A state public records expert says the city of San Diego should disclose publicly the number of votes individual hotel companies control in a tax increase election.
Terry Francke, who heads the nonprofit Californians Aware, said the city has no authority under the state’s public records law to keep the information secret.
Since Friday, I’ve been trying to learn the number of votes controlled by an individual hotel owner, in the election on financing the Convention Center expansion. Under the process designed by the city, hoteliers will vote on increasing hotel-room taxes to pay for the majority of the $520 million project. The system assigns votes to hotels based on their room revenues and proximity to the Convention Center.
I want to know if Host Hotels & Resorts, the city’s largest hotel owner, has enough power to block the tax hike by itself.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s office has referred me to a City Council resolution that says the number of votes should be kept confidential because it could reveal proprietary information. But that same resolution says Goldsmith can release the vote count.
Francke said cities can withhold information that could result in an unfair competitive disadvantage to businesses, but that exemption doesn’t apply in this case.
“Even if the theory is that the assigned voting power somehow ‘reflects’ a hotel’s gross receipts, that reflection is so abstract that it could not possibly be used to ‘unfair’ advantage by a competitor,” Francke said in an email.
This information is important now because a vice president at one of Host’s hotels said that he isn’t sure if his parent company will vote in favor of the expansion tax increase without greater control over Convention Center operations. The Convention Center’s board and the City Council are expected to vote on the hoteliers request for more control this afternoon.
I have not heard directly from Goldsmith on my request. Last night, I filed a formal legal request for the data.
Update: I just heard back from a Jonathan Heller, a spokesman for Goldsmith. “The City Attorney believes you’ve raised a legitimate question,” he said. “He’s asked the lawyers who drafted the ordinance to do the legal research necessary to answer your question as soon as possible.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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