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Council Votes To Place Chargers Initiative, Citizens' Plan On Ballot

A conceptual rendering of the proposed Chargers stadium and convention center in downtown San Diego. The renderings may be revised in the future.
JMI Realty
A conceptual rendering of the proposed Chargers stadium and convention center in downtown San Diego. The renderings may be revised in the future.

The San Diego City Council voted Monday to put two initiatives that have qualified for the ballot before voters in November: the Chargers' plan to build a downtown stadium and another that would direct the future of tourism funding in San Diego.

Councilman Chris Cate will provide the ballot statement in opposition of the so-called Chargers initiative, while Councilman Scott Sherman will write the ballot statement in opposition of the so-called Citizens' Plan, also known as the Briggs-Frye initiative.

The council vote was 8-0, with Councilwoman Marti Emerald absent.

"There are political issues, there are all kinds of emotional issues with regard to the team and I'm not concerned with those today, although those will certainly play out in the campaign," Councilman Mark Kersey said. "I think the biggest deficiency with this plan as submitted is the lack of attention to the city's infrastructure surrounding the proposed stadium."

Typically, when an initiative qualifies for the ballot, the City Council would be tasked with deciding whether to adopt the provision or place the issue before voters.

But in this case, the council was compelled to put the initiatives on the ballot because both the Chargers and Briggs-Frye plans seek to raise San Diego's hotel room tax. Any tax increases must, by law, be passed by voters and not simply imposed by the council.

The levy on hotel guests is currently 10.5 percent, plus a 2 percent fee for tourism promotion.

The Chargers' plan would raise the tax to 16.5 percent, effectively a hike of 4 percentage points. The extra revenue, along with contributions by the team and National Football League, would fund construction of a stadium and convention center annex in the East Village, near Petco Park.

The Citizens' Plan, backed by former Councilwoman Donna Frye and lawyer Cory Briggs, would increase the levy to 15.5 percent. It would also prohibit a waterfront expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and encourage San Diego State University and UC San Diego to build a research center on the Qualcomm Stadium site.

"The citizens' plan elements have a common theme and a single purpose, to support the responsible management of the city's major tourism and entertainment-related facilities and infrastructure," Frye said during public comment before the council voted.

"A public vote is important," Frye said.

The Briggs-Frye plan would also require voter approval of any public funds that would be spent on building a downtown stadium for the Chargers, and support the creation of parkland along the San Diego River.

In April, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith issued a scathing opinion of the Citizens' Plan, contending that the initiative is flawed and would subject the city to "significant risk." He did not, however, recommend keeping it off the November ballot or challenging its legality in court.

"Direct democracy is a constitutional right in this state and voters have a right to be heard," Goldsmith said in his remarks to the council. "They (voters) actually own the legislative process and they delegate it to council members and to legislators."

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.