The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to pass a ballot measure that would raise hotel taxes for a convention center expansion, homeless programs and street repairs despite its failure during the 2020 Primary Election.
The San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to confirm Measure C after arguing that a simple majority (50% +1 of the vote) should have been sufficient for its passing in the first place -- not the two-thirds supermajority that the city attorney determined to be set by legal precedent.
The citizens' initiative failed in March 2020 when it received 65.24% of the vote, just shy of what was needed.
Councilmembers Monica Montgomery Steppe, Vivian Moreno, Sean Elo-Rivera were the dissenting votes.
Despite the vote on Tuesday, no changes to the Transient Occupancy Tax or any other Measure C changes will be made until the courts determine the city council's decision to be valid.
Advocates for the city council's determination, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, argued that more recent appellate court rulings established a simple majority as the new threshold for similar ballot items -- and that's what should have been used when the measure faced voters in 2020. If that were the case, Measure C would have passed.
"I want to thank the City Council majority for adopting my recommendation and voting to validate Measure C. The people of San Diego asked us to take up this measure in March and an overwhelming majority voted to support it -- 65%. It's time to implement the will of the voters," Gloria said in a Tweet following the vote.
The mayor also said Measure C would create thousands of jobs and reignite the tourism industry post-pandemic.
"Residents of San Diego put Measure C on the ballot with the belief that raising taxes on out-of-town visitors to expand the convention center would help launch our City into a new era of prosperity,” Gloria said.
Opponents argue that the move is changing the will of the people.
Rev. Shane Harris, President of the People's Association of Justice Advocates in San Diego, who also opposed Measure C during election season, said that the vote "moves democracy backwards."
Measure C was voted down by the people of San Diego for multiple reasons including the fact that they didn't need another tax which would have critically hurt them should this have passed in a pandemic year," Harris said in a statement, in part. "The action at today's city council meeting is like changing the rules in the middle of the game because you didn't like the results and it is a reversal of the people of San Diego's voices."
City Councilmember Raul Campillo said he voted for the measure so that the city attorney could pursue certainty from the courts that Measure C passed legally.
"The California Supreme Court recently allowed a similar citizens' initiative with a 50% majority vote to stand, as the California Constitution expressly provides that a citizens' initiative takes effect when 'approved by a majority of votes.' San Diego voters far surpassed this barrier..." Campillo said in a statement.
The report from the San Diego City Council argues that the determination that a supermajority was needed was based on the city attorney's attempt to look at legal precedent of similar ballot measures at the time.
But, opposite decisions from California trial courts on the approval threshold for special taxes proposed by citizens' initiatives created ambiguity surrounding the approval threshold, the city council argued. Further, the report claims three appellate court rulings handed down since last March concluded a simple majority is enough.
According to the City Council report, Measure C could generate $6.8 billion in additional hotel tax revenue, including $4 billion for convention center upgrades, $2.1 billion for homelessness services and $700 million for street repairs.
Opponents to Measure C argued there were no guarantees that any money would be set aside for the homeless or road infrastructure.
At Tuesday's press conference, the mayor was joined by homeless advocates including Deacon Jim Vargas, President of Father Joe's Villages.
The city council never approved or rejected Measure C when it came time to adopt the results of the 2020 Primary Election. Instead, the city council said, "It is anticipated that the California Supreme Court will issue a final decision in the future resolving the ambiguity as to the vote threshold applicable to a special tax proposed by citizens’ initiative, and the California Supreme Court’s decision may impact Measure C."
The city council said it won't take any steps to implement Measure C until it gets a favorable court ruling.