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The city attorney says it’s not legally clear if San Diego can go forward with a tax increase on hotel guests to pay for a half-billion-dollar expansion of the convention center.

Convention center boosters have been trying to get around the law — which requires voters to approve taxes — by saying the tax isn’t technically that kind of tax and letting hotel owners  decide whether to approve it instead of voters.

“To be clear, this IS a tax,” writes City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, providing relief to reporters and headline writers who have wondered how best to describe a tax that looks like a tax but is maybe something that taxes but isn’t technically tax-y.

So is the plan illegal or not? Goldsmith says it “tests the limits of the law” but that a judge is going to have to ultimately decide.

He notes that there’s nothing wrong with city officials moving forward. They should just do so “with our eyes open.” Plus, he says, there is a cleaner way of doing it.

A “financing plan could be presented to the general electorate for a vote, not just to hotel property owners,” he writes.

This is a major complication in the expansion bid. Here are five others.

Tracking the City’s Crime Dip

The number of crimes in the city dipped last year to fewer than 35,000, which sounds like a lot — especially if you’re involved in one of those cases — but is the lowest number in decades. We’ve created a graphic to show you the hot spot neighborhoods for both increases and decreases in crime.

Crime shot up in Mission Beach, Otay Mesa and parts of Mission Valley, but it dipped in many other areas, including several neighborhoods with active gangs.

New City Rules, at Long Last, Are for the Birds

The City Council has finally approved rules that will make it easier for residents to raise poultry and goats and grow crops at their urban homes. (KBPS).

We’ve been covering this ongoing story for a while: check out our magazine story about how illegal chickens had been forced into hiding by the rules (featuring the exploits of renegade hens Owl and Oscar). And watch our video explaining the growing trend of backyard chickens.

End May Be Near for Tax for Call Boxes

Media coverage has been scathing of the local agency that uses taxpayer money to pay for those roadside emergency call boxes, which  people barely use anymore.

Now, two local legislators are pushing to eliminate funding for the agency and give more than $9 million in reserves to local public safety programs. (U-T San Diego)

One of the agency’s board members, a Santee councilman, is miffed that no one talked to him. And he made the argument that the money is worthless for public safety: “However, $9 million for law enforcement spread through a county of more than 3 million people is absolutely not useful.”

FBI Outreach Isn’t Reaching Out Much

CityBeat finds that the local “FBI Citizens’ Academy,” an annual course that teaches movers and shakers about the ins and outs of law enforcement, isn’t going out of its way to embrace a diverse group of citizens as it’s apparently supposed to.

“Instead, the academy has become, in part, a means for the FBI to liaise with military employees and government contractors,” the paper reports. “A disproportionate number of corporate executives and business interests populate the attendee roll. Republican Party operatives have been invited to the program, but seemingly none from labor or Democratic interests.”

In North County, a Sprawling Mafia Empire

The recent criminal indictment of more than 100 gang members across the county “portrays a sprawling, well-organized criminal network that ran drug dealing on the streets of North County and even extended inside the Vista jail.” (North County Times)

Gang members smuggled drugs inside the Vista Detention Center and easily controlled operations inside and outside jail, the indictments say.

Quarry at County Border Creates Strange Bedfellows

Now here’s a switch: conservatives think a quarry is bad for the environment and an example of capitalism gone too far, while liberal-leaning labor types believe it’s a great idea. That’s the fight playing out up at the northern border of San Diego County, where a company is trying to build a 414-acre quarry overlooking I-15 in the Temecula Valley, the LA Times reports.

“More than two-thirds of the aggregate mined from the site would be trucked to San Diego County, where mining permits are tough to come by, a point not lost on several members of the Temecula City Council on Monday,” the paper reports.

“Why should Riverside County sacrifice one of its most sensitive and pristine natural areas to feed San Diego’s aggregate demand?” one councilman asked.  

Re-Checking a Fact Check

Our recent Fact Check of a claim by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis included incorrect information from the state. Our verdict on Dumanis remains the same, but we’ve corrected a statement that was included in the story.

Why Didn’t the City Count Employees?

We’ve followed up on yesterday’s story about employers in Pacific Beach avoiding higher business taxes through underreporting the number of employees. We asked the city this question: Doesn’t it check these things?

Typically no, at least not until last year when the city added a new level of verification, an official said. Before that, “it wasn’t cost effective to spend $400 to $500’s worth of auditor staff time auditing a $34 business tax assessment,” our Sandy Coronilla reports. “Even though this program is only in its infancy, it has already brought in an additional $20,000 in tax revenue for the city, begging the question of whether there is a widespread issue involving San Diego businesses underreporting employee numbers.”

No Bankruptcy for You, Attorney Says

Patrick Shea, a bankruptcy attorney and former candidate for mayor, says in a letter that debating whether the city should enter Chapter 9 isn’t a “valid dialogue” right now. Our Liam Dillon wrote a piece this week arguing, with the help of a professor, that the city could conceivably get rid of some of its pension obligations by going bankrupt.

Not that Shea doesn’t think it’s a good idea. He says San Diego’s public officials and newspapers just don’t want to deal with it.

Also in letters, Barry Naiditch offers thoughts about the fate of a Chargers stadium. Thought No. 1: the broke city won’t be able to put together a deal.

Fighting Fires in Space

A UCSD professor is remotely leading experiments on the International Space Station that are designed to improve the ability of astronauts to fight fires in space, physorg.com reports.

Thank goodness this research is going on. We wouldn’t want those famous “Pigs in Space” to turn into pork tenderloin, would we?

Correction: The Morning Report’s summary of a graphic about crime rates in San Diego had errors. Crime went down in the neighborhood of Barrio Logan, not up, while it barely changed in Mission Valley as a whole. (I had only looked at the western half of Mission Valley, where it went up.)Also: the police don’t call several neighborhoods “Gangland.” That was our play on a TV show of that name. We apologize for the errors.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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