Expanding our Convention Center is critical to the economic growth in our region – it already provides $1.1 billion to our economy each year and could produce millions more for local businesses and neighborhood services. That’s why I supported the approved contiguous expansion in 2012 and still support it today. And it’s why, when the mayor first proposed an increase to the transit occupancy tax in his State of the City address, I was optimistic there was a funding plan that could combine the stakeholder support and revenue necessary to make the expansion a reality. I wasn’t alone in my optimism that night, nor was I alone in cautioning that the details would be critical to putting a viable proposal forward to voters. More than four months later, we still have a long way to go to get this right.

Commentary - in-story logoWhen the first concept of this proposal came before the City Council’s Rules Committee in April, I outlined a number of concerns that could undermine both the policy and political success of the measure. At that hearing, and in a subsequent memo to the mayor’s office with Councilwomen Barbara Bry and Georgette Gómez, I asked for:

• assurance that the land necessary for the expansion would actually be available

• substantiation for the proposal’s financial assumptions and projections

• potential recapture of elections costs to mitigate the budget impact

• protections against cost over-runs


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• clearly defined homeless services, and dedication of any unanticipated revenue to homelessness needs; and

• re-evaluation of the total amount of TOT possible and the portion of resources reserved for homeless programs.

With little or no movement on these questions as of our May 22 City Council hearing, my concerns remain.

I agree with the mayor that a Convention Center expansion and dedicated funding for infrastructure and homeless services are crucial priorities facing our city. We are in the midst of a homelessness crisis demanding a stronger response, and I’m pushing for better approaches and stronger coordination throughout our region. I know how critically we need more local dollars sooner rather than later to make a major difference on the street saving lives, but this proposal lacks sufficient revenue or protections to ensure we get the impact we need.

We have to be realistic about the challenges we face and whether the proposal before us is workable this year. Two months after my colleagues and I raised our initial concerns, opposition has only grown while enthusiasm is fading. We saw last year with Measure A how difficult it is to achieve two-thirds voter support with anything less than near-universal support. Yet this measure has not even been approved for the ballot by the City Council and there is already funded opposition and clear resistance from the stakeholders and community groups whose support should signal a viable proposal for jobs, housing and infrastructure.

We must also appreciate that voters showed us the values important to them last November. I strongly supported Measure L along with 73 percent of my constituents, and when considering a special election, we need to remember that voters sent us a message that went beyond simply supporting good government. Voters told us loud and clear that they expect to be included in the process and make the biggest decisions when the most San Diegans vote, and I’m unconvinced we face the emergency a special election under Measure L requires.

Finally, every element of an investment this size should be a catalyst for public good, and any convention center expansion must include a strong commitment to our local working families. I do not have enough confidence in the quality of jobs or community benefits that this proposal would generate, or that the critical resources for infrastructure and homelessness are adequately protected. Yet the special election would cost at least $5 million, and without everything in place, it at best provides a half-measure that likely delays more substantial investment in critical areas, and at worst poisons the well for years by alienating the voters who told us specifically to stop doing business this way.

For all these reasons, we should not and I cannot support a special election in 2017 for the proposed TOT measure.

I deeply appreciate the efforts by all stakeholders throughout this process to find a viable solution this year. Feedback from the business community, Convention Center leadership, homeless advocates, tourism experts, labor organizations and community groups has been invaluable, and I see clear consensus to expand the Convention Center, make major progress on housing and homelessness, and ensure the solutions benefit every San Diego neighborhood.

I am eager to continue working with all stakeholders, including the mayor, to produce a package for voters in the November 2018 election that unambiguously defines our needs, costs and solutions, includes safeguards for the well-being of all those impacted and keeps faith with all San Diegans who told us they expect to be a central part of the process from start to finish. They deserve no less, and I believe San Diego will rise to the occasion and meet the biggest needs facing our city.

The prudent and responsible way to get there is with a more thoughtful and inclusive process, and I know it will produce a stronger coalition around better policy in 2018 that makes the wait worthwhile.

Chris Ward is the city councilman representing District 3.

    This article relates to: Convention Center, Opinion, Politics

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    11 comments
    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    Why reward politicians who are not competent enough to get their sh** together in time for normal elections?  Way to go Chris Ward for voting not to waste $5MM of your constituents money on a special election and SUCKER CITY theft of public land. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Ward: While I don't agree with aspects of your piece (especially regarding the need for convention center expansion), I greatly appreciate your well articulated point of view and your willingness to take the time to put it in printed form.

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    The public benefits resulting from a convention center expansion are dubious, as are the "cooked" numbers that justify it. While delaying the convention center ballot measure iin order to obtain more information is justified, a delay on a vote to raise funds to address homelessness is not. The increase in the homeless population and our lack of responding to it are shameful. Jurisdictions all over the state have passed bond measures related to this issue, but San Diego (which has the 4th largest homeless population in the country) is catatonic! Let's address the homeless problem aggressively, now!

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @bgetzel  --Instead of using the millions to hold a special election, why not put those dollars towards the homeless problem? 

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    @David Crossley @bgetzel Actually, that is not a bad idea in the short run. The $5 million that would have been the cost of the election could, instead, be appropriated for homeless programs/projects in 2017 -2018. Then, in Nov. 2018, a bond measure that funds a long term strategy can be presented to voters in the general election. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Special election pro or con isn't the issue.  We've been down this road before and expanded the convention center because it was going to generate so much more revenue for the city.  Has the public ever seen the results of the previous expansion in clear historical numbers, before vs. after and how it's fared, year by year since the first expansion?  


    This "trust me" stuff gets old, because there are clear winners (restaurants, e.g. ) regardless how much the city makes off the deal, and the voters should be concerned with revenues that create funds for necessary city functions, i.e., land in the treasury.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Bradshaw: I agree. The mantra of the tourism industry seems to be, we need it, but we don't want to pay for it., so let's charge tourists. Never mind that the vast majority of tourists will never use the convention center. or benefit by it in any way. We (citizenry) seem to get little if any real information about the occupancy rates of the convention center or anything vaguely approaching objective evidence of need and cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, there are innumerable studies indicating that convention centers are being overbuild and competing with each other with overcapacity. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Chris Brewster That’s right.There is a huge glut of available convention space throughout the country, and the result you would expect if you believe in markets is that cities are literally giving the space away to conventions at prices way below those required to cover even operating costs, much less debt service and other expenses.Their hope is that, through more TOT revenue and sales tax collections they’ll make up the difference.Tough to demonstrate success, so they use ridiculous assumptions such as any hotel room occupied during a convention is occupied by conventioneers.


    To make things even worse, several years ago the hotel industry seized control of convention scheduling from CONVIS, and the result is that, particularly with small/medium sized conventions, the larger hotels can cherry pick meetings and hold them in their own convention facilities, leaving the dregs for the convention center.


    Why does stuff like this persist?  Three of the biggest power bases politically in San Diego are hotels, restaurants/bars and real estate developers and builders.  They have owned most of the politicians here for decades. For evidence, go to the city clerk’s web site, choose your favorite local politician and check his/her campaign contributions.  But do it sitting down, it isn’t pretty.


    When you look at the major corporate leadership in this city, it’s almost totally lacking.  The big companies are headquartered elsewhere.  We have Qualcomm, a few medium sized law firms, the universities and……Compare us with Seattle, a much smaller city, and find me a Starbucks, Nordstrom, Boeing, Costco, Microsoft, Whole Foods, etc.  There aren’t any.  Same story in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and lots of other places.. The result is that the hotels, bars/restaurants and developers have extraordinary clout here.

    Bob Gardner
    Bob Gardner subscriber

    Personally I can imagine no reason ever to have a special election. Save the money and fix our infrastructure.  If our infrastructure ever does not need fixing, I will be very, very surprised since it is usually the last priority of government instead of being where it should be - second behind security.


    So my policy will continue to be to vote against any issue that ends up on a special election ballot regardless of its merits. 


    Now if the politicians want to pay for a special election out of their own pockets instead of relying on taxpayer money, that might be a different story. But that will never happen since most politicians use the public trough to finance their own wants and desires instead of doing what is best for the community as a whole.

    Mark Robinson
    Mark Robinson

    Councilman Chris Ward speaks far more eloquently for the need for expansion of the Convention Center than he does the need for homeless services and affordable housing.  Certainly one can support both ideas, but the crisis, for citizens, is in housing, not Convention Center usage.


    ( Link below details shortfall of 140,000 rental units for San Diego County)


     - http://1p08d91kd0c03rlxhmhtydpr.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/San-Diego-County-2017.pdf


    Supporting the legislative relief in the CHPC action plan above will bring about job growth as well as livability. Once municipal bonds have been earmarked for these measures it wouldn't be elitist to call for Convention Center expansion as well.