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Citizens Initiative Announced To Expand San Diego Convention Center

Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Coalition of business, tourism, and homeless leaders gather to announce plan for a citizens initiative to expand San Diego's downtown convention center, Jan. 8, 2018.
Citizens Initiative Announced To Expand San Diego Convention Center
Citizens Initiative Announced To Expand San Diego Convention Center GUEST: Carol Kim, political director, San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council

>> A good the calls itself yes for a better San Diego has announced a proposed ballot initiative that would raise the hotel tax to fund the convention center expansion, provide money for homeless services, and provide funding for road repairs. If this sounds familiar, it is because a similar ballot measure was proposed by -- proposed last year. The mayor hope to have a special election but that effort fell through. Now this initiative gets enough signatures it will face a crowded ballot this November. Joining me is Carol Kim with the San Diego County building and construction trades Council. Welcome. Know this sounds an awful lot like, as I said, the measure the mayor tried to get on the ballot last year. What is different cracks >> I would say there are a few things quite a bit different. The first is the increase in the TOT will be bigger than the original version. The original version had it at 321% based on the area in San Diego where the hotel was located. This time it is increased one quarter point across the board so 3.25% in the zone closest to the convention center going all the way up to Laurel. And then between Mission Valley and up to got the 56 you will see 2.25% increase and then north of the 56 and south of the 54 you will see a 1.25% increase. Another really big change is the way we structured it to generate really truly subnets of phoning -- funding for homelessness. When we came into the conversation, we really felt the part of the reason we oppose the mayor's version was that there was not enough funding to significantly tackle the homelessness problem. We wanted to make sure that there were real dollars going towards it. One of the things we agreed to as a group in our negotiations with that the first five years of the bond or the measure, rather, with see something like 41% of the homeless funding, the funding going directly to homelessness. In the first five years we decided to collapse the streets and roads funding into the homelessness funding. So that would be $140 million. >> Tell us more about the yes for a better San Diego coalition >> You have the hotel years in the lodging Association. They were the ones that came to us first. And then you have, when I say us, that is labor. So the labor Council and we also have some community groups as well including homelessness service providers like alpha project and father Joe's the San Diego regional Chamber of Commerce is also part of this group. >> What made labor get involved in this version of the proposal? >> In terms of labor our concerns are about jobs. Jobs that have real job quality meaning that these are jobs that pay a living wage. Or a prevailing wage depending on the type of work it is. That they come with health care benefits for families. They can actually sustain families. So with that mission and that perspective in mind, the San Diego convention Center is an incredible place for people to be able to work. We have currently 1000 employees there, full-time and part-time. All of those jobs pay well above $15 per hour. And they also come with benefits, healthcare benefits and the rest. So these are jobs that are really family sustaining and here in San Diego we know that there is a real problem with our income inequality. So for us, it's all about the jobs in the job quality and that type of thing. On top of that we have a huge concern about homelessness because labor is made up of workers who are community members. These are our neighbors to and we want to make sure that if we were able to have an opportunity, we would take it. >> One thing that is different about this ballot proposal from the mayor Faulkner is that it seems to fall into the category of a citizens initiative. Estate to bring court decision seems to make it easier for fission -- citizen initiatives to pass with a simple majority instead of a two thirds vote that falconers would have needed. Is that why is being presented that way now? >> It is one of the reasons. We are expecting we will be able to get support that would allow us. We feel this is a strong project in the factor provides jobs and services along with possible housing opportunities. We've got the infrastructure for the roads and transit as well. With all of that involved with such a diverse coalition, business and labor and other groups coming aboard we think this will be something that San Diegans will agree is important to pass in terms of trying to solve some of our larger social problems. But all that said, if we got to 65.8% and we did not go through the citizens initiative and it turned out that would have been upheld by the courts, that would have been a terrible thing. And so we are hedging our bets in that sense just to make sure. We are totally working forward with being able to exceed two thirds >> A problem with the convention center expansion is the fact that the land would be on is presently leased to a private developer. That developer is suing to hang onto it. How do you ask for signatures for a project on land that the city doesn't control? >> That is also one of the changes we made between the measure that was proposed by the mayor and the measure that this coalition has developed. In this particular ballot initiative, but you will see is that we do not define a footprint. The previous version was very specific to the plan that had been passed unanimously by the port in the coastal commission several years back. This measure says we wanted to be a contiguous convention center. We do not say where or how that has to be besides the fact that it is connecting somewhere to the current convention center. If you take a look at the language it says all the way up to the easement of the train tracks. They can build over, under, or they can go east or west. It allows for flexibility and creativity in the way of addressing the expansion. >> How soon should we expect to see people outside of grocery stores looking for signatures? >> We're going to try to get everything filed by Wednesday at the latest. Tomorrow at the latest. And then we will see are signature gatherers hitting the streets. >> I have been speaking with Carol Kim with the San Diego County building and construction trades Association.

A citizens initiative announced in San Diego Monday would raise revenue to modernize and expand the downtown convention center to drive economic growth and jobs, as well as generate significant funding to alleviate homelessness and repair roads, according to local tourism and labor leaders.

Proponents say the Yes! For a Better San Diego measure, which would increase the tax paid by overnight visitors to San Diego, would pump more than $40 billion into the local economy and create nearly 7,000 permanent jobs.


Backers of the measure say it would generate $2 billion for homelessness programs and services, front-loading more than $140 million in the first five years to address the crisis, and would also dedicate more than $600 million for road and infrastructure repair.

RELATED: Report: Convention Center’s Economic Impact Over $1 Billion Last Fiscal Year

According to a news release, the measure will increase the tax paid by overnight visitors to San Diego. The visitor tax will rise by 1.25 percent for lodging facilities on the periphery of the city and up to 3.25 percent for those located in the downtown area.

"This tax would be paid exclusively by visitors, but would have a tremendous impact on the local economy and the lives of San Diegans, which is why the hotel and tourism industry is proud to support the measure," said Mike McDowell, president and CEO of the Lodging Industry Association.

“We are missing out on tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs because we can’t accommodate conventions that grow" said San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer Jaymie Bradford. "We are losing access to our competitors in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.”


In a statement to KPBS, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Convention Center said it "is losing business to competing cities both in California and across the nation due to a lack of space and availability." The spokeswoman said an expansion of the convention center would "... allow us to grow with our repeat customers as their events grow."

Yes! For A Better San Diego
Digital rending shows the proposed expansion of San Diego's downtown convention center, Jan. 8, 2017.

Failure to expand the convention center means San Diego would lose out on billions of new dollars and thousands of good paying jobs, said San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Vice President the COO Jaymie Bradford.

Homelessness advocates Father Joe Carroll of Father Joe's Villages and Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project also endorsed the measure, citing its commitment and ingenuity in addressing the homelessness crisis.

"This measure provides an unprecedented level of funding to address homelessness," Carroll said. "It will change the lives of thousands of men, women and children living on the streets and will help to prevent homelessness in the future."

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, representing more than 200,000 working families, also endorsed the measure.

Proponents plan to publish the initiatives language sometime this week and hope to begin collecting signatures by the end of January.

Citizens Initiative Announced To Expand San Diego Convention Center
A citizens initiative announced in San Diego Monday would raise revenue to modernize and expand the downtown convention center to drive economic growth and jobs, as well as generate significant funding to alleviate homelessness and repair roads, according