100 acres of land in Mission Valley for San Diego State University or UC San Diego.

“If the Chargers leave and the stadium is demolished, there would be sort of an education center,” Lewis said.

Lewis said supporters of the plan include the League of Conservation Voters and John Moores, the former owner of the San Diego Padres.

He said it’s unclear whether the initiative would be a part of the June or November election, but organizers will need at least 66,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“At $3 to $4 per signature you can imagine how much that would cost,” Lewis said. “I think they need to raise a little bit more money.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect number of signatures that would need to be collected to qualify for the ballot. The story's been updated with the correct information.

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