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Sorry for the delay from the last post (on the internet, a week is an eternity, I know).

Plenary Session Part IV

Again, I’m very impressed by the level of discussion in the last three posts. This is a true convening.

The first three posts have been about that basic philosophical question about the future of our city: Is spending $750 million — the most expensive construction effort ever in San Diego — on an expanded Convention Center really the highest priority right now when we consider the infrastructure we need to have the most robust economy possible?

I’m going to review this question at least one more time because, again, the response to the last post was as impressive as before.

The most interesting comment, I think, came from Kevin Carroll, the regional director for TechAmerica (formerly the American Electronics Association and the Information Technology Association of America). I say it’s the most interesting comment not just because I think I’m rapidly coming to the same conclusions he is but because it confirms what I suspected was a feeling of disenfranchisement in the tech community.

Here was his post (emphasis mine), in case you missed it in this discussion:

Yet another example of how little respect the true economic engine of this region gets in City Hall. Technology companies have a payroll, not fuzzy multipliers, but a true payroll of almost $10 Billion … with a B. Stack that against ANY regional economic interest — be it sports, tourism or anything else — and you start to see how regional decisions are made without thinking how this cluster can be encouraged. Legislators talk about how much they support tech in the region, however actions speak louder than words. One needs only to look at the lack of transit options for the tech clusters as evidence of this. It is time we begin to look past entrenched special interests and ask the core question “How can we help this cluster” I can guarantee you none of them are going to suggest spending $750M on a Convention Center Expansion.

I don’t think you can get it more clearly. The city is moving forward with this massive project out of a sense of urgency and using arguments that it is vital to the local economy. But if you talk to truly bright prospects of our local economy, they would have much different priorities and they’re simply being paid lip service.

It’s at this point, that the argument becomes not about economy but about reality. With boosters arguing that this is the only thing we could do to support our economy, not the best. Witness Bob Nelson’s post in that same discussion.

Nelson, of course, is a proponent of the expansion of the Convention Center and a member of the mayor’s task force.

Based on 20 years of performance data, several experts predict Convention Center expansion would generate $700 million annually in economic growth, 7,000 permanent jobs, and $17 million in new city general revenue. What alternative development model would generate comparable revenue for the city, jobs, or economic growth? And how will this alternative be financed? In the case of the Convention Center, the most likely potential sources are from a “coalition of the willing” — hospitality businesses who might agree to new assesments. Is there another source for $50 +/- million annually? Neither the Port nor CCDC can legally fund projects outside their realms. And [Business Improvement Districts] can legally only assess businesses that are benefited by the assesment, so that leaves out a hotel tax for anything other than visitor generating investments. With all respect, the “alterntative” argument is built on false assumptions.

Nelson says there that the only potential source of revenue for any other kind of infrastructure improvement is the hotel tax and, remember, hoteliers demand to see a “nexus” between any more raiding of those funds and their bottom lines or they will kill any hope of an increase there. This, again, is perfectly reasonable.

By the way, is it not ironic that the hoteliers, largely a staunch Republican anti-tax constituency, believe that the largest government investment in a downtown project ever made is what they say their industry needs to compete? Why can’t the free market pull this one off? Why do they even need the mayor to do anything more than help them zone the expansion or something?

Obviously, it’s because government is going to be asked to do much more. Whether it’s the port, CCDC, the city’s taxpayers or the city’s future taxpayers, this is a massive collectivist effort.

What we’re saying, and what Kevin Carroll said quite well, is that if we’re going to go about collectivism in support of our future economy, there are a lot of constituencies, a lot of industries, that should be at the table.

And it’s a shame they’re not.

SCOTT LEWIS

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