The issue before us is not about right or left; it’s simply about right or wrong. On behalf of my fellow San Diegans and Balboa Park aficionados, I present four areas of questions regarding our troubled 2015 centennial celebration and the hotelier cabal that hijacked it. With nearly $900,000 of direct taxpayer money (plus, an additional $300,000 of Tourism Marketing District taxpayer money) involved, it’s critical that the centennial leadership of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. respond and help San Diegans understand what transpired. Where appropriate, we request input from San Diego’s elected leaders and other knowledgeable individuals that are in a position to shed light.

1. When hotelier lobbyist Mike McDowell was hired as centennial chief, his boss, hotelier Terry Brown (chairman of the TMD), signed on to pay half of McDowell’s $200,000 salary and benefits package. The leaders of the for-profit hoteliers were in control of a major taxpayer-funded San Diego civic event with significant financial upside to the hoteliers themselves. Who were the centennial board members at the time of this hiring? Why didn’t anyone on the centennial board speak up? With more than $450,000 of direct taxpayer funding to this point, where was the city oversight?

2. With respect to the centennial board (Balboa Park Celebration, Inc.), please disclose any business and/or personal relationships each board member and executive (all from to 2010 to the present) may have with San Diego’s hoteliers, the Tourism Marketing District, the Tourism Authority (formerly ConVis) and the Convention Center — past and present, direct and indirect.

3. In February, just after a few days after McDowell’s resignation as centennial CEO, U-T San Diego reported “LA firm hired for Balboa Park blowout.” Reporter James Chute wrote that production company Autonomy had been hired, and that it “was brought in to produce the massive 2010 Mexico Bicentennial Celebration in Mexico City.”

How did the centennial board learn of Autonomy, and for what reasons was Autonomy hired? Please disclose any business and/or personal relationships that Autonomy’s principals and executives may have with San Diego’s hoteliers, centennial board, the TMD, the Tourism Authority and the Convention Center, past and present, direct and indirect.

4. The hoteliers put on a full-court press to push at least three hotelier-benefiting measures through the City Council before then-Mayor-elect Bob Filner’s inauguration on Dec. 3. First, a “$445,916 increase in funding for the hotelier’s centennial (approved by council on Nov. 13); second, a TMD extension of 40 years whereby the hoteliers would have control over a 2-percent tax levied on visitors to most San Diego hotels (approved by council on Nov. 26); and third, a Bahia Resort Hotel 40-year lease extension on prime city-owned land along Mission Bay (approved by council on Nov. 26). The common thread in each case was a rapid transfer of significantly more taxpayer and city treasure to the hotelier’s control. Alarm bells, anyone? If these hotelier measures were truly in the best interests of San Diego, why the mad rush? Or was this the hoteliers self-dealing again, desperately trying to set themselves up for another “40 years” before their grip on the mayor’s seat and power went kaput?


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

We hope there are logical explanations for each; if so, we can quickly put an end to the doubts herein. Please direct your answers to Scott Lewis at the Voice of San Diego within five business days. If the centennial leadership of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. chooses not to address these taxpayer concerns with transparency, Filner will need to weigh the viability of the centennial itself.

Due to numerous management and board missteps, our 2015 centennial celebration is in real jeopardy, and time may be too short to save it. Mistakes, missteps and setbacks in a “best of intentions” effort is one thing; it’s an entirely different thing when those mistakes, missteps and setbacks are the byproduct of a hidden agenda to serve the special interests of a powerful hotelier cabal.

Let the light of truth shine bright, San Diego.

George Mullen is spearheading the civic effort to bring a world-class image to San Diego as the City of Life (Ciudad de Vida). He is an artist, writer and occasional economist with StudioRevolution.com in downtown San Diego. He is a native and welcomes feedback at gdmullen@gmail.com.


Want to spark discussion? Start a conversation by submitting a commentary at Fix San Diego.

    This article relates to: Economy, Government, Letters, Opinion

    Written by Dagny Salas

    Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

    25 comments
    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    In any world where reality reigns, "[u]nions are bankrupting this state" is an opinion, not a fact.

    fryefan
    fryefan

    In any world where reality reigns, "[u]nions are bankrupting this state" is an opinion, not a fact.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage

    The specific benefit the district will provide to assessed lodging businesses, and will not provide to nonassessed lodging businesses, is room night sales. The programs and services provided with the district funds will be designed specifically to drive room night sales at assessed lodging businesses. Only assessed lodging businesses will be featured in marketing materials, receive sales leads generated from district-funded activities, be featured in advertising campaigns, and benefit from other district-funded services. Non-assessed lodging businesses will not receive these and any other district-funded services."

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    The specific benefit the district will provide to assessed lodging businesses, and will not provide to nonassessed lodging businesses, is room night sales. The programs and services provided with the district funds will be designed specifically to drive room night sales at assessed lodging businesses. Only assessed lodging businesses will be featured in marketing materials, receive sales leads generated from district-funded activities, be featured in advertising campaigns, and benefit from other district-funded services. Non-assessed lodging businesses will not receive these and any other district-funded services."

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    It's not that I trust them, I trust them more than the public unions. Both are equally greedy and corrupt, but the unions leech the taxpayer a lot more.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    It's not that I trust them, I trust them more than the public unions. Both are equally greedy and corrupt, but the unions leech the taxpayer a lot more.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Just how is the tourism marketing money spent? This past weekend I looked over numerous tourist and convention planning publications and could find little to no reference of San Diego. None of its hotels are in the top rankings.

    Activist
    Activist

    Just how is the tourism marketing money spent? This past weekend I looked over numerous tourist and convention planning publications and could find little to no reference of San Diego. None of its hotels are in the top rankings.

    Activist
    Activist

    Shawn1847...Fryefan unlike Jones is not naive about the goings on of the major hotelers here in San Diego. Do ask Jones what happened to all the TOT money that was supposed to go for maintenance of the park's infrastructure that is $240 million in arrears.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Shawn1847...Fryefan unlike Jones is not naive about the goings on of the major hotelers here in San Diego. Do ask Jones what happened to all the TOT money that was supposed to go for maintenance of the park's infrastructure that is $240 million in arrears.

    94ff10e2-91b7-11e2-bb98-87c9e133caf5/2013032100523
    94ff10e2-91b7-11e2-bb98-87c9e133caf5/2013032100523

    We'll have to wait and see how well the Santa Monica experiment works. We know and have evidence that the San Diego TMD works based on five years of experience. Santa Monica has the benefit of the much larger and richer Los Angeles TMD doing the heavy lifting and that TMD isn't voluntary. The SD TMD doesn't promote individual hotels and can't. They will only promote activities, marketing and advertising that brings people here to stay in hotels. It's up to the individual hotels to pay for their own self promotion to get people to choose theirs over someone elses. As for the SD TMD being voluntary, I can see hotels opting out to let the others pay the way. That wouldn't be fair so a citywide system of marketing shared by all benefits all.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    “The programs and services provided with the district funds will be designed specifically to drive room night sales at assessed lodging businesses,” a report issued to the CVB by Civitas stated. “Only assessed lodging businesses will be featured in marketing materials, receive sales leads generated from district-funded activities, be featured in advertising campaigns, and benefit from other district-funded services. Non-assessed lodging businesses will not receive these and any other district-funded services.”

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage

    “The programs and services provided with the district funds will be designed specifically to drive room night sales at assessed lodging businesses,” a report issued to the CVB by Civitas stated. “Only assessed lodging businesses will be featured in marketing materials, receive sales leads generated from district-funded activities, be featured in advertising campaigns, and benefit from other district-funded services. Non-assessed lodging businesses will not receive these and any other district-funded services.”

    Steve Weathers
    Steve Weathers subscriber

    I am not a hotelier but I play one on TV. Simply put, the hotels are in competition with each other. About the only thing the "cabal" can agree on is to come up with a mechanism that markets San Diego to potential travelers. The job of the TMD and the SD Tourism Authority is to get people to decide to visit San Diego. Once that decision is made then it's up to the hotels on their own dime to get the guest to choose their hotel to stay at. Once the guest is here then the rest of San Diego benefits from the TOT tax, sales tax, attraction admissions, restaurant meals, taxi drivers, bakeries, farms, grocery stores, printers and on and on. Trip Advisor lists 241 hotels in San Diego on their website. Which ones are the greedy ones? Inquiring minds want to know.

    stratus
    stratus

    I am not a hotelier but I play one on TV. Simply put, the hotels are in competition with each other. About the only thing the "cabal" can agree on is to come up with a mechanism that markets San Diego to potential travelers. The job of the TMD and the SD Tourism Authority is to get people to decide to visit San Diego. Once that decision is made then it's up to the hotels on their own dime to get the guest to choose their hotel to stay at. Once the guest is here then the rest of San Diego benefits from the TOT tax, sales tax, attraction admissions, restaurant meals, taxi drivers, bakeries, farms, grocery stores, printers and on and on. Trip Advisor lists 241 hotels in San Diego on their website. Which ones are the greedy ones? Inquiring minds want to know.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Unlike Jones (see his third paragraph) I do not "trust" hoteliers to do what's best for anyone but themselves--it's that simple.

    fryefan
    fryefan

    Unlike Jones (see his third paragraph) I do not "trust" hoteliers to do what's best for anyone but themselves--it's that simple.

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    I know that editorially VOSD has been pretty strong on the idea that TMD should have been voluntary. I would like to see some reporting on how viable that actually would be. Are there any other examples that work like that? Where? What are the benefits (and costs) of having marketing go through such a voluntary group?

    ErikBruvold
    ErikBruvold

    I know that editorially VOSD has been pretty strong on the idea that TMD should have been voluntary. I would like to see some reporting on how viable that actually would be. Are there any other examples that work like that? Where? What are the benefits (and costs) of having marketing go through such a voluntary group?

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    overnment. As it turns out, the hotel owners were wrong this time.

    shawn1874
    shawn1874

    overnment. As it turns out, the hotel owners were wrong this time.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    "I do not trust hoteliers to put clean sheets on their beds." Really Fryefan? You're that vindictive and angry that you would write something that ridiculous?

    shawn1874
    shawn1874

    "I do not trust hoteliers to put clean sheets on their beds." Really Fryefan? You're that vindictive and angry that you would write something that ridiculous?

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    The long arm of city government should not enforce the ludicrous 'self assessment" that many owners did not want, nor should government permit private interests to control our Centennial.

    fryefan
    fryefan

    The long arm of city government should not enforce the ludicrous 'self assessment" that many owners did not want, nor should government permit private interests to control our Centennial.