By Doug Porter
This week’s twists and turns involving Attorney Cory Briggs, the City, the Chargers and the barons of the hospitality industry are simply stunning. Get your popcorn now, folks, cause this mess in San Diego is likely to go on for a while.
Forget for a moment about whether a new stadium or convention center or combination facility is desirable; yesterday’s shenanigans peeled back the facade on local politics to reveal a mess of squabbling interests and a mayor paralyzed by the prospect of actually doing something, anything.
At the center of all this are ballot measures potentially paving the way for a joint use facility in the East Village, aka the convadium. I’ll do my best to sort this out.
The Lawsuit That Started It All
A couple of months back. Superior Court Judge Joel R.Wohlfeil denied a motion to dismissed a Cory Briggs lawsuit challenging the basis on which hotels are allowed to collect two percent self-assessment/fee/not-a-tax surcharge.
A legal and public relations campaign waged by the Tourism Marketing District (with the implicit backing of city hall) aimed at discrediting Briggs, his clients and the very idea of taxpayer approval, fell short.
While there was no way of knowing for sure how the lawsuit would end, the potential for the TMD to lose a revenue stream financing its promotions and the city to be on the hook for millions of dollars deemed to have been illegally collected from tourists was there.
Back-channel negotiations between Briggs and representatives of the hospitality industry resulted in an agreement last week to settle the lawsuit. While details are sketchy, it’s been said that, in return for dropping the lawsuit, the hoteliers would endorse the Citizens Plan proposed by Briggs, Donna Fry and others. The settlement was approved by the TMD on a 9-0 vote on April 4th, according to Briggs.
Because the city was not involved in the negotiations, representatives of the tourism industry wanted to hold off making any announcement until the mayor and other elected officials were informed. A meeting to do just that was set for April 15th.
A Secret Revealed
Word of the impending deal leaked. One local TV station was chasing the story. And the City Attorney–whose hostility towards Briggs is a matter of public record–also found out.
On Monday, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith went public with a memo critiquing the Citizens Plan. Whether or not the concerns were real, the idea was to keep the plan off the ballot. Supporters of the measure say they are close to getting the 90,000 signatures needed to place it on the ballot.
From the Union-Tribune:
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith says there are an array of legal problems and significant risks to taxpayers in The Citizens Plan, an initiative that would hike San Diego hotel taxes and possibly fund a convention center annex.
Goldsmith, who issued a 25-page memo on the initiative Monday afternoon, said those concerns could prompt him to recommend the City Council not place the measure on the ballot or consider filing suit to block it.
If the measure doesn’t make the November ballot, it could be good news for a separate citizens’ initiative seeking to raise local hotel taxes to fund a joint Chargers stadium/convention center annex.
So now the City Attorney apparently gets to decide what choices are presented to the voters.
Goldsmith said it would be “the honorable thing” for Briggs to not submit the signatures he’s collected for the Citizens’ Plan.
“They can do what they want to do in this initiative in other ways,” he said. “I’m happy to work with them on that.”
This statement by Goldsmith is near-comedic in its hypocrisy. The City Attorney has spent millions of taxpayer dollars, staked his legal reputation on fighting lawsuits challenging shortcuts and backroom maneuvers, and NOW he wants to be helpful?
Again, put aside–for a moment–your feelings about the convadium, etc. Watch the process going on. This city is messed up. Bigtime.
Bring It On, Says Briggs
Briggs believed the timing of the Goldsmith memo was no coincidence. Tuesday morning he summoned the media to announce the settlement and challenge the city attorney to take his case to court.
From the Union-Tribune:
His plans to delay discussing the settlement changed, he said, with the release Monday of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s memo. Goldsmith has said he was concerned enough about the legality of the initiative to consider recommending that it not be placed on the ballot.
The Goldsmith memo, Briggs said, “is a calculated maneuver to ensure the public is disenfranchised. Whether we get a TMD settlement that’s announced by the TMD after they meet with the mayor on Friday, I don’t control that. I can tell you we had an agreement, it was confirmed back to me by more than one person involved in that. But it does appear that the timing of this memo raises questions.”
The tourism board, which already has spent more than $2 million fighting the lawsuit, so far has been unsuccessful in getting a judge to dismiss the litigation.
Walking Back the Deal, Maybe
Within hours of the Briggs press conference, San Diego Tourism Marketing District Chairman of the Board William L. Evans released a carefully worded statement denying a settlement existed.
“The San Diego Tourism Marketing District (TMD) Directors have not taken any action in regards to a settlement with San Diegans for Open Government (SDOG). We have had and will continue to have productive conversations with SDOG but there has been no action taken by the board. All our efforts are aimed at preserving the TMD and its demonstrated results in generating TOT for the City of San Diego’s General Fund.”
— Cory Briggs (@corybriggs) April 12, 2016
The meeting between the Mayor and the Tourism Marketing District is still scheduled for Friday and it’s possible they’ll walk out of the room and announce a settlement.
So, Where Do We Stand?
Mayor Faulconer used some of Jan Goldsmith’s talking points in a debate aired on Univision Tuesday night, so it’s safe to assume he’s on board with trying to derail the Citizens Plan. Thus, he can only oppose, and he’s having his minions do the dirty work for him.
The Chargers say they are committed to continuing to work with the Citizens Initiative… on…something, even though the consensus seems to be that an actual settlement between Briggs & the TMB would likely doom their separate effort at placing an initiative before the voters.
Here’s Derek Togerson and Gene Cubbison’s analysis of where things stood following a meeting between the Chargers and Briggs on Monday, via NBC7:
If the Bolts cannot get Briggs to back away from his plan (and in his situation it would not make a whole lot of sense to do that) they are kicking around two different backup plans.
One would be to scrap their existing citizens’ initiative and make a whole new one that includes only a stadium build. This is not the likely scenario because the time it would take to re-draft a new initiative, submit it, and wait three weeks to start getting signatures puts them dangerously close to doing all that work and missing the deadlines for getting it out for a November vote.
The other and far more likely option is to simply stop, table their stadium efforts, and for the time being, throw all their support behind Briggs. Sources say this is the way they are very likely going to go. The Chargers say they’ll commit $10 million to the process of getting their plan on the ballot. If they wait and try to push for a special election in the middle of 2017 they can likely just re-allocate that money and get their vote for roughly the same amount.
VOSD’s editor Scott Lewis was on a roll yesterday as this story unfolded.
I’m getting close to forming a San Diego committee called This Is All Stupid, Burn It All to the Ground and Start Over for San Diego PAC.
— Scott Lewis (@vosdscott) April 12, 2016
And then there’s this twist on a Churchill quote to describe the facility at the heart of all this falderal:
“…the convadium plan is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma slathered with fish sauce and baked in a turd.”
(h/t Rich & Anna)
One other item….
Mickey D’s Focus of Protests
Having won significant battles for increased minimum wages in New York and California, the Fight for $15 folks are staging what they promise will be the biggest day of protests yet on Thursday.
Actions are planned for 300 cities in the United States and 40 countries worldwide. Restaurants owned and operated by McDonalds will be the focus of the day’s protests as a means of ratcheting up the pressure on the fast food giant.
A Fight for $15 statement notes. “Buoyed by the wins, workers everywhere else will be demanding, ‘We Need $15 Too.’ And the workers in New York and California will be striking in support and also to reiterate that their demand is for $15 AND union rights, not $15 or union rights.”
Strike Against McJobs and for $15 and a Union!
11:30 Fight for $15 March will begin at the NBC Building (3rd/ Broadway.)
Other Action Site and Start:
RALLY SITE – City College Students will gather at 12:00 noon at City College at Park/A St. “We can see your greedy side!”
On This Day: 1930 – A 17-year-old Jimmy Hoffa led his co-workers at a Kroger warehouse in Clinton, Indiana, in a successfuljob action: by refusing to unload a shipment of perishable strawberries, they forced the company to give in to their demands. Among other things: the “strawberry boys” had to report to work at 4:30 a.m., stay on the job for 12 hours, and were paid 32¢ an hour—only if growers arrived with berries to unload. Plus, they were required to spend three-fourths of any earnings buying goods from Kroger. 1964 – Sidney Poitier became the first black to win an Oscar for best actor. It was for his role in the movie “Lilies of the Field.” 1981 – Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke received a Pulitzer Prize for her feature about an 8-year-old heroin addict named “Jimmy.” Cooke relinquished the prize two days later after admitting she had fabricated the story.
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