Council places hotel tax hike, city auditor measures on March 2020 ballot

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council voted Monday to place two ballot measures on the March 2020 ballot, including a hotel tax hike that would fund a convention center expansion, homeless services and infrastructure improvements.

The tax increase proposed by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer would raise the city’s transient occupancy tax from 10.5% to as high as 15.75% in certain areas of the city, which supporters argue would reap an estimated $6 billion over 42 years.

The funding would allow the city to purchase a parcel of land adjacent to the convention center that is currently owned by Fifth Avenue Landing. Once it purchases the land, the city would expand the convention center by roughly 400,000 square feet, from roughly 800,000 square feet to about 1.2 million square feet.

The land cost is expected to be roughly $30 million, part of an estimated allocation of $3.5 billion for the purchase and convention center upkeep and marketing. Roughly $1.8 billion of the initiative’s remaining revenue would fund the city’s homeless services and shelters, while $551 million would be allocated for repairs to the city’s network of roads.

“This is a measure that is being supported by the lodging industry and is willing to tax its own customers to … help support homelessness in our community and to help with our infrastructure,” San Diego Tourism Authority COO Kerri Kapich said.

Voter rights groups and several council members urged that the measure be placed on the November ballot in lieu of the March primary ballot, when turnout is expected to be lower. The council ended up voting 5-4 in favor of placing the measure on the March ballot to ensure it goes in front of voters as soon as possible.

The council also unanimously voted to place a measure authored by City Councilman Scott Sherman on the March ballot that would shift the responsibility for the city auditor appointment process from the mayor’s office to the council’s Audit Committee. Currently, the mayor appoints a city auditor candidate to serve a 10-year term.

“The city auditor is vital to holding city administration accountable and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent properly,” Sherman said in a statement. “The administration shouldn’t be in charge of choosing who is overseeing the administration. This ballot measure will help ensure this important position is truly independent.”

Under the proposed measure, the Audit Committee would recruit and choose three candidates for the city auditor position. The council would then choose one of the three candidates to serve as the city auditor for a pair of five-year terms.

Since the position was established in 2009, the city has only had one official city auditor, Eduardo Luna, who served nearly all of his term before leaving for a similar position with the city of Beverley Hills in October 2018.

Sherman, the Audit Committee chair, proposed the measure after Faulconer appointed DeeDee Alari, a deputy director in the city treasurer’s office, to the position in July. Alari has yet to be confirmed.

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