Last year, voters passed a ballot measure that requires fees that look and smell like taxes to be approved by voters. Now, as CEO and political commentator Scott Lewis writes, the dreams of the mayor and his allies may be threatened: “Their creative effort is trapped trying to find a way around Proposition 26. It’s not easy.”

Here’s the issue: When someone stays at a local hotel, they pay the city 10.5 percent of their bill plus another 2 percent toward what is called the Tourism Marketing District. It provides funds mostly to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That extra 2 percent is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. Extending it, and adding another boost, is exactly what Mayor Jerry Sanders and others hope will fund a good part of the new Convention Center construction.

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But they may have to ask voters to approve extending the collection of the 2 percent and (according to one expert) they probably should have had a vote on it three years ago when the “plus” amount was first collected.

Is it a tax that requires a vote? Or is it a fee that doesn’t? Was it ever legal?

Back to the Table

Faced with a looming deadline to warn teachers and other employees of layoffs, the San Diego school board agreed to ask its staff to open talks with labor unions to try to find more savings. It’s a puzzling move, and education reporter Emily Alpert is tearing through her Rolodex looking for more details from more sources.

Of course, sometimes you just have to take no for an answer, even when you’re just trying to do your job. Emily knows the drill: public schools occasionally refuse to cooperate as she works on a story. Principals don’t let her on campus, like when she tried to shadow a school nurse’s to see what her job is like.

Why do control-obsessed principals and the limitations they set matter? Because “it makes it impossible to show what really happens in schools — good, bad, ugly or fabulous,” Alpert writes.

Last year, an advocate for education writers criticized the tendency for schools to freeze out open discussion: “The ‘same page’ climate means that only the crankiest, most out-there gadflies have the guts to question or criticize, which is not as productive as an honest dialogue among everyone.”

Also in education, a new index ranks the state’s charter schools. San Diego charters are both more likely to be in the top echelons and on the bottom rungs than schools run by the San Diego Unified school district.

What should we make of that? “When you deregulate schools, they are both freer to innovate and more vulnerable to problems,” Alpert writes. “That makes it tough to generalize about charter schools, since charter schools are probably more different than they are alike.”

The Skinny on the $4 Billion

City Hall reporter Liam Dillon digs into the City Council’s decision to allocate $4 billion to urban renewal projects. There will be tradeoffs, Dillon notes, and there’s already tension over downtown’s share. And while you may have heard that there’s not much money in the plan for the much-debated downtown football stadium and convention center expansion, never fear: money could still be diverted their way, although the mayor’s office says the list is set.

The Non-Pessimist

For six months, contributor Claire Trageser has been following Raj Krishnan, a 28-year-old UCSD grad who’s trying to make it in the biotech world by starting his own company. He’s optimistic and has reason to be: he managed to raise $2 million in investments at a time when the world’s not exactly full of money waiting to be spent.

Trageser calls him inspirational. If he succeeds at his goal — creating a cancer-diagnosing blood test — he may be more than that. Fame and fortune could come too.

If you haven’t been following his story, check our writer’s roundup of previous posts and memorable comments from the ever-quotable Krishnan.

Issa Staffer Was Just Too Darned Giving

Political and media circles are aflutter over Rep. Darrell Issa’s sacking of a press secretary who sent emails he received from reporters to a journalist who’s working on a book, Politico reports. Issa said he will “rebuild any broken trust with the journalists who cover the important work of our committee.”

Over at Slate, columnist Jack Shafer is not impressed by a Politico editor’s tsk-tsking over the spokesman’s “egregiously unprofessional” alleged behavior. “Anybody composing e-mails these days should proceed on the assumption that what they write will be posted on the Web milliseconds after they send it,” Shafer writes. “E-mail is not a secure form of communication.”

Shafer adds that it’s common for spokespersons to gab about what other reporters are doing: “Knowing what your competition is up to so that you can beat them into print is big part of a reporter’s job.” Noted.

Gleaning Art from the Unsightly

Marks, stains and cracks: they don’t exactly sound like anything you’d want to preserve, especially if they come from places like the Los Angeles River and the Indianapolis Speedway. But an artist uses them to create paintings, and she hoped to do the same for the new downtown public library.

Her $115,000 proposed project didn’t get funding, but you could still try to help it reach reality.

Also in arts, we meet the unflappable production manager for the La Jolla Music Society: he’s part electrical troubleshooter, part instrument procurer and occasional bouncer (when groupies get a little too over-zealous).

That Would Pay for a Lot of Cots

In its role as the boss of the downtown redevelopment agency, the City Council was scheduled to consider changes to a contract for “technical assistance” on a plan to end homelessness in downtown, CityBeat reports. How much does this assistance cost? Depending on who’s doing the work at a local consulting firm, it runs at $225, $175 or $90 an hour; the total cost is $464,750.

The consulting firm’s president, who used to sit on the downtown redevelopment agency’s board, told CityBeat that the rates are competitive; no one else tried for the consulting gig.

Poor Norv Turner

The sports blog considers NFL head coaches and their supposed ability to beat up the other head coaches. Norv Turner of the Chargers, sadly, is in last place: the writer thinks all the other coaches could totally take him.

Where Am I? Good Question

Yesterday’s Morning Report got geographically discombobulated. Friendship Park is, of course, at the country’s southwestern corner, not southeastern.

How’d that happen? Well, let’s just say that geography is not my forte. When your mother-in-law visited and asked a random local for directions to the zoo, I’m the guy who accidentally sent her to Palomar Mountain. (“Then take the 78 west. I mean the 163 north. Turn right at the second exit, just past the, um, thing. Whatever it is. You’ll see it. Then make a lef… U-turn.”)

At least I got her out of your hair for a few extra hours.

[Mother-in-law jokes? And how was the airplane food? Any opinion on whether the toilet seat should be up or down? —Ed.]

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at and follow him on Twitter:

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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