SD Convention Center Expansion Faces Legal Hurdles

Critics of the plan take issue with a tax surcharge meant to fund the project

After receiving a green light from the California Coastal Commission Thursday, plans to expand the San Diego Convention may face an uphill legal battle over how to fund the project.

Thursday evening, supporters of the convention center expansion earned a major win after the Coastal Commission unanimously approved the plan.

Initially the commission was against the plan, primarily because it did not include a pedestrian bridge.

However, after hearing from over 90 speakers at a public meeting in Mission Valley, the Coastal Commission approved the expansion, thus allowing plans to enter the final stage.

Supporters of the expansion celebrated the win, but for them the journey isn't over.

Funding plans for the $520 million project are now in the hands of the courts.

In order to pay for the project, the plan includes a tax surcharge of between one and three percent to be paid by guests at hotels surrounding the convention center.

Hoteliers joined together and voted on the surcharge, which officials said would make up the bulk of the $520 million financing plan.

But critics are not pleased.

In their eyes, the public tax should have been voted on.

A Superior Court judge has already ruled in favor of the funding plan, but challengers requested an appeal. They said they're prepared to take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

"If this type of voting measure can be put in place in communities around the state, all of a sudden you've taken the right to vote away from the people and essentially given them to well funded businesses," said Craig Sherman, a plaintiff attorney in the case.

Steven Johnson of the San Diego Convention Center Corp. believes the case won't stop expansion plans all together.

"We feel confident the funding mechanism put in place by the mayor and city council, with the support of the hotel community, will be found constitutional on appeal as it was when it was challenged in Superior Court," Johnson said.

According to convention center officials, the concern over legal challenges ahead pail in relation to the concern they had over Thursday's Coastal Commission hearing.

Officials said that if the legal challenges go all the way to the Supreme Court, regardless of outcome, it would delay their hopes of having the new convention center built by the end of 2017.

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