The many moving parts that make up the final approval for the $520 million San Diego Convention Center expansion have moved some more.

The City Council now isn’t expected to vote on an overall financing proposal for the project until September. The final council vote had been planned for this month.

The timeline has changed because the city has decided to wait for the completion of the project’s environmental study. Last winter, a Superior Court judge ruled the city acted illegally by approving a financing plan for the high-profile Plaza de Panama project in Balboa Park before it had completed required environmental reviews.

“They didn’t want to run into the same problem that they ran into with the Plaza de Panama,” said Chris Cate, a vice president at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. The association has been briefed on the city’s plans.

Mayor Jerry Sanders, who is the expansion’s primary booster, has piecemealed the project’s approval over the last three years, partly out of political strategy and partly because numerous agencies need to sign off on the deal.

The city plans to pay for the majority of the expansion through a 1 percent to 3 percent hotel-room tax increase. San Diego’s hoteliers overwhelming approved the financing scheme last week, but its legality is uncertain.

On Monday, the City Council is expected to authorize City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to file a lawsuit that would resolve the question. Also Monday, the council will address water supply issues for the expansion and a related hotel project. And it will vote on increasing the city’s contract with expansion consultant Charles Black by $200,000 to $650,000.

Steve Cushman, Sanders’ expansion point man, said that the city still hopes to break ground before the end of the year. That requires many dominos to fall very quickly. Cushman said he expects the Unified Port of San Diego to sign off on the environmental review in August. Then the city can seek approval from the powerful California Coastal Commission, which is expected to be a major fight.

Cushman also said he hoped the court financing case could be wrapped up in the fall. That contradicts the expectation from Goldsmith’s office. The city attorney’s spokesman said he believed the case would take a year or more to resolve.

Still, the key city decision that remains is the September council vote. That’s the council’s final signoff on the financing plan and the one that will lock in the expansion’s risk to the city’s day-to-day operating budget, which pays for fire, police and other regular services. Currently, the financing proposal calls for the city budget to pay $3.5 million a year.

“I would hope that this would be our final vote in front of the City Council,” Cushman said.

To read more background about the expansion financing, check out my piece on last week’s hotelier vote.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. 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 or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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