If you've visited the County of San Diego's website lately-and we bet you haven't-there's a link at the upper left side of the page: "Tourist Occupancy Tax Refunds."
Tax refunds? Where? Sign us up!
Indeed, in 1990, the county Board of Supervisors voted to increase the county's hotel tax from 8 to 9 percent. Problem was, in 1986, a state ballot measure passed saying tax increases require the approval of two-thirds of voters. That law was tied up in court in 1990, but eventually was ruled legal. The current Board of Supervisors, none of whom were in office in 1990, didn't realize the mistake until last year, but not before $4 million had been collected from unsuspecting tourists. Now the money has to be refunded.
So, if you stayed in a hotel or motel in an unincorporated part of the county (read: any part of the county that's not an official city with its own governing body and such), you're entitled to a 1 percent refund of your entire bill. Stayed at Apple Granny's Bed & Breakfast in Julian in 2000 with a bill of $300? The county owes you $3.
County treasurer-tax collector Dan McAllister said he's so far received 14 eligible claims, totaling $221.60 in refunds. McAllister said the county plans to run ads about the refund in out-of-town publications.
McAllister even pitched the idea of hotels contacting former guests about the refund-but a lot don't keep records that far back or have changed ownership. "It would have been a great way to reconnect with past visitors," he said. ""Here's your $5 refund and, by the way, would you like to visit here again?'"
Mattes' 15 minutes
John Mattes' fame has reached new heights, joining a select few: Jenna Jameson, Saddam Hussein, Paris Hilton. They're spam subject lines, one and all.
Mattes, who is on vacation and unavailable for comment, must be proud to have reached such popularity that the pummeled reporter can be used to induce unsuspecting readers to open unsolicited e-mail.
Was it really just last week that Assad Suleiman, the subject of Mattes' investigation, cold-cocked him in the side of his head before dragging him to the sidewalk where he kicked him to the point of cracking some ribs? And all on camera, too. The link from Fox 6 News became a hot item on the Internet as San Diegans forwarded the clip around to friends and family. Spammers, always alert for an opening, got right on the job sticking Mattes' name in e-mails selling the latest hot stock tips.
Celebrity names get people to open up e-mail. If there's a link in the e-mail, just getting people to read the e-mail will satisfy the spammer, even if the person never buys the stock (or the performance enhancement, or whatever). The point is Google rankings. Search-engine companies keep search-result-ranking formulas secret, but they have admitted that the number of people linking to a site is an important component.
"Every time you open one of those e-mails, it sends a signal to the web server. The company can use that pre-request to raise its rankings," said Philip Raymond, CEO of the anti-Spam company Vanquish Labs.
Of course, fame of this sort is fleeting, and Mattes should remain humble. Just this morning a member of CityBeat's staff got an e-mail that switched the bait from Mattes to Suleiman.