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Mayor 'Absolutely' Wants Convadium, Hotel Tax and All

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer found a tax hike he likes — specifically an increase to the hotel-room tax to fund a new joint convention center and stadium in East Village. The mayor talked with Scott Lewis Monday about whether he prefers East Village to Mission Valley, how enforceable the concessions he won from the team are and more.

So he did it. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer found a tax hike he likes — specifically an increase to the hotel-room tax to fund a new joint convention center and stadium in East Village.

He’s now on the record supporting it. It’s the first tax increase Faulconer has supported as an elected official, though he reminded me he supported the 2004 push to increase the city’s hotel room tax for police, fire, arts and tourism marketing. It got more than 60 percent of the vote but not the two-thirds required to pass.

Faulconer called and let me get a few questions in. I got 10 minutes. Here’s our exchange:

Scott Lewis: You did reject a tax, the SANDAG tax the roads and open space. You rejected a tax for police and fire. You rejected a tax for the infrastructure issue that that ended up being the ballot measure on June’s ballot. Why avoid all of those taxes and then, uh, embrace this one?

Kevin Faulconer: Well, I’ll tell you certainly this isn’t a perfect plan. Part of my job is to take a look at each potential measure and figure out what I think is the best thing for the city and what we should be doing. And look, this isn’t a measure I crafted. The city wasn’t at the negotiating table. So the easy thing, probably, to do Scott, was just say no, and that would be that.

That might have been the easiest thing to do politically. But to me it was really important we look at not just the short term but the long term. Look, it’s important that we have professional sports teams, just like we have symphonies and museums and arts and culture as part of who we are as a city. That’s why I spent the time that we did over the last couple months — to try to get additional safeguards and protections that I think will set this city up for success.

Regardless of what happens with Measure C in November, next month, I’m trying to take the long-term view here of what’s best for the city in the next 10-20 years.

Help me understand specifically what that long-term strategy might be? What do you get out of endorsing this that you wouldn’t have gotten for the long term?

Great question. Look, to me it was important we have both principles and safeguards that are in place. Things like capping project costs. Guaranteeing tourism marketing funding. No subsidies from the city’s operating budget. The fact the city would receive all revenue from non-NFL events. To have all of these down, in writing, is important as we set the tone not just for the next month but for the foreseeable future.

When you look at all of the things, all of the back and forth that’s happened in the past year, I tried to put that behind us and said, ‘What’s in the best interest, what’s the thing we should be doing for the long term on this for the city?’

One of the things I remember from 2010 that really stood out, we were talking about today, was your distrust of the reforms that were promised in exchange for the tax increase, the sales tax increase, those pledges as they stood didn’t actually bind the city to do any of those things. That resonated with me at the time and I remembered it today. Isn’t this kind of the same thing? These are not enforceable.

Well, look, you can’t change a measure once it’s been drafted, so it was very important to me to have this commitment publicly in writing so the public would know that. I’ve said, if the Chargers don’t agree to all of these principles and all these safeguards, I’m not going to support it. As you probably know, there are so many future votes and areas of action by the Council and myself that would be required if Measure C passes, having these commitments in writing — this is not a document the Chargers have ever produced before — was very important to me. Guys like Scott Lewis can hold us all accountable when something is in writing.

Do you want this to pass?

Yeah, look, I’ve endorsed it. I’m voting yes. To me, one of the biggest areas that was important was so many unanswered questions about all of the items in the measure. And really how do we get more clarity for those particularly on the financial aspects of it?

But let me also reiterate, I know that achieving two-thirds is very, very difficult, and I think everyone has said that. So again, I’m looking at not just the short term in terms of what happens next month but how we set us up for success in the years ahead.

So you want a convadium in East Village?

(The mayor assumed I meant this as opposed to a convention center expansion at its current location.)

I’ve said we have the opportunity to do both. I’ve never believed it was an either/or, that we would have just potentially one convention center expansion. Part of the reason when we did our review and one of the reasons we did it a year ago on, not only re-looking at what a contiguous expansion brings to the city but also what you would get form across the street, because I do think, to me, what was most important was expanding our convention ability.

Whether it’s contiguous or across the street, the most important thing is we’re driving revenue, we’re driving dollars that we can use for neighborhood services. I don’t believe it’s either/or.

They’ve argued that if the tax goes up like it would in Measure C, your financing for a contiguous expansion is off the table.

As I’ve said, part of why I spent the time I did on the strength of this was to make sure we’re protecting the city, we’re having the revenues and looking not just at the best-case scenario but a worst-case scenario. As I’ve said, we’ll see where we are in November, and moving forward, and I’m looking forward to that.

Do you want this convadium in East Village more than in Mission Valley?

As I’ve said before, we’ve had many opportunities, I want to achieve success for expanding our tourism economy. How we do that and how we get more people to San Diego, how we generate revenue, it’s our third largest source of revenue, that’s how we pave roads, that’s how we keep libraries open. It’s a competitive advantage for us and so, moving forward, to drive that, and positioning us for success, is really what I’m trying to look forward to in terms of the future.  There’s only one plan on the ballot, and I’ve felt that my job was to take a look at this and provide additional safeguards and opportunities once we really did our due diligence and research.

Now that you’re on the record supporting the outlines of this plan — downtown, a convadium-style expansion, East Village — and you’ve said it’s just these periphery issues in the way, doesn’t that kind of set the table for the future discussion? That it will be downtown, somewhat similar to this one if this one specifically doesn’t pass?

Let me be very clear, it’s incumbent upon us to move forward and keep all options on the table. I can’t predict what’s going to happen in November with the election, but what I can tell you is that my job is to make sure that we’re positioning the city to move forward and to grow tourism, to keep the team here for the long term. How we accomplish that will be up to all of us.

If Measure C doesn’t pass, the Chargers know they can work with the city and with me to chart a new path.

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