Before it has even taken shape, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s proposal to increase the hotel tax could be feeling the squeeze.
Faulconer’s proposal would raise hotel taxes by up to 3 percent, depending on a hotel’s proximity to the convention center, to fund a convention center expansion and create new pools of money for infrastructure repairs and homelessness support.
But the measure is facing the same heavy lift as any other tax increase to fund a specific purpose: It requires the support of two-thirds of voters, and therefore basically can’t withstand any organized opposition.
Last fall, for instance, the countywide transportation tax Measure A found itself fighting two fronts of opposition. Labor groups and environmentalists opposed it from the left, while the Republican Party worked against it from the right.
Faulconer’s hotel tax could be facing the same fate.
Last week, Brigette Browning, president of Unite Here, the local union of hotel, restaurant and gaming workers, said her union does not support Faulconer’s proposal.
What’s more, she said the union might actively oppose it.
“I could see us being in opposition – yes, and organizing an opposition,” Browning said.
The local Republican Party finds itself in just the opposite scenario. The party currently opposes the measure, because it de facto opposes all tax measures. It can formally vote to take a neutral or supportive stance on them.
Tony Krvaric, the party’s chairman, said he anticipates voting sometime in late summer to continue opposing the measure, or switch to a neutral or supportive position.
“It’s a tax increase, so by default we oppose it,” he said.
Browning, though, isn’t convinced the mayor is even trying to build a winning coalition. She said she never spoke to anyone in the mayor’s office about supporting the measure, despite running a union of 6,000 tourism-related workers, including hundreds who work in the convention center.
“I just … don’t believe that he really wants it to pass because to get two-thirds vote – if you have any organized opposition it’s virtually impossible to get a two-thirds vote,” she said.
The mayor’s office disputes this.
A mayoral spokesman provided a screen shot of deputy chief of staff Felipe Monroig’s phone, showing he called and left a message for Browning, who he said never called him back.
The mayor did, however, make his pitch to about 800 tourism industry officials last week at SeaWorld during the annual meeting of the San Diego Tourism Authority.
“I will not stop until we modernize and expand our San Diego Convention Center,” Faulconer said, according to the San Diego Business Journal.
The chairman of the Tourism Authority’s board said the organization was “very supportive” of the proposal.
Most of the revenue from the mayor’s proposal would go to expanding the convention center, though it would send smaller amounts to homelessness and infrastructure needs.
But the convention center project itself is facing headwinds, since the city no longer holds the lease for the waterfront property eyed for the expansion. The city lost control of the property in 2015 when a previous expansion plan was in legal limbo.
The current leaseholder of that property, Fifth Avenue Landing, is moving forward with its own plan to build a hotel on the land. The hotel union is a partner in that project, Browning said, and expects to help the developers lobby for its approval by the Port of San Diego and the Coastal Commission.
“If the mayor cared so much about the convention center, why did he have zero leadership when the lease was expiring?” she said.
Gil Cabrera, vice chair of the board of directors of the convention center, however, said the company looking to develop Fifth Avenue Landing into a hotel has its own problem. The Port of San Diego’s current master plan looked at two options for that land: expanding the convention center, or building a 400-room hotel. Their proposed hotel includes more than 1,000 rooms, so it would require amending that master plan to move forward.
“The Port has all the discretion to decide what to do with that land,” he said. “And so it’s ultimately going to be up to what they think is better: a single hotel behind the convention center on the water, or an expanded convention center that benefits the whole region.”
That decision, though, only matters if the mayor somehow cobbles together a coalition that can convince two-thirds of city voters to approve his plan.