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I love political campaign mailers. They drive me insane but I can’t get enough of them.
The two main rivals for the District 2 City Council race are filling my mailbox with some good ones. One, from Democrat Sarah Boot’s campaign, blasted Republican Lorie Zapf for her support of the Convention Center expansion.
“Zapf supported the $56 million convention center expansion… at the expense of funds for our neighborhoods,” it reads.
I’ve articulated as much concern about the Convention Center expansion as anyone and I found this pretty interesting. But there are a few problems. First, the price tag is missing a digit. Last we checked, the expansion would cost $520 million, not $56 million. (Here are five things to know about the project.)
But we all have typos so I’m not going to belabor that.
My bigger question was whether Boot opposes the Convention Center expansion as this seems to imply. After all, she’s blasting her rival for supporting it. Does that mean she opposes it?
I asked Laura Fink, the political consultant helping run Boot’s campaign, for some clarity on whether Boot opposes the expansion.
No, she doesn’t. But she may not support it either.
“The premise of your question is inaccurate. Sarah Boot didn’t voice an opinion in the mailer either for or against the convention center and never stated in the mailer that she opposed it. She did accurately point out that Lorie Zapf voted to spend city funds on the convention center expansion and that those funds could have been spent elsewhere in the city,” Fink wrote me in an email.
The Convention Center expansion remains pretty controversial and is not a given to proceed. But on the City Council, support is bipartisan. Local labor unions dropped their concerns about the special tax funding construction when a labor agreement was forged with the builder.
Lawyer Cory Briggs is challenging the special hotel room fee that will pay for it. But the Coastal Commission approved construction to the delight of City Council President Todd Gloria and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. Boot counts Atkins as a major supporter.
There are many reasons to be suspicious of the arguments for a Convention Center expansion. First, the convention business isn’t growing. What we’re basically trying to do is protect our piece of the pie or take a bigger slice. But that’s what many other cities are also trying to do.
The fee funding construction is weird. Just like the Tourism Marketing District, hotel owners managed to raise a levy on hotel room stays – on top of the city’s existing tax – without getting voter approval. The city attorney is testing complex legal theories to pull it off. The Port is also footing part of the bill and a small portion is being paid for by the city’s general fund, which, as Boot points out, could support other city services.
Boot seems to have sensed that it would resonate with voters if she were to oppose the expansion. But she doesn’t appear to have worked up the will to oppose it. Or support it.
Here was the rest of Fink’s email to me:
This is not a complicated issue, the city budget is a finite number and choices need to be made and priorities set. Sarah Boot comes down on the side that we have spent enormous amounts of money on ballparks, convention center expansions and numerous other “downtown” items at the expense of meeting the glaring needs of our neighborhoods. She feels it is a constructive dialogue to have when running for office and plans to continue to articulate her views and point out those of her opponent. Do we continue to put more money into the downtown area or do we start the process of repairing our streets and sidewalks, building a better storm water system so our beaches aren’t polluted, and fix our libraries and rec centers? Let the voters decide!
I asked Fink if that meant Boot thinks the voters should get to decide the Convention Center’s fate. She has not responded.
Correction: I listed Council President Gloria as a major supporter of Boot but I didn’t realize he had not yet endorsed in the race. My apologies.