San Diego's lodging industry apparently will take its chances in court -- rather than deal with Mayor Filner -- for money to promote the region to tourists and conventioneers.
On Monday, Filner's latest appeal for concessions was ignored.
The industry’s Tourism Marketing District is asking a judge to force Filner to release millions of dollars in room surcharges that it needs to bankroll promotional campaigns.
Now in limbo: a beach-and-bay oriented TV commercial, featuring a sprightly theme song, that TMD is targeting for markets throughout the West Coast and eastward to the Rockies and beyond.
"We have a lot more to offer than some of our competing destinations,” says Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. "It's a question of, are we going to be out talking to people about coming to San Diego? I think our (commercial) spots, they do a great job of capturing what San Diego's all about -- and that's that true Southern California experience …
"These commercials,” Terzi told NBC 7 in an interview, “generate about 4 million room nights for San Diego over a period of time. So you can argue that people are going to come here -- yes. But how many people will decide to go somewhere else because they don't see San Diego? A significant portion."
San Diego hotels, through their Tourism Marketing District, are generating upwards of $30 million a year in 2 percent room surcharges.
But legalities require the mayor's signature to release that money -- collected by the city -- and he's refusing on grounds that they're illegal taxes, calling the arrangement “a sweetheart deal for the big hoteliers.”
Dozens of Tourism Authority marketing employees have just gotten pink slips that could take effect over the next several weeks.
Filner says that's an issue the nine biggest hotels whose "weighted" voting power created the TMD in a private election should address, by assessing themselves for funds to promote the city.
"Why is it the mayor that's being blamed for this -- they're the ones who wanted to do this," Filner told reporters during a city hall news conference. "They don't need the city to collect this anyway. They are charging a room tax that goes to them … they want (all hotels) assessed so they don't have to pay it all … if the city has to assess and force (hotels) to pay who didn't want to pay this 'self-assessment', what is that called? I think it's tax -- pretty obvious to everybody here."
Filner’s settlement offer to the TMD is predicated on the district allocating $5 million to the 2015 Balboa Park centennial celebration, and encouraging its member hotels to pay "living wages" to its workers.
The mayor also wants to TMD not to contract with marketing firms that pay executive salaries of more than $160,000 – including the Tourism Authority’s chief, Terzi, who receives $430,000 in annual compensation.
Political observers say Filner’s real issue in court is preserving his “strong mayor” discretion over contracts, and that the legal nuances of the surcharge scheme will be up to other opponents of the TMD to challenge.
"This all comes down to: Does the mayor get something out of this standoff?” says Voice of San Diego columnist Scott Lewis. “And if he can hold something up and say 'Look, without me you wouldn't have gotten this -- that's a big deal for him."
TMD directors, meeting Wednesday afternoon, later told NBC 7 that everything Filner was proposing had been rejected.
They'll see him in court Friday, seeking an writ of mandate compelling him to sign the necessary paperwork to free up the surcharge money.
A Manhattan Beach law firm, retained by the city, will represent the mayor.