Sept. 28 2016 02:00 PM

Little money, big debt, but crossed fingers

Measure D proponents Cory Briggs and John Moores, pondering Mission Valley's future.
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

You aim for the palace and get drowned in the sewer.

—Mark Twain

Maybe it was the stifling heat. Perhaps yet another miserable San Diego Chargers performance had momentarily sapped his enthusiasm.

Whatever the reason, activist attorney Cory Briggs on Monday sounded none too confident about the prospects of his inaugural foray into ballot-measure crafting, the hotel-tax-raising Measure D.

“I’m just gonna keep spreading the word as much as I can, and keep my fingers crossed,” Briggs said in a brief text exchange.

While a competing hotel-tax-boosting initiative, the Chargers-backed Measure C, continues to dominate the conversation, Measure D seems to be limping along on a hope and a prayer.

The campaign consultant for Measure D, the initiative-savvy Tom Shepard, has been let go, Briggs said. “I like Tom, but ran out of $,” he wrote.

Any sign of a campaign operation is non-existent. “Haven’t had one since we turned in the signatures,” Briggs added.

On the plus side for Measure D, there also appears to be no formal opposition campaign either—perhaps due to a sense this initiative has no chance of prevailing in November.

According to the most recent filings from D backers, the campaign is nearly $790,000 in debt with less than $20,000 in the bank. Funding has effectively dried up, leaving Briggs with little to do but cross his fingers.

That means little likelihood of media buys as the November 8 election approaches. Briggs isn’t even sure how the measure is faring among voters. “No money, no polling,” he lamented.

In August, The San Diego Union-Tribune released a poll in partnership with 10News that found 29 percent of voters supporting Measure D, 27 percent were opposed, and 44 percent were uncertain—certainly not the kind of numbers anyone would crow about, but leaving enough room to hope that enough voters could be educated about the measure to eke out a majority win.

The county Democratic Party has endorsed Measure D, which would raise the so-called transient occupancy tax to 15.5 percent from 10.5 percent and create pathways for future decisions about expanded convention-center space downtown as well as a new Chargers stadium, should the team agree to pay for it.

Proponents argue that while Measure D protects city coffers from future general-fund grabs to pay for these new toys, the Chargers measure does none of that, putting taxpayers on the hook should revenues not meet expectations.

Despite the endorsement, the Democratic Party won’t be directing any campaign money toward the measure, save for mentions on campaign mailers and door hangers. That would only change, party insiders say, if measure backers—such as former Padres owner John Moores, his development company JMI Realty, or JMI’s Ballpark Village LLC mixed-use development partner Lennar Homes—decided to kick more money the party’s way.

Perhaps wisely, Measure D backers are making their best effort to back out of the downtown conversation presently overwhelming Measure C, which has garnered the disdain of East Village and Barrio Logan residents alike.

As Briggs put it, “It’s all about [San Diego State University] and Mission Valley.”

Indeed, Measure D gained the prized endorsement of former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye specifically because of its effort to re-imagine Mission Valley, should the Chargers choose to vacate Qualcomm Stadium for a new home downtown or some other city.

Proponents envision an opportunity to create a new “front door” to the overcrowded campus of SDSU just a few trolley stops to the east while expanding parkland in Mission Valley.

And San Diego State seems to be paying attention. A survey reportedly has been sent to alumni and Aztec football season-ticket holders to determine interest in the construction of a new 40,000- seat stadium in Mission Valley.

Some insiders say the response so far has been positive, but SDSU knows it has a problem on its hands. The school, the Union-Tribune reported in August, failed to make the cut in its effort to join the Big 12, and it has lost its athletic director, Jim Sterk, who made that push to join the big leagues.

While the report suggested that traveling distance for other Big 12 teams was the biggest factor in eliminating San Diego State from consideration, others have suggested the uncertainty of where the Aztecs will play in the future also factored into the decision.

Moores, a University of Houston alum, is said to still hold affection for San Diego State—they’re both “working-class” campuses, one insider said—and shows a growing affinity for the game of soccer, despite two failed efforts to purchase a team in England.

Spin Cycle’s guess is that San Diego would embrace a Major League Soccer franchise—hell, the winningest team in San Diego history is neither the pathetic Padres nor the self-destructive Chargers but the San Diego Sockers.

But who knows what San Diego will do, other than likely shoot itself in the foot, again. And with two measures on the November ballot seeking to boost a hotel tax that ranks an embarrassing 110th in the nation—below Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Huntsville, Alabama, for cripe’s sake!—will we talk again about raising the tax within the next decade should both measures go down in flames? In this town, don’t bet on it.

Perhaps a future ballot measure, should these tank, will simply ask for a straight hotel-tax hike. Yes, we’ve been down that road before, and the haters will likely hate again. Maybe Moores can revive his image in San Diego by championing a vision bigger than sports.

Heck, voters might even take the advice of former county supervisor Pam Slater-Price, who recently announced on the Times of San Diego website that after actually reading Measure D, she had changed her mind and was now endorsing it.

“After reading everything all the way through—twice—I could not find anything not to like about it,” she wrote. “Measure D is fantastic because it puts the public first on all the big issues we face in our community.”


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