Judge dismisses tourism suit against Filner

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego Superior Court judge Friday upheld his tentative ruling that Mayor Bob Filner had discretion to not sign an operating agreement with the city’s Tourism Marketing District.

Mayor Bob FilnerJudge Timothy Taylor, however, left the door open for a future legal remedy for the TMD, depending on how things play out over the next couple of weeks.

When the City Council renewed the TMD in November, it authorized the mayor or his designee to sign an operating agreement, which releases administrative funds to the agency, according to Taylor. It did not require the mayor’s signature or specify a specific document, he said.

Ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders wasn’t able to sign the deal before he left office and Filner, his successor, has refused to give his blessing, calling it bad for taxpayers. He has suggested several changes, but has been rebuffed by the hotel industry.

The TMD’s next hope is a new resolution scheduled to be considered by the City Council Tuesday. This one would require the mayor’s signature on the original operating agreement.

The judge said if the City Council passes the new resolution and overrides a veto, and Filner still refuses to sign it, the TMD could file a new lawsuit.

“He knows he has to sign it” if the new resolution passes, the judge said.

The mayor said one shouldn’t assume what the City Council will do next week. He noted after the court hearing that the new resolution had been scheduled for this week, but was never introduced.

“I don’t know what kind of resolution they’re going to pass,” Filner said. “They may adopt my counter-offered contract.”

He said he will argue that his version of the agreement is best, and he hopes to negotiate with hoteliers before then.

Filner’s counter-offer to the TMD includes, among other things, stronger indemnification for the city in case a judge rules against the agency’s funding mechanism, which is being challenged in a separate court action.

He also demanded that the TMD spend $6 million on the 2015 centennial celebration of Balboa Park, encourage member hotels to pay a living wage to employees, and prohibit funding to organizations that pay annual salaries above $160,000. The agency rejected the demands.

The TMD receives a 2 percent surcharge on room rates to advertise San Diego as a destination. Money also goes to organizations that stage events that attract visitors.

Tourism officials have already issued layoff notices to employees if their funding is cut off.

TMD lawyer Michael Colantuono said the resolution before the City Council next week is very simple, and his clients hope it will pass with the six votes necessary to override a potential veto.

“The mayor certainly has the opportunity to veto that resolution if he pleases ,” said Colantuono. “We’re hopeful that it will pass with six votes so there won’t be a need for that process.”

The lawyers in the case conceded that more litigation might be ahead. If Filner refuses to sign the document as directed in the new resolution and the TMD takes him back to court, he could appeal an adverse ruling, which would take several months to be heard.

Funds would not be released while the case is being litigated, per city policy.

The Executive Director of the T.M.D. said San Diego’s tourism industry is suffering without the marketing funds that come with the contract.

“I think San Diego has one of the lowest average daily rates now and one of the lowest occupancies,” said Lorin Stewart, T.M.D. Executive Director. “So not being in the industry and not being out in the marketplace has certainly affected the tourism industry and the hospitality industry and lodging industry in the city of San Diego so far.”