Alliance San Diego (ASD) has been at the forefront of calling for greater transparency and accountability in the ongoing discussion about possible tax increases and bonds to finance a convention center expansion. The shortcuts and payouts of prior years have undermined our democracy and cost us millions of dollars. It’s time for City Council to correct course.
The proposed financing for a convention center expansion has NEVER gone through a public deliberation process. In 2012, City Council excluded the voters from an election on a proposed financing scheme and only allowed hotel owners to vote their interests. Since that election was ruled unconstitutional, proponents of the expansion have attempted to bring their proposal to voters with a pre-baked ballot measure that has never gone through a process for public input. Now they want City Council to place it in a primary election with significantly lower turnout than is expected for the November general election, contrary to the will of voters in Measure L.
In the course of all of this, the City has struggled to acquire the lease for the contiguous land needed for the expansion. In back-to-back bad deals, the City has paid out a total of $9 million for the option to buy the lease for the land through 2024. In both deals, the City failed to fulfill its commitments, thereby losing its option to lease and losing the money it spent. Adding to poor financial management, in its most recent deal, the City agreed to a penalty clause that prohibits it from pursuing a lease to the land until 2026.
So here we are. Nine million dollars lost, no land for expansion, no chance of getting it for another seven years, an expansion proposal that depends on this land deal, and proponents asking City Council to override voters in Measure L to move the ballot measure up eight months, from November to March 2020, to improve its chances.
Now City Council has the option to continue the pattern of shortcuts or to honor the voters as they decide when to bring the measure before voters and what the ballot question should be. Given the missteps over the last decade, voters look to City Council to act in the public’s best interests, not in the interests of a private coalition. City Council’s duty is to the voters who elected them and it is their will that should be honored and treated with respect.
2008 - The City of San Diego pays $1 million to Fifth Avenue Landing (FAL) to explore buying the remainder of their lease to contiguous land in order to expand the convention center.
2010 - The City agrees to buy out FAL’s lease, pays another $1 million up front, and agrees to pay another $15.8 million by 2015, banking on money being available from a future ballot measure.
2012 - The City Council holds a special election but only allows hoteliers to vote, not the full city electorate, in order to impose a tax and authorize bonds to expand the convention center. Voters sue.
2014 - The courts strike down the City’s election as unconstitutional. By that time, the City has paid FAL $4 million to buy out their leasehold, but stops paying and loses the option to acquire the land.
2016 - Voters pass Measure L, requiring City Council to schedule citizens’ initiatives for general elections in November, when the most people vote. It passes with two-thirds of the vote.
2017 - Mayor Faulconer proposes a special election to fund expansion of the convention center. The City Council declines to schedule a special election on the heels of Measure L.
2018 - The City enters into a new agreement with FAL to buy out their lease for contiguous land for a possible expansion. The City makes a non-refundable payment of $5 million.
2018 - In the spring, a private coalition attempts to qualify a tax and bond measure to finance the expansion but fails to get enough signatures in time to quality for the 2018 November election.
2018 - In the summer, Mayor Faulconer rushes his version of the coalition’s measure to City Council, which says No, having been given no time to analyze it and no time for public review.
2018 - In the fall, the private coalition succeeds in gathering enough signatures to qualify their measure, “For a Better San Diego,” for November 2020, after missing their chance for 2018.
2019 - In the spring, the City suspends its payments to FAL, losing its option to lease the land. The City is subject to a penalty clause that prohibits it from pursuing the lease again until 2026.
2019 - In an about face, the City Council passes a non-binding resolution to schedule “For a Better San Diego” for March 2020. ASD responds that this decision undermines voters in Measure L.
2019 - In the fall, City Council considers an ordinance to place the measure on the March ballot. ASD raises concerns about election manipulation and the motives behind moving up the ballot measure.
2019 - A decision on the ordinance is now pending and includes a proposed ballot question that is deficient in a number of ways. As detailed by ASD, the ballot question is not an honest, clear, or accurate summary of the measure. These concerns are relevant regardless of when City Council decides to put the measure before voters.