Tax Hike Details Remain Secret

Tax Hike Details Remain Secret

File photo by Sam Hodgson

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith

 

Ballots went out to San Diego’s hoteliers yesterday in their election to increase hotel taxes to fund the proposed Convention Center expansion.

You’re still not allowed to know how many votes each hotelier gets.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has not answered our request for the number of votes that a multi-billion dollar out-of-state corporation has in the election.

Our point is simple. The vote will increase taxes that hotel guests pay to visit San Diego by an estimated $1 billion over the next three decades. It’s in the public interest to know how much power the city’s largest hotelier, Maryland-based Host Hotels & Resorts, has over the election. Host owns downtown’s two biggest hotels, the Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Marriott Marquis & Marina, and two others in the city. The election isn’t one-hotel, one-vote. Instead, a hotel’s room revenues and its proximity to the Convention Center determine its votes so Host could have a tremendous influence over the outcome.

Public records advocates are siding with us. An open government advocate has said the city has no reason under state law not to reveal the hotelier’s votes. Cory Briggs, a local attorney who has handled numerous public records cases, agreed.

“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why people having different weights in their ballot is something the public shouldn’t know,” Briggs said.

So far, Goldsmith has pointed to a City Council resolution that says the hoteliers’ voting shares should be kept confidential because they could contain proprietary information. But the resolution also appears to give Goldsmith the discretion to release the records regardless. Goldsmith also has not formally denied my request as called for in state law.

California public records law requires agencies to decide if records are releasable within 10 days. I first made my request verbally to the City Clerk’s Office 11 days ago. This morning, Goldsmith’s spokesman asked for an extension, which is allowed only in “unusual circumstances” under the law. Goldsmith said he hoped to give me an answer by Thursday — 10 days after I made my request in writing.

Goldsmith said in an email to me this morning that he was researching if the confidentiality and competitive disadvantage exemptions to the public records law apply. He wrote:

I’ve asked for a thorough legal analysis from our attorney and input from outside counsel who participated in drafting the ordinance and resolution. When we receive drafts, we often raise questions and it takes some time to address those additional questions. That quality control is important to ensure we get it right. In addition, I should point out that our attorneys have a heavy workload and can only do so much at one time.

Goldsmith was cryptic about the provision in the council resolution that allows him to release the votes.

“With regard to our discretion, please read the resolution as to what that covers,” he wrote in his email to me.

I have read the resolution numerous times over the past week. I don’t know what he means. And I won’t until he actually answers my request as the law requires him to do.

Again, time is of the essence here. I first made my request on the eve of a City Council vote to give hoteliers more control over Convention Center operations. At the time, a vice president of the Manchester Grand Hyatt said he didn’t know if his parent company would support the tax hike without that control. Last Tuesday, the council voted to give the hoteliers what they wanted.

Ballots in the tax hike are due back to the city by April 23.

Here’s a copy of the actual council resolution. Read page 3 for what’s at issue. I encourage legal beagles to leave a comment below or email me with their thoughts.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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20 comments
Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Between the city, downtown interests and public Unions the taxpayers should demand better but hey....we have seals at the Childrens pool to argue about.

mgland
mgland

Between the city, downtown interests and public Unions the taxpayers should demand better but hey....we have seals at the Childrens pool to argue about.

John Ptaszek
John Ptaszek subscriber

I can't wait to see what happens if we allow major concerns more rights to project their wants in future tax concerns. I now understand why there were people occupying the downtown area. The "elite" are now so brazin that they feel they can just ignore the press. Viva the Revolution!!!

beachbum royalty
beachbum royalty

I can't wait to see what happens if we allow major concerns more rights to project their wants in future tax concerns. I now understand why there were people occupying the downtown area. The "elite" are now so brazin that they feel they can just ignore the press. Viva the Revolution!!!

Felix Tinkov
Felix Tinkov subscribermember

f you have any questions you can contact me at fmt@lfap.com or give me a call.

Felix Tinkov
Felix Tinkov

f you have any questions you can contact me at fmt@lfap.com or give me a call.

Geoff Page
Geoff Page subscribermember

But, I have a suggestion for the hoteliers. If this project is so important, raise your room rates by the same amount as the tax and donate the raised difference to the convention center project. That way, it's their money and not a tax. Seems simple to me.

GeoffPage
GeoffPage

But, I have a suggestion for the hoteliers. If this project is so important, raise your room rates by the same amount as the tax and donate the raised difference to the convention center project. That way, it's their money and not a tax. Seems simple to me.

Irvin krick
Irvin krick subscriber

Another fishey sounding vote here in San Diego . When will the public get a chance to vote or, we do not count only a few???? We have a government within a government here in San Diego, with more power, just like the state and federal government.

Irv
Irv

Another fishey sounding vote here in San Diego . When will the public get a chance to vote or, we do not count only a few???? We have a government within a government here in San Diego, with more power, just like the state and federal government.

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

This kind of bogus secrecy is just soo typical of San Diego. Ask yourself who really runs this crooked little town? It's not Jerry Sanders or the city council, or Jan Goldsmith. They all answer to higher powers who tell them what to do.

Don Wood
Don Wood

This kind of bogus secrecy is just soo typical of San Diego. Ask yourself who really runs this crooked little town? It's not Jerry Sanders or the city council, or Jan Goldsmith. They all answer to higher powers who tell them what to do.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

That aspect aside, the request here is not to know how people vote, but the number of votes their companies have. While that may give insight into the business of these organizations, they are being given the right to decide whether a public facility will be expanded, and have already been given rights to greater oversight of its management as part of this process. The City Attorney should not have approved wording that resulted in this level of secrecy and the City Council should not have approved it.

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

That aspect aside, the request here is not to know how people vote, but the number of votes their companies have. While that may give insight into the business of these organizations, they are being given the right to decide whether a public facility will be expanded, and have already been given rights to greater oversight of its management as part of this process. The City Attorney should not have approved wording that resulted in this level of secrecy and the City Council should not have approved it.

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen subscriber

If the city is serious about protecting the income information of the hotels, I have a feeling you're going to have to get a court order. The sections, at least the pertinent ones referred to in the resolution seem pretty adamant about that. I'm sure I'm probably missing something in other parts of the municipal code or state law that may be applicable but I think the city attorney has an "out" in not giving you the desired information. I hope I'm wrong in that it is a matter of the public interest, but you know how powerful lobbies, whether federal, state or local, can be. Local hotels have a lot of influence in the city and I'm sure they would be upset if that information does get released.

RobSD
RobSD

If the city is serious about protecting the income information of the hotels, I have a feeling you're going to have to get a court order. The sections, at least the pertinent ones referred to in the resolution seem pretty adamant about that. I'm sure I'm probably missing something in other parts of the municipal code or state law that may be applicable but I think the city attorney has an "out" in not giving you the desired information. I hope I'm wrong in that it is a matter of the public interest, but you know how powerful lobbies, whether federal, state or local, can be. Local hotels have a lot of influence in the city and I'm sure they would be upset if that information does get released.

Ian Trowbridge
Ian Trowbridge subscribermember

As the city attorney is well aware of pleading a heavy workload is not a defense to violating state law.

iantrowbridge
iantrowbridge

As the city attorney is well aware of pleading a heavy workload is not a defense to violating state law.

Lucas OConnor
Lucas OConnor subscriber

If the public can't know what votes are being cast, there's no mechanism for public accountability. Hard to figure how that qualifies as a public vote.

lucasoconnor
lucasoconnor

If the public can't know what votes are being cast, there's no mechanism for public accountability. Hard to figure how that qualifies as a public vote.