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Powerful Hotels Throwing Their Weight Around

The big hotels across the city faced a conundrum. They’d found a way to raise the fees charged to visitors and use the money for tourism marketing. Now they want to renew that charge, but a state law makes it a lot harder to avoid calling it a “tax” and having to go to a public vote.

They’ve come up with a workaround: the 183 largest hotels in San Diego want to force the other 600 or more hotels and vacation properties to participate as well. That, they say, will allow keep it from being called a tax because everyone who could benefit would.

“And just like the Convention Center expansion, the hotels are going to try to implement the new fee through a secret election,” Liam Dillon reports. “All together, the proposals would send more than $2 billion toward convention and marketing efforts over the next four decades.”

Republican mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio strongly supports the new proposal but thinks the vote shouldn’t be secret. Democratic mayoral candidate Bob Filner is having none of it. ““This is disgraceful,” Filner told Dillon. “This would never happen if I’m mayor. One, you don’t have a secret vote. But two, you have to go to the vote of the people on a tax.”

Retraction: Our Graphic of the Week

A story we published on July 20th about student-to-teacher ratios at the San Diego Unified School District contained several major errors. Keegan Kyle explains what went wrong: Two bad calculations caused us to inflate the number of teachers by nearly 1,000. It had looked like, despite all the talk of teacher layoffs, student-to-teacher ratios had actually dropped. That’s not the case.

Filner Hires ‘Kingmaker’

Veteran political consultant Tom Shepard has joined Filner’s mayoral campaign as the chief campaign consultant, reported U-T San Diego. Shepard is no stranger to San Diego mayoral campaigns. It’s just that he’s normally in charge of Republican campaigns.

He’s guided Roger Hedgecock, Susan Golding and Jerry Sanders to victory. He ran Nathan Fletcher’s unsuccessful primary campaign.

Shepard acknowledged that the dramatic move would damage some of his relationships and possibly hurt his consulting business. He said he doesn’t want to see DeMaio elected mayor because he knows “how much damage a destructive personality can do to an institution.”

The Republican Party struck back quickly. “The Republican Party of San Diego County will not do business with him ever again as long as I remain chairman. Elephants don’t forget – and principles matter,” said party Chairman Tony Krvaric.

The move is yet another sign that, as our Scott Lewis has written, there’s a whole new GOP in town.

For more on Shepard, be sure to read this 2005 profile of him from U-T San Diego. In it, a colleague calls him “the most successful political consultant in San Diego history.”

Donna Frye, who’d lost to Sanders that year and is now one of Filner’s most high-profile allies, had a different take. “He is not a class act.”

Mayoral Money Matters

DeMaio received nearly $97,000 in contributions in June, according to the latest financial reports. Filner’s report shows he received just over $29,000 in June, reported NBC San Diego.

Filner explained his low fundraising numbers by saying he felt his donors “deserved a break” after the June primary. He also accused his opponent of a “high-pressure shakedown of special interests”, where “if they don’t contribute to his campaign, they will be punished after he’s elected.”

DeMaio’s campaign manager Ryan Clumpner shot back, claiming donors have severe doubts about Filner’s leadership abilities and asserting that Filner “lacks a positive vision for our city that can unite and inspire people as DeMaio has.”

Fires Still Burn at San Onofre

San Onofre’s nuclear power plant has been in the news a lot recently since it is currently offline due to faulty equipment inside the plant. But KPBS reports that faulty delivery pipes aren’t the only trouble at the plant. “In 2010, NRC inspectors told majority owner Southern California Edison that welding and grinding work at San Onofre produced sparks that came into contact with unprotected combustibles,” which violates Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules.

Those violations continued this year, with one small fire having to be extinguished, along with “52 fire official notifications that fire rules were not followed.” When asked about the number of fire safety violations, David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, blamed the plant’s management. “The message it sends to workers is that management doesn’t care if there are problems,” he said.

Don’t miss our big-picture look at San Onofre’s problems.

News Nibbles

• TheAtlanticCities.com reported that San Diego’s light rail system tied with Portland’s system for most-efficient-in-the-country status. If this surprises you, you aren’t alone. “We have light rail?” tweeted one San Diegan. “Measurement is % of total transit rides that are on light rail. Meaningless given our denominator,” said another, referring to San Diegans’ relatively low usage of public transit. A report released in 2011 by the American Public Transportation Association ranked San Diego 19th in total unlinked passenger trips using the MTS system.

• San Diego’s new library now has a completed dome sitting atop the nine-story building. The dome will house a three-story reading room once the library is completed by summer of next year, reports KPBS. The dome “creates that cherry, that whipped cream on an ice cream cone full of creative architectural features,” said project executive Carmen Vann.

A live camera has captured the entire construction of the new library with multiple still photos automatically taken every day. You can trace the ongoing construction of the library from beginning to its current state.

• San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob sharply disagreed with state Senator Christine Kehoe during a conversation on KPBS about a new fee that is being imposed on rural homeowners to cover fire services in the back country. Jacob is leading a fight against the new fee and says that the county is “poised to file a lawsuit” to stop the fee. Kehoe argues that protecting homes in rural areas is one of the most expensive parts of fighting fires in the back country.

Green Foam Is Great

There’s something green floating in San Diego’s waters.

A picture shows surfers surrounded by what appears to be a substance colored similarly to vomit. “But have no fear: The water isn’t dangerous, according to scientists. It’s simply fish food,” reports North County Times.

The foamy substance is apparently caused by a bloom of phytoplankton, or microscopic marine organisms.

Melissa Carter, a staff researcher with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, downplayed any concerns about the floating mass. “There’s been no reported illness with tetraselmis,” she said, which is presumably the nerdy term for the substance.

So it’s safe swimming for all, as long as you don’t mind some green tetraselmis on your epidermis.

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can reach him at voice@s3th.com or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

Seth Hall

Seth Hall is a local writer and technologist. You can reach him at voice@s3th.com or follow him on Twitter: @loteck.

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