San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner wants to hire more than 150 new police officers, dedicate more resources to neighborhood policing and improve firefighter response times, as part of a public safety plan he released Tuesday.

He even gave details for how he would pay for these service improvements.

His plan still relies primarily on a legally questionable reallocation of money — he wants to divert a 2 percent tourism promotion surcharge intended for marketing and put the funds toward public safety. But he fleshed out how that might work.

The surcharge, which is administered by a hotelier-controlled entity called the Tourism Marketing District, is in the process of being renewed without a public vote. That’s only legal if the district provides a specific benefit to the hoteliers because it’s their legal obligation to pay it. In this case, the surcharge pays for marketing San Diego, and the benefit is more tourists staying in hotel rooms.

Filner wants to expand the district’s responsibilities to include public safety by arguing that tourists create a demand for police and fire services. He said he’d put the surcharge on hold until that happened and push to change the city rules that created the district.

“This is not a constitutional thing or the Ten Commandments,” Filner said. “This is an ordinance. This is a contract. This can be modified by human beings.”

Filner could change city laws, but he wouldn’t have any say over the state Constitution. California voters passed Proposition 26 in 2010, which tightened the definition of fees that can be passed without a public vote. That makes his plan harder to pass legal muster.

Before Filner provided details of his plan, both City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin told me that they didn’t see how Filner could implement what he’s proposing.

And after Filner released his proposal, Brant Will, a Goldsmith deputy, said on Twitter that the proposal remains dicey. Courts, he said, have interpreted Proposition 218, a similar, older proposition, in a way that wouldn’t allow for it.

@dillonliam I don’t think it’s a very strong argument if Prop 26 is interpreted like Prop 218 re specific (or special) vs general benefits.

— brantwill (@brantwill) October 9, 2012

Filner said he didn’t believe that the district as it exists currently would withstand a legal challenge. If it doesn’t, he pledged to take his plan to a public vote.

For those keeping score, Filner has said he’d put both the district and the Convention Center expansion hotel-room tax increases to a public vote if they fail in the courtroom. Combined, they could boost hotel-room taxes by 3 percent to 5 percent. But a public vote on these issues would face a high hurdle — two-thirds of voters — to pass.


Filner also was endorsed Tuesday by the city’s police union. That gives him the support of every city public safety union as well as the white-collar union and the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council umbrella group.

I appeared on NBC 7 San Diego to discuss the public safety endorsements’ impact on the race.

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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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