Marge, the reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think!
Early last week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer was probably gleefully gazing out his 11th-floor window, envisioning an easy glide into a second term come next June and—by golly, why not!—a shot at the governorship in 2018.
But by week’s end, Captain Smooth Sailing was buffeted by two barnacle-loosening broadsides to his keel. One was a feisty Democrat from his own council district who announced she would mount a mayoral challenge. The other was thorn-in-the-side activist attorney Corey Briggs, flanked by an exuberant former councilwoman Donna Frye, unveiling a much-anticipated proposed ballot measure for June that would boost San Diego’s hotel-tax and set the stage to tackle some of the city’s most nettlesome issues.
Spin Cycle (which this issue gleefully returns to the weekly rotation!) will have more later on the ramifications of mayoral candidate/Ocean Beach Town Council President Gretchen Newsom’s surprise announcement this past weekend. For now, let’s just say the Republican incumbent’s imagined smooth re-election coronation is about to hit some turbulence.
Exhibit A from her self-named website: “Our community groups are laboratories for finding solutions to improve our neighborhoods, but they aren’t being heard by our current mayor. For example, instead of celebrating street benches built by community members, the mayor is ripping them out.” Ouch!
But speaking of ripping them out, Faulconer’s hair follicles probably got tugged fiercely last week when Briggs—the attorney City Hall loves to hate—tossed the biggest wrench into the mayor’s planned political cakewalk to term two. It was a proposed ballot initiative for June that would reform the city’s tourism-tax system while injecting an estimated $90 million a year into the city’s general fund. This would create a path that could lead to downtown solutions for both the Chargers and convention center expansion—even new parkland and educational opportunities in Mission Valley, should its NFL future fade.
At 28 pages, the socalled “Pay Their Own Way” initiative is a dense read, but its intent is clearly defined in its first paragraph: “The petition seeks to require tourists and the businesses benefiting from tourism to pay their fair share of the costs to develop, maintain and enhance existing and new facilities and infrastructure in an economically sustainable and environmentally responsible manner…”
In other words, issues the leadership in this town has been dithering over in a costly, time-wasting way over many years might finally be decided by voters. Honest-togoodness voters. Imagine!
Leaders this week—including magnates of the local hotel in dustry, the most devoted Briggs haters—huddled around the “no comment” mantra after the initiative’s launch. Rumors persisted that City Attorney Jan Goldsmith sought a private audience with NFL officials, who are holding a public hearing in town this week, to put his spin on the measure. Words like “scrambling” and “chaos” peppered conversations about City Hall maneuverings.
“This city, for reasons that lots of people should be blamed for, doesn’t have its shit together,” Briggs said following a press conference in the parking lot of his Morena Boulevard law office, where last he stood with Frye to denounce the creepy behavior of former mayor Bob Filner.
“This is a much better day than it was the last time we all met here,” Frye noted in her comments. “This is something so good for a change that we can resolve all these issues that have been driving us all nuts. We’ve just sort of been stopped by the inertia of not being able to make a decision…Everybody’s sort of stuck. Well, this unsticks us, gets us out of the mud and moving forward.”
Added Frye about the initiative: “It benefits the public…the hoteliers…educational facilities… the Chargers. In other words, it benefits everybody, and that’s a good thing.”
As Spin Cycle has noted in previous columns, San Diego’s 10.5 percent visitor tax—known here as the ever-bureaucratic “transient occupancy tax” (TOT)— ranks an abysmal 101st among cities in the nation, on par with Little Rock and Orlando and well below those levied in towns considered San Diego’s tourism rivals, such as Anaheim (17 percent), San Francisco (16.25 percent) or Los Angeles (15.5 percent).
Hotel owners a few years back voted among themselves to tack on an additional 2 percent surcharge to customer bills that would pay for tourism promotion, but Briggs has that vote in his crosshairs. A trial on that matter is set to begin Nov. 6. Hotel power brokers seem intent to wage that war, for whatever reason— ego, negotiating position, whatever.
Under Briggs’ proposal, the 10.5 percent TOT would rise to 15.5 percent and the 2 percent surcharge would go away. But as Frye noted, the initiative “will generate approximately $72 million annually for the hoteliers through self-assessments. It will help them do marketing. It will also allow them to help build infrastructure to support the tourism industry.”
Briggs said he spent the last nine months talking to stakeholders and crafting the initiative, which should be hitting the streets in a couple weeks for an all-out, signature-gathering barrage that must be completed by mid-January to qualify for the June ballot. He said as much as $500,000 might be spent to gather the desired 75,000 signatures. As a general tax, the measure would require only a majority vote, Briggs added.
The San Diego Stadium Coalition, with dreams of a future home for the Chargers downtown, has pledged $50,000 toward the cause and has created a GoFundMe account to help.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” said Jason Riggs, chairman of the coalition. “We immediately signed on. It’s the solution we’ve been looking for for seven years.”
Critics have already pounced, questioning the measure’s complexity but lack of specifics. On Friday, the Tourism Marketing District issued a common-themed statement: “As Mayor Faulconer stated this week, he is reserving judgment on the ballot initiative until he has time to analyze and seek counsel. The TMD board will also engage counsel to review and advise the board on how this could benefit or harm tourism and its marketing efforts. This is a complex initiative with many proposed issues woven into 28 pages.”
Translation: June 2016 just got interesting!