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Leadership sometimes means saying no to your friends to stand up for San Diegans.
I am concerned that they do not focus on what our residents want most: fixing streets and sidewalks, adding more streetlights to dark neighborhoods, stopping police officers from leaving the city, reducing homelessness and lowering the cost of housing.
I am opposed to both initiatives because I believe they will use valuable revenue, time and political energy to implement a vision that only the authors of the two initiatives and their limited group of supporters want.
The Chargers measure would eliminate the current 2 percent tourism and marketing district tax, raise the hotel-room tax from 10.5 percent to 16.5 percent and use the proceeds to build a new stadium for the Chargers. Every 1 percent increase in the hotel-room tax equals approximately $20 million in revenue to the city. Therefore, the Chargers proposal would raise approximately $120 million to use to bond and build a stadium that would cost approximately $1.8 billion.
The city would pay $1.1 billion of that cost. For perspective, the city’s annual operating budget, which keeps cops on the beat, trash picked up and streets paved, is approximately $1.3 billion.
The Citizens’ Plan is much more convoluted. It would raise the hotel-room tax from 10.5 percent to 15.5 percent and eliminate the current 2 percent of the tourism and marketing district tax for a total of $100 million, of which $80 million would go to the hotel industry. Half of that $80 million would be used to market San Diego and the other half would be used to bond against and build a non-contiguous Convention Center expansion.
Keep in mind, the San Diego Convention Center does not support a non-contiguous expansion. As an analogy as to why, consider a Las Vegas casino. If you wanted to play the newest slot machines but had to walk outside the casino and then two blocks down the street, would you really get to those new slots?
Most egregious, the Citizens’ Plan would exempt construction of the Convention Center annex and a new stadium from the California Environmental Quality Act.
Without an environmental review of a new stadium/convention center, what would be the impact to the surrounding communities of Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights? And most puzzling of all, why do so many environmentalists, including my opponent in this race – an environmental health advocate – support such a blanket exemption for what would be one of the largest and most expensive projects in San Diego history?
Again, in addition to the problems with what is in both these initiatives, there is also the problem of what is not: a way to address the concerns that residents have about fixing the city’s infrastructure.
To fix every sidewalk in the city of San Diego would cost about $200 million. To add every streetlight requested by a resident would cost approximately $200 million. To continue fixing all our streets would cost about $100 million. The grand total for fixing all sidewalks, streets and adding new streetlights would be about $500 million.
The city could issue a bond for $500 million that would cost $30 million a year for 30 years to pay off. Remembering that every 1 percent increase in the hotel-room tax equals $20 million, we would need to raise it 2 percent for a total of $40 million – of which, $30 million could be used to pay the $500 million bond and the remaining $10 million could address police officer retention. Under this scenario, our hotel-room tax would be at a healthy and competitive 14.5 percent. For perspective, the current hotel-room tax in Los Angeles is 15.5 percent, 17 percent in Anaheim and 16.25 percent in San Francisco.
To address escalating rents and homelessness, we could look at what other California cities and counties are doing and use bond funds to build more affordable housing. For the sake of argument, we could take out another $500 million bond. This, along with our previous $500 million bond, would cost $60 million a year for 30 years and could be accomplished by raising the hotel-room tax by 3 percent to 15.5 percent, equal to Los Angeles but below other big tourist destinations in California.
San Diego is at a crossroads. For the first time in possibly decades, we can truly invest money in our neighborhoods and begin addressing police retention, high rents and homelessness. But to do so, we need leaders with experience, and the ability to build consensus among different groups and organizations, and the focus and persistence to follow through.
Real leadership sometime means saying no to your friends – be they environmental groups, like those that support the Citizens Initiative, or businesses like the Chargers – and instead standing up for all San Diegans.
Ricardo Flores is a candidate for San Diego City Council District 9. Flores’ commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.