The San Diego Convention Center and nearby hotels. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

It’s crunch time for a measure aiming to raise hotel taxes for a Convention Center expansion, homeless initiatives and road repairs and opponents are preparing to pounce.

The county registrar of voters has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to let the city know whether the office’s random sample analysis of signatures was sufficient to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The City Council has set the stage for a Thursday vote on whether to place the measure on the ballot.

At least two opponents are also waiting in the wings.

Former City Councilman Carl DeMaio promises to assemble a campaign against the measure if the City Council sends it to the ballot.

And homeless advocate Michael McConnell on Tuesday filed paperwork to establish a committee, San Diegans for Common Good, to oppose the tax increase.

Last month, the campaign turned in 114,609 signatures – far more than required. Campaign manager Chris Wahl has estimated the group needed just under 79,000 signatures to ensure the registrar’s office finds at least 110 percent of sampled signatures are valid, avoiding an automatic, more detailed count that would stall the measure.

But opponents – DeMaio or others – could order a detailed count after the city clerk and registrar’s offices give the measure the go-ahead, an outcome that could derail the measure’s path to the November ballot. Opponents would have four days to deposit cash to fund the count, a process that in the past has cost from $47,000 to $365,000.

But city attorneys have decided a full count, if ordered, shouldn’t delay putting the measure on the November ballot.

Hilary Nemchik, a spokeswoman for City Attorney Mara Elliott, said attorneys interpret city rules to require that the city swiftly move forward before the registrar’s Aug. 10 deadline.

Nemchik and the clerk’s office referred to the city’s municipal code they conclude requires City Clerk Liz Maland to certify the petition once the registrar’s office concludes it’s likely to have the required 71,646 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The code also requires that the City Council must vote to place the measure on the ballot at its next regular City Council meeting.

The City Council updated its legislative calendar earlier this week to ensure it could vote Thursday, a day before the Aug. 10 deadline.

The short timeline has translated into a surprising conclusion: If a full count proceeds and it’s revealed there weren’t enough valid signatures, it’s not clear the measure would be pulled from the ballot.

“The city has no power to remove a measure from the ballot,” Nemchik wrote in an email to VOSD.

That has persuaded DeMaio to focus on a campaign against the measure.

“That’s a breathtakingly extraordinary and creative interpretation of the (city) law in plain English and the result is it gives discretion to city politicians to put whatever the hell they want on the ballot without any verifications from taxpayers who may be concerned about the validation process,” DeMaio said.

DeMaio’s got major beefs with the measure itself, too. He opposes the proposal to sink $2 billion into homelessness programs over 42 years and describes the measure as a “blank check” to the city’s day-to-day fund. He also criticized the campaign’s pursuit of a citizens’ initiative, which he said was an attempted end-run around Prop. 13, which requires a two-thirds vote for any tax hikes.

“I think there will be a broad base of opposition to this flawed tax hike,” DeMaio said.

The campaign behind the measure, Yes for a Better San Diego, has its own broad coalition to campaign for it. Mayor Kevin Faulconer, business and labor groups have lined up behind it and say it will not only help the local economy and homeless San Diegans, but includes ample financial protections.

“I know the opportunity to pave thousands of miles of road, create quality, permanent jobs and tackle the homelessness crisis – all with a single vote – is rare,” former Mayor Jerry Sanders said last month. “This may be the most important decision San Diegans will make to ensure we remain America’s Finest City for decades to come.”

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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