Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s proposed hotel-tax hike to expand the Convention Center and pull in money for homelessness and street repairs could be in trouble.

Seven of nine City Council members raised concerns about the measure at an informational hearing Monday, questioning everything from the $5 million cost of a special election in November to whether the measure does enough to address San Diego’s homeless crisis. The less-than-enthusiastic reception from local labor groups – one local hotel union might actively oppose the measure, and the San Diego Labor Council is at least opposed to the measure going to the ballot in November of this year.

The measure will require five City Council votes to move to the November special election ballot and will need support from two-thirds of voters if it makes it there. The mayor’s proposal would raise hotel taxes by up to 3 percent and throw nearly two-thirds of proceeds over 40 years into Convention Center expansion and needs. Another 18 percent each would be funneled to homeless services and street repairs.

Even Councilman Scott Sherman, a Faulconer ally, said Monday he’s on the fence about the mayor’s pitch.

Sherman said he liked the idea of revenue streams for homelessness and road fixes but wasn’t sure the mayor’s tax hike could get the broad support necessary to prevail at the polls.

“Two-thirds is a very tough threshold to meet,” Sherman said.

Republican Chris Cate later asked two mayor’s office staffers a handful of questions about wording in the measure, not indicating where he stood on it.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, also a regular Faulconer ally, was absent Monday.

Only City Councilman Mark Kersey spoke enthusiastically about Faulconer’s proposal, saying he “very strongly” supported the return on investment he’d expect from the Convention Center expansion.

City Council Democrats were outspoken about their beefs with the plan. They lobbed a series of questions at the mayor’s office officials. They questioned whether the measure could promise local hires, the legal and sea-level status of the land the waterfront expansion would rest on and more. Nearly all mentioned Measure L, a measure that passed last November requiring citizen-led initiatives and referendums to be taken up in general elections.

City Councilman Chris Ward, who represents the district that includes the current Convention Center and the city’s largest homeless population, said he supported both increased city cash for homelessness and the Convention Center expansion.

Ward and fellow Democratic Council members Barbara Bry and Georgette Gomez have publicly pressed the mayor about whether more money could go toward homelessness initiatives, particularly in the earlier years.

The mayor’s office has responded by noting the City Council could approve up to a $140 million bond for the cause in 2019 but has not made changes to the share of money slated to be directed at homeless services. The mayor hasn’t committed to a steeper tax hike. After all, hoteliers have openly rejected the concept of an increased tax hike.

Ward made clear Monday he’s still hoping to negotiate but sent a warning shot at Monday’s hearing.

“The fact that in the last six weeks I don’t think that I have heard a lot of movement from other industry leaders, stakeholder organizations, community members, gives me great concern at this moment,” Ward said. “I still think that there is time that this ship could be righted but it’s a lot harder to do so today than it was six weeks ago when we outlined some of my concerns.”

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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