How much does the public support San Diego’s proposed $520 million Convention Center expansion?

We don’t know because the city’s hotel owners, rather than the broader public, were the ones tasked with voting on the expansion.

KPBS host Maureen Cavanaugh asked me about the level of public support on Friday as part of our discussion on “Midday Roundtable.” I answered that because hoteliers voted on a tax increase needed to pay for the project, city officials had to tailor the incentives for voting yes to hotel owners, not the broader public. This played out when the City Council gave the hotel industry more control over center operations in advance of the hoteliers’ vote. The legality of the tax increase is being hashed out in court. The key question is whether the hotel industry alone can approve such a deal, or whether it needs a public vote.

Here’s the full response I gave on the radio:

The question is, Who has to vote on this? In this case, the hoteliers are the ones who have — two-thirds of hoteliers, not two-thirds of the public, had to vote on this. As a result, the group that this project needed to be sold to is not the public. It needed to be sold to the hoteliers. It was sold to the hoteliers.

The hoteliers had leverage when they voted, they did vote, over 90 percent of them said yes, and they got some things out of the city that they may not have gotten otherwise because they had that leverage. For instance, some of the booking and control of the Convention Center operations itself went to the private Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, which is controlled by hotel interests that perhaps may not needed to have been done if the sell was to the public rather than the hotel owners. So if you know your audience here, that’s the group where the big sales job has had to take place.

I gave more details on the Convention Center expansion during the program and we also discussed mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio’s meetings with U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester, a new twist in a 14-year-old North County murder case and a new state law that bans so-called gay conversion therapy for minors.

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

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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