Mayor signs tourism contracts ending dispute

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SAN DIEGO — Mayor Bob Filner Thursday signed a much-debated operating agreement with San Diego’s Tourism Marketing District.

A dispute over details of the contract blew up in recent months as the mayor sought numerous changes, but the two sides reached a deal about 10 days ago.

The district uses a 2 percent charge on hotel room rates — which is separate from the hotel room tax — to promote San Diego as a vacation destination. It also supports organizations that put on events which attract visitors.

The mayor’s actions will release administrative funds to the agency, once hotels issue waivers needed to protect the city from current lawsuits challenging the funding mechanism.

“That was at the heart of all of the negotiations — protection for the city and its general fund should either of these suits be determined to be successful,” Filner said. “I think that’s what we got out of it.”

If the 2 percent levy was ruled to be an illegal tax, the money raised would have to be replaced — and if the funds already were spent on advertising, city officials worried that the reimbursements would have to come from the general fund.

Filner said if the lawsuits fail, the $30 million put up by hotels to protect the city would be redirected to TMD activities. The agency also will entertain requests for millions of dollars in funding by organizers of a year- long celebration of Balboa Park’s centennial in 2015.

The City Council renewed the TMD last November, but then-Mayor Jerry Sanders was unable to sign all the necessary paperwork by the time he left office.

Filner objected to aspects of the deal beyond indemnification. He originally asked for higher pay for hotel workers and for some of the money raised by the 2 percent charge to go to public safety.

Both demands were later dropped, though City Council President Todd Gloria has promised to hold a hearing on a potential livable wage ordinance in the near future.

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