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City Council: Convention Center Measure Should Go To Voters In March 2020

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A 5-4 majority of the San Diego City Council has expressed support for a March 2020 vote on a citizens' initiative that would fund an expansion of the Convention Center. Opponents of the move say it will allow special interests to exert more influence over the election.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 A majority of the San Diego City Council say a public vote on expanding the convention center is too urgent to wait for November, 2020 on a five four vote. The council gave approval for the measure to appear next year on the March presidential primary ballot. That proposal would increase the hotel tax to raise funds for the convention center, homeless services and city infrastructure repair. But opponents say the plan to move the vote up from November to march sets a bad precedent. Joining me as Kpbs Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thanks. This was not the typical partisan split on the city council. Some Democrats voted with Republicans. What were their reasons? Yes, the two Democrats who've, who sided with the Republicans where Jen Campbell, a district two and city council, President Georgia at Gomes district nine. So Campbell said the funding for homeless services, that's included in the measure as needed. Now it's an urgent crisis.

Speaker 1: 00:56 Gomez said things a to a similar effect and also that the council has this authority. So, um, you know, there's nothing illegal or improper about them using it. Uh, you could take a cynical view of this. Uh, Jen Campbell was elected with strong support from unions who were urging her to vote to move the vote up. Uh, and you know, you could say that she was kind of owing them. Gomez also won the chair position of the MTS board with the support from Mayor Kevin Faulkner. And so you could say maybe she owed him as well. And also she's pursuing a tax measure for mts. That would be on the November, 2020 ballot. And so there is a fear that too many tax measures on one ballot could doom them all to fail. So if the convention center measure has moved up to march, it will have less competition for a voters' attention and support.

Speaker 1: 01:46 Let's take a step or two back. Remind us how much the increase in the hotel tax is expected to raise and where that money will go. The estimates are that it would generate a little over $6 billion over 42 years. More than half of the revenue, about three points. $78 billion would go toward funding. The convention center expansion, $2 billion about we'll go to homelessness. It could be used for both affordable housing and services to help the homeless. And those funds are to an extent front loaded some more, more funding in earlier years. And uh, with that scaling back a little bit as, as time goes on and road repair then would become part of the mix starting in 2025. So about $600 million over the life of the measure for road repair. The point of contention in this vote is the city's measure l, which says votes like this should take place on the November ballot.

Speaker 1: 02:39 Why is that a big deal? It has to do with who shows up to the polls. The electorate that shows up to primaries tends to skew wider, wealthier, and more conservative while the, uh, larger turnout in November general elections when there are bigger races like congress and the presidential election, um, include, uh, a swath and more representative swath of, of society prior to measure l passing citizens' initiatives generally had to go on the first ballot that was available. So critics said that special interests could very easily time their signature gathering efforts so that the measure would appear on a primary if they wanted a, you know, a more conservative electorate or a general election if they wanted a more liberal electorate. So measure l made November elections the default. But as I mentioned, it also gave the council have the authority to decide when something should go to the voters sooner.

Speaker 1: 03:33 The campaign for measure l and a similar measureK in 2016 was more voters, better decisions. So there was definitely this argument being made that we should make our biggest decisions when the largest number of people show up. But next March isn't a typical sleepy primary though there are lots of issues on the ballot. It's a presidential primary. Yeah. And that's perhaps the biggest issue in California. Who Will the state choose a four to nominate for the Democratic ticket for president? Uh, California has an earlier primary this year, so it matters more than in previous years. We also have local locutions, so, um, San Diego mayor and five city council districts as well as the city attorney. Some of those races are more active than others perhaps, but those will be primary elections. So the top two finishers, we'll go on to the November ballot. And we also have a few county supervisor elections that overlap with the city of San Diego.

Speaker 1: 04:25 Andrew, you mentioned Labor supports the March vote on the convention center. Also, the Chamber of Commerce supports a March vote. Why? Well, they are both of the backers of the initiative itself and they want this taken care of as soon as possible. They all have this fear that the measure could potentially compete for other, you know, the voters will a to pass taxes if it's on the November ballot. I mentioned the mts tax measure. There's also a proposal to raise property taxes to fund affordable housing. So, uh, the convention center expansion has long been a priority for the Chamber of Commerce for the hotel and tourism industry. They say it will attract more conventions, bigger conventions, overall, more visitors paying hotel taxes, paying sales taxes, and it'll just be a great stimulus to the economy. They also say construction costs are rising. So the longer we wait, the more expensive this will actually be. And Labor supports this because there are some labor friendly, a hiring provisions baked into the measure in construction. And also some of this affordable housing dollars, uh, in the measure could go toward a unionized workforce. Does the city council have to have a second vote on moving up the election? Yes. The official action was to simply express support for moving the vote to March. The city attorney will now have to draft an ordinance that the city council will vote on later this year. I've been speaking with Kpbs Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thank you. Thank you.

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KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.