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Two years after voters had their say, Measure C's fate is still in limbo

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KPBS Staff
The San Diego Convention Center is shown in this undated photo.

In March 2020, 65% of San Diegans voted to approve Measure C. The measure would have financed an expansion of the Convention Center, and, through a hotel tax, it would've raised hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for homeless programs and to fix San Diego roads.

But it failed because it needed a two-thirds margin to pass. So why is this still an issue?

The answer to that question stems from April 2021, when the City Council decided to seek what is called a “validation suit.” In it, the city contends that the measure really only needed a simple majority to pass, so, therefore, it should go into effect.

That was when the lawsuits against the city started. On Friday, a hearing on the matter was finally held in a San Diego court. Alliance San Diego is one of the plaintiffs. Andrea Guerrero is the group's executive director.

“This case is about power," she said. "Who has it? Is it the people or is it the politicians?”

Guerrero said the answer was clear: It’s the people. She said the city violated the trust of voters by waiting a full year, in violation of state law, to declare the results of the election. Guerrero said that should’ve happened in April 2020.

Alliance doesn’t take a position on the merits of Measure C or whether it should’ve required a two-thirds margin or a simple majority.

“Our issue is about whether the City Council violated our trust when they decided to hold open an election for more than a year and then move the finish line long after the race was run," Guerrero said.

RELATED: San Diego Will Ask Judge To Salvage Convention Center Expansion

Another plaintiff is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

“Our main issue really is that Measure C is a special tax and, under Proposition 13 and 218, it should’ve required a two-thirds voter-approval margin in order to pass," said Laura Dougherty, the group's senior attorney.

It’s a rare day when Alliance San Diego and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are on the same side of an issue. They’re suing the city for different reasons, but Dougherty also said Alliance was correct on the issue of ballot integrity and voter trust.

“There was a long-standing case from 1956 that did say that you cannot tell the voters one-vote margin in the ballot materials and then pass the measure on a different vote margin later," she said.

The city’s case is being argued by the Office of the City Attorney. Officials told KPBS that it does not comment on pending cases.

A judge took this one under consideration, but, no matter how the court decides, both sides have indicated that they will appeal — and it’s likely that this case will eventually make its way to and be decided by the California Supreme Court.