To friends, he’s an environmental crusader and taxpayer advocate taking on the big dogs. To enemies, he’s a profit-fueled litigator and agitator. And this year featured some of the sharpest attacks on his motivations and practice yet.
Whatever your feelings about attorney Cory Briggs, the man has played a major role in shaping — and halting — big San Diego development projects in recent years while racking up some serious legal fees for everyone involved.
This year was no different. His lawsuit challenging the legality of a 2 percent levy on hotel room bills has made it to trial and the prospect of losing tens of millions of dollars to promote the city as a tourist destination has some in the visitor industry nervous. That, combined with another legal threat to the mayor’s preferred Convention Center expansion plan has led San Diego’s most disruptive lawyer to add another title to his repertoire: ballot initiative author.
Briggs has written new city legislation that, if approved, would overhaul and increase San Diego’s hotel tax while paving a way for hoteliers to finance a new Convention Center expansion downtown away from the coast with or without an adjoining sports facility. It would also create a new, legal path marketing San Diego with hotel tax dollars.
The wide-reaching initiative — known as the Citizen’s Plan for San Diego — aims to be a sort of grand compromise that benefits taxpayers, environmentalists, hoteliers, sports fans, convention-goers and higher-ed while bringing transparency and voter approval to the hotel tax.
In short, the hotel tax would increase to 15.5 percent, but allow hotel owners to funnel 2 percent toward marketing efforts and another 2 percent toward the construction of a convention center expansion off the water, which they would then own and operate. Hoteliers could also take over operation of the existing center if the City Council votes to transfer ownership.
The initiative exempts a new downtown football stadium — or a Qualcomm stadium renovation — from much of the California Environmental Quality Act and prevents any more public funds from being spent on a coastal expansion (a project Briggs is still fighting in court but dealt a near-fatal blow to in 2014 when all funding was lost).
By offering potential solutions to the city’s stadium and convention center woes, Briggs is poised to enter the city’s decision-making arena and succeed in two areas Mayor Kevin Faulconer has struggled to make headway all year. Ironically, questions about the measure’s legality and ability to survive a lawsuit have arisen as its main drawback.
The push marks a public shift for Briggs from reactive complainer to proactive fixer, that is, if enough voters understand and support the initiative to make it happen.
This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.