Ballots went out to San Diego’s hoteliers yesterday in their election to increase hotel taxes to fund the proposed Convention Center expansion.
You’re still not allowed to know how many votes each hotelier gets.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has not answered our request for the number of votes that a multi-billion dollar out-of-state corporation has in the election.
Our point is simple. The vote will increase taxes that hotel guests pay to visit San Diego by an estimated $1 billion over the next three decades. It’s in the public interest to know how much power the city’s largest hotelier, Maryland-based Host Hotels & Resorts, has over the election. Host owns downtown’s two biggest hotels, the Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Marriott Marquis & Marina, and two others in the city. The election isn’t one-hotel, one-vote. Instead, a hotel’s room revenues and its proximity to the Convention Center determine its votes so Host could have a tremendous influence over the outcome.
Public records advocates are siding with us. An open government advocate has said the city has no reason under state law not to reveal the hotelier’s votes. Cory Briggs, a local attorney who has handled numerous public records cases, agreed.
“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why people having different weights in their ballot is something the public shouldn’t know,” Briggs said.
So far, Goldsmith has pointed to a City Council resolution that says the hoteliers’ voting shares should be kept confidential because they could contain proprietary information. But the resolution also appears to give Goldsmith the discretion to release the records regardless. Goldsmith also has not formally denied my request as called for in state law.
California public records law requires agencies to decide if records are releasable within 10 days. I first made my request verbally to the City Clerk’s Office 11 days ago. This morning, Goldsmith’s spokesman asked for an extension, which is allowed only in “unusual circumstances” under the law. Goldsmith said he hoped to give me an answer by Thursday — 10 days after I made my request in writing.
Goldsmith said in an email to me this morning that he was researching if the confidentiality and competitive disadvantage exemptions to the public records law apply. He wrote:
I’ve asked for a thorough legal analysis from our attorney and input from outside counsel who participated in drafting the ordinance and resolution. When we receive drafts, we often raise questions and it takes some time to address those additional questions. That quality control is important to ensure we get it right. In addition, I should point out that our attorneys have a heavy workload and can only do so much at one time.
Goldsmith was cryptic about the provision in the council resolution that allows him to release the votes.
“With regard to our discretion, please read the resolution as to what that covers,” he wrote in his email to me.
I have read the resolution numerous times over the past week. I don’t know what he means. And I won’t until he actually answers my request as the law requires him to do.
Again, time is of the essence here. I first made my request on the eve of a City Council vote to give hoteliers more control over Convention Center operations. At the time, a vice president of the Manchester Grand Hyatt said he didn’t know if his parent company would support the tax hike without that control. Last Tuesday, the council voted to give the hoteliers what they wanted.
Ballots in the tax hike are due back to the city by April 23.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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