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There Is a Bad Guy in the Convention Center Saga – But It's Not Who You Think

Or guys, rather. Hotel industry leaders believe that every guest dollar should land in no pocket other than their own.

Speaking last week at the Catfish Club, City Councilman Scott Sherman responded to a question about why the city is refusing to consider a downtown joint stadium/convention center facility with this:

“I do want to look at that, but unfortunately you have to acquire the land, you have to go through the Coastal Commission, you have to go through the Port. You have Cory Briggs and other attorneys who will sue anything that goes up near the water, that’s just what it is. And you’ve got the infrastructure issues, getting in and out of downtown. … That’s why after looking at everything involved the Mission Valley site made so much sense.”

Other politicians have made remarkably similar statements.  But the problem isn’t the politicians per se. The problem is that their assumptions are all wrong.

I shared my view about the downtown option in a comment on Voice of San Diego’s website last week, even before Sherman made his comments.

The real source of the misinformation being fed to the politicians is the local hotel-industry leadership.

The hoteliers’ message is wrong in four ways:

Tailgate Park and the MTS site are already owned by public agencies.

The Coastal Commission has no jurisdiction off the waterfront.

The Port, likewise, has no jurisdiction off the waterfront.

My clients and other civic-minded people have two goals: They want the environmental laws followed, and they want the laws requiring voter approval of new taxes and debt followed.

The reason there is litigation on waterfront projects is because the law is not being followed. Maybe it’s bad legal advice, or maybe it’s something else. For reasons I’ll never understand, the city insists on ignoring the well-lit path in favor of exotic and novel legal approaches.

Whether it’s Sherman blaming my clients for the political decision to take downtown off the table, or the Lincoln Club accusing Mark Fabiani of somehow tricking the mayor, or Council members blaming the Convention Center board for the $14 million Fifth Avenue Landing waterfront lease debacle … all of these tortured distractions can be traced to a common source: downtown waterfront hoteliers and their entourage. And they are succeeding.

Our politicians seem to have opted for proposals that would make local residents pay, rather than making visitors pay, for the public’s share of a new stadium. They are making this choice even if it means losing the Chargers.

Why are they doing this? Hoteliers believe that every guest dollar should land in no pocket other than their own. That’s why they opposed a transient occupancy tax increase a decade ago, that’s why they’ve been fighting to take over the Convention Center and that’s why they are opposed to a joint-use facility downtown.

I have no particular interest in whether the Chargers get a new stadium or whether the Convention Center expands. But no one should blame my clients or even the Chargers for the fact that waterfront hoteliers have succeeded in artificially limiting the public’s options.

It’s cruelly ironic, and contrary to Sherman’s statement, that there is nothing novel or exotic about a downtown site simply because so much of the environmental work has already been done. Mission Valley? Not so much.

Cory Briggs is a public-interest lawyer and principal of Briggs Law Corporation. Briggs’ commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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