Judge Finalizes Ruling on Tourism Marketing District

On Tuesday, City Council is expected to take up a resolution to support the contract

A San Diego judge finalized his ruling Friday in the ongoing battle between the Tourism Marketing District (TMD) and the mayor’s office, ruling in favor of Mayor Bob Filner.

The basics of the battle go like this: hoteliers say they have the right to money raised through a special tax levied on lodging guests put in to place to promote San Diego as a tourist destination.

Filner, however, has refused to sign a contract releasing the funds without concessions that hotel owners have rejected.

In turn, the industry’s Tourism Marketing District  asked a judge to force Filner to release millions of dollars in room surcharges that it needs to bankroll promotional campaigns.

Judge Timothy Taylor issued a tentative ruling Thursday, but he says the parties may eventually end-up back in his courtroom.

Next week, the City Council takes up a new resolution to close the loophole the judge cited in ruling for Filner. The resolution, tabled last week, would mandate that Filner sign the document, rather than leave it at the discretion of the mayor. 

If approved, the mayor could veto that resolution, and then the City Council could override the mayor's veto with the approval of six councilmembers.

Attorney Michael Colantuono for the hoteliers said he is very confident that the City Council will approve the resolution, but Filner's attorney disagreed, saying the court should let the political process play out.

Meanwhile, a commercial promoting San Diego as a tourist destination is on hold, until the money is available to buy airtime.

"The damage is already done," said Lorin Stewart, the executive director of the Tourism Marketing District. "I just reviewed the numbers from the Smith and Travel Report and San Diego has one of the lowest average daily rates and one of the lowest occupancies right now."

Colantuono added that several employees have turned in their resignations amid the turmoil, and the others have been issued pink slips. Neither he nor Stewart could provide exact budget data on how much the employee compensation budget totaled at the Tourism Authority, after the resignations.

The $435,000 salary of Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi has become a sticking point in the negotiations. Filner has said he doesn't want public money flowing to any marketing group that pays employees more than $160,000 a year.

In Thursday’s tentative ruling, Judge Timothy Taylor denied demands from the TMD to force Filner to sign an agreement to release those millions of dollars.

Judge Taylor ruled that even though the City Council approved the establishment of an agreement with the TMD, it never mandated that the mayor sign a contract with the organization.

“…it is as least arguable that former Mayor Sanders did not consider the Council's action to have placed him under a mandatory duty to sign the contract…He did not do so, and no party has explained why,” Taylor wrote. “The inference is strong that he considered the matter discretionary.”

Based on this, Judge Taylor denied the request to force Mayor Filner to abide by the unsigned agreement. The entire tentative ruling can be read here.

Filner said it was time to go back to the negotiating table.

"I feel vindicated for what I said for the last three months," Filner said. "I didn't want to sign the existing agreement, but I'd be happy to negotiate it ... "

About the hoteliers he added: 

"But they are so use to getting their way, frankly. They have (had) a compliant mayor; they have (had) a compliant City Council. They could not even imagine that someone would question what they were doing." 

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