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San Diego Will Ask Judge To Salvage Convention Center Expansion
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Photo by Erik Anderson
In March 2020, Measure C, the citizens' ballot initiative that would fund an expansion to the San Diego Convention Center, fell just short of approval by two-thirds of city voters. But City Council members Tuesday voted to move forward with it anyway, saying new legal precedent is on their side.
More than 65% of city voters approved Measure C, which would raise the city's hotel room tax to fund the expansion project as well as infrastructure and housing and services for the homeless. Such special taxes have historically needed a two-thirds supermajority to pass in California.
But recent court decisions have upended that legal doctrine. Judges have ruled when special taxes are placed on the ballot via a citizens' initiative, rather than by a government agency, they need only a simple majority of votes to pass.
The Council's 6-3 vote on Tuesday was supported by hoteliers, developers and labor unions representing hotel workers and Convention Center employees, all of whom argued Measure C will help the city's economic recovery.
"This is a great way for a lot of us employees to be able to pick up extra hours," Convention Center worker Veronica Luna said in a press conference prior to the council meeting. "I'm pretty sure that I speak for a lot of coworkers and myself when I say that we're very eager and very excited to get back to work."
The city's ballot materials indicated to voters that Measure C needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Opponents of the Council's action Tuesday argued that regardless of the measure’s benefits, lowering the threshold to a simple majority would overrule the will of voters.
"If you vote to change the threshold one year after voters have made their decision, no matter how close it may have been, you're betraying the democratic principles you swore to uphold," said Christopher Wilson, associate director of the nonprofit Alliance San Diego. "You'll be proving that you do not listen, you do not care and you do not respect the voice of the voters."
Councilmember Stephen Whitburn countered it is the California Constitution, not the ballot materials submitted to voters, that determines the threshold for approval.
"The people voted for this in every part of our city, north of 8 and south of 8," Whitburn said. "We should not silence the voices of 65% of our residents, especially when the courts say they have the constitutional right to pass a citizens' initiative with a simple majority."
Joining Whitburn in support of the action were Councilmembers Joe LaCava, Jen Campbell, Marni Von Wilpert, Chris Cate and Raul Campillo. Councilmembers Monica Montgomery Steppe, Vivian Moreno and Sean Elo-Rivera voted against the action.
The Council now plans on asking a judge to validate its decision on Measure C. If and when that happens, the city will start collecting the additional taxes from San Diego hotels and issuing bonds to fund the Convention Center expansion project.
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