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Monday, Nov. 12, 2007 | San Diegans have always been unwilling to pay for public services they demand. After the most recent wildfires they need to decide what services they want and how much they are willing to pay for them.

One painless source of funding for city residents is to increase the transient occupancy tax (TOT), the tax charged visitors to San Diego based on their room rate. However, the San Diego public has repeatedly rejected proposals to increase its TOT rate from 10.5 percent to the 13-14 percent TOT charged in other major California cities (in Los Angeles and San Francisco TOT is currently 14 percent). Seattle’s TOT rate is 16 percent. Does anyone really think that increasing room rates by $3 to $5 per night would lead potential visitors to cancel their vacation in San Diego with its weather, beaches, Zoo, Balboa Park, the Wild Animal Park and SeaWorld? If so, they would be unlikely to contribute much to the local economy even if they did visit.

Regrettably, in the past the hotel industry in San Diego has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat propositions that don’t give the money raised by a TOT increase to them. That is no longer an issue now that the hotel industry has proposed a Tourism Marketing District in a civic-minded action whereby they raise 2 percent equivalent of TOT to promote their own businesses. They are no longer asking for corporate welfare using taxpayer money. That is quite appropriate for businessmen and women who value a free market and individual responsibility. Despite the fact that the initial board of directors consisting of nine individuals seems to be self-appointed and does not include a single woman, those are issues for the hotel industry to resolve as private organizations.

We should not nitpick the proposed Tourism Marketing District that in essence is a Business Improvement District similar to those found throughout San Diego; we should thank the hotel industry for their contribution to putting the city back on a sound fiscal footing.

Everyone knows that we have an understaffed Police Department that is compromising public safety. We need better wildfire prevention and equipment to fight fires in downtown such as ladders that can reach the upper levels of high-rise buildings. We also need more fire stations throughout the city.

A 3 percent increase in TOT would have a minimal effect on San Diego residents and would reflect the cost to the city in providing safety services to the hotels and their clients.

I suggest that these TOT funds estimated to be $45 million dollars in FY 2008 by the Office of the Independent Budget Analyst be dedicated to police and fire so no-one can argue the City Council would simply waste the money.

I hope the City Council will show the leadership to place a 3 percent TOT increase as a Proposition written in simple English on the November ballot if public discussion shows significant support for the idea.

Ian Trowbridge is a local activist and former Salk Institute professor. Agree? Disagree? Send a letter to the editor.

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