Voters to get lengthy pamphlet explaining hotel tax increase initiatives

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SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego City Council Wednesday rejected a cost- saving plan to place the texts of two lengthy citizen initiatives online, which means officials will mail to voters pamphlets containing the information.

The pamphlets will supplement the normal informational pamphlets voters will receive prior to the November election.

"To me, this is more about making sure everybody has the information in front of them in order to cast an informed vote,'' Councilman Scott Sherman said at a special meeting.

One of the initiatives would fund construction of a Chargers stadium and convention center annex. The other would prohibit a waterfront expansion of the current convention center and encourage educational and park uses of the Qualcomm Stadium site if the local National Football League franchise vacates the premises.

Both need voter approval because they would raise hotel room taxes.

The text of the initiatives will total nearly 200 pages when printed, and they're just two of a dozen city propositions on the ballot. In addition, there are a few countywide ballot measures and 17 state questions that will go before voters in November.

City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said the city of Encinitas will have a supplemental pamphlet printed for a ballot measure, while the county of San Diego and San Diego Association of Governments will place the text of a couple propositions online, which is allowed by the state elections code.

If the text of San Diego's initiatives were placed online, the city government would save an estimated $800,000 to $1 million, and voters could have requested printed copies, Maland said. Last week, she informed the council members that the November election could cost the city as much as $5.5 million, well over the budgeted $4.17 million.

Councilman Todd Gloria worried that two separate mailings would confuse voters, and called the projected savings a lot of money.

"That's more than we spend on (Americans With Disabilities Act) repairs in a year, almost four times what we spend on summer jobs for youth, it's the value of a fire engine, it could house by my estimate about 150 additional people in the serial inebriate program for the homeless,'' Gloria said. "This is a real money. It's 2016, I think it's perfectly reasonable to put this online.''

However, his motion to do so failed on a 4-2 vote and only picked up the support of council President Sherri Lightner. Sherman and colleagues David Alvarez, Marti Emerald and Lorie Zapf dissented -- while Chris Cate, Myrtle Cole and Mark Kersey were absent for the summer recess.

The alternative, to print the supplemental pamphlets, did not require a vote.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said that while placing the initiatives online is legal, the city has never done so before. The city is obligated to fully inform voters and operate in a fair and impartial manner, he said.

"These two initiatives are very complicated. I've heard many in the community who want to look under the hood, to look at the specifics,'' Goldsmith said. "I think that is very, very important.''

He said the Chargers proposals not only outlines the tax increase but how it will be spent on construction. The Citizens Plan for San Diego, from lawyer Cory Briggs, has several different elements, including the tax increase, the fate of the stadium land in Mission Valley, a new downtown zoning area and new local environmental law, he said.

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