Hotel tax hike initiative has enough verified signatures for future ballot

SAN DIEGO — Backers of a proposed initiative to raise hotel taxes to fund expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and services for homeless residents collected enough verified signatures to qualify the measure for a future ballot, City Clerk Elizabeth Maland announced Thursday.

The initiative’s supporters needed verified signatures from 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the city at the last general city election. That threshold of 71,646 signatures qualifies the initiative for a future ballot, but not this year.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has not ruled out calling a special election in 2019 for the measure.

The YES! For a Better San Diego initiative was originally slated for the November ballot before random sampling by the Registrar of Voters office showed it would not have enough public support to qualify in 2018. Faulconer tried to force the initiative onto the ballot regardless by presenting a virtually identical initiative to the City Council on the eve of the submission deadline. The City Council subsequently voted against waiving its rules just to take a vote on the measure, and the initiative was presumed dead.

“This initiative is an incredible opportunity to shape the future of our city for the better by tackling our biggest challenges and it can’t happen soon enough,” Faulconer said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “With one vote, San Diegans will be able to help house the homeless, fix our streets and grow our economy — and the best part is it will all be paid for by visitors staying at our hotels. I look forward to working with our diverse coalition of supporters to finally get this across the finish line.”

The measure would raise the city’s 12.5 percent hotel tax to as high as 15.75 percent, depending on the hotel’s location. Revenue from the initiative is estimated to total $5.9 billion over 42 years.

Should it ever pass, the city plans to use a portion of the revenue to purchase property currently owned by Fifth Avenue Landing LLC. That property would then be converted into an expansion of the Convention Center. Portions of the tax revenue would also be allocated to homelessness services and road repairs.

“We are very pleased that it is certain an election will now take place,” said Chris Wahl, the initiative’s campaign manager. “The need to fix our roads, reduce homelessness and create good-paying jobs has not changed. Our broad-based coalition remains laser-focused on providing voters with a real chance to address these issues in a meaningful way. We look forward to engaging with stakeholders to discuss next steps in this critical journey.”