Proposal for Hotel Room Tax Hike Advances

A City Council committee voted unanimously Wednesday to direct the mayor's and city attorney's offices to draft language for a proposed ballot measure to raise hotel room taxes to pay for an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and produce funding streams for road repairs and homelessness programs.

The proposed ballot measure would be brought before the full council in June.

Wednesday's 5-0 Rules Committee vote followed more than two hours of discussion and comments from dozens of San Diegans on each side of the measure.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed the ballot measure. Local tourism boosters contend the bayside convention center is losing out on the biggest trade shows because other cities can offer facilities with more room. Competitors for years have been trying to lure away Comic-Con International, the annual celebration of the popular arts that began in San Diego and is the area's largest annual event.

"This is really about investing in our city in a way that will pay back a return on that investment," said City Councilman Mark Kersey, the committee's vice chairman. "For every dollar the city invests in the convention center, we return a dollar-40. Not everything we do has to have a dollars and cents financial return, but this one does."

The mayor's office said expansion would add 400,000 square feet of convention space, which could attract an additional 50 events to downtown. Supporters projected that would generate an additional $15 million annually in room tax revenue for the city from more than 380,000 new hotel room nights.

The extra dollars would help pay for municipal services such as public safety, parks and libraries, according to the mayor's office.

The proposal also estimates an additional $10 million each would be directed to programs for the homeless and road repairs every year, with the income growing as tourism increases. That money can back bonds that would bring in additional funding for projects.

"I'm tired, and San Diegans in general are tired of putting a Band-Aid over an issue that should have been a priority a long time ago," said Ismahan Abdullahi, director of community partnership and civic engagement at the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans. "We are in dire need of real change and in dire need of leadership. Our families deserve better."

The levy -- known officially as the Transient Occupancy Tax -- is paid by hotel guests. The Chargers attempted a similar funding mechanism in their stadium measure last November, but it failed to gain the support of even a majority of voters. Two-thirds voter support is required to raise taxes.

With Wednesday's vote, committee members directed the mayor's and city attorney's offices to draft the ballot language and bring it to the full City Council in June. That's when the council could decide whether to call a special election for November and place the item on the ballot -- likely alongside a plan to redevelop the Qualcomm Stadium property.

If approved by two-thirds of voters, the hotel room tax increase would take effect in 2018. Construction on the convention center expansion would begin in summer 2019 and take 44 months.

The Rules Committee also unanimously approved a proposal by Council President Myrtle Cole, the committee chairwoman, to create a special council panel to tackle homelessness issues.

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