San Diego

San Diego City Leaders Argue Convention Center Ballot Measure Passed, Seeking Court Approval

Measure C fell short of a two-thirds approval last March, but the City Council says post-election court rulings changed the threshold to a simple majority

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Measure C, a March 2020 ballot measure that sought to fund upgrades to San Diego's waterfront convention center and other services, didn't get the two-thirds supermajority it needed to pass, but the San Diego City Council says post-election appellate court rulings have established the simple majority as the new threshold for similar ballot items and wants to declare Measure C approved.

Measure C was put before San Diego voters in March, 2020. The citizens' initiative proposed an increase to taxes guests pay at San Diego hotels for the next 30 years.

Revenue would have funded "convention center expansion, modernization, promotion and operations, homelessness services and programs and street repairs," according to the city council.

Danny Freeman is joined by Homeless Advocate Michael McConnell to discuss Measure C which would raise hotel occupancy taxes to fund expansion of the waterfront convention center.

When the measure was put before voters, the ballot and ballot pamphlet both stated a supermajority was needed for approval. That was "based on the city attorney’s determination as to the legal precedent and usual practice in California at the time of submittal of Measure C to the voters," according to a City Council report outlining its plan to declare the measure approved.

Once the final vote was tallied, 65.24% of deciding voters were in favor, just shy of two-thirds.

Despite the city attorney's determination, the city council says opposite decisions from California trial courts on the approval threshold for special taxes proposed by citizens' initiatives created ambiguity surrounding the approval threshold. Further, it claims three appellate court rulings handed down since last March concluded a simple majority is enough.

On Wednesday, the office of San Diego mayor Todd Gloria released a statement attributable to Gloria:

“In light of the recent legal precedent, the city council should declare that Measure C was approved by voters and that we should pursue obtaining a court determination to ensure we can proceed with its implementation. A majority of San Diegans voted to expand the convention center, repair our streets and finally have a dedicated funding source for homeless services and shelter; it’s our duty to implement their will and make San Diego a better place for all of us.”

Now, San Diego is asking the court to sign off on its declaration. The City Council said it won't take any steps to implement Measure C until it gets a favorable court ruling.

According tot he 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 infratructure.

"The focus here is expanding the convention center, using the homelessness crisis and shoddy infrastructure to lure voters in to check the yes box," said homeless services advocate Michael McConnell, who in January 2020 claimed to have spent over $100,000 of his own money on polling and analysis of the measure.

On April 7, 2020, the City Council adopted the results of the 2020 Primary Election, but when it came to Measure C, instead of approving or rejecting the election results, the City Council noted:

  • A split of authority exists in California as to whether a majority vote or a two-thirds supermajority vote is required for the passage of a special tax proposed by citizens’ initiative.
  • The ballot and ballot pamphlet stated a two-thirds vote threshold for approval of Measure C, based on the City Attorney’s determination as to the legal precedent and usual practice in California at the time of submittal of Measure C to the voters.
  • 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.
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