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Panic Sets in for Signature-Gathering Efforts on Convention Center Push

After promising to turn signatures in Monday, the campaign to put a measure on the ballot that would raise hotel taxes, fund an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and road repairs has told signature-gatherers to keep working, and resorted to pleading with allies to gather signatures themselves.

A signature-gatherer covers the Ocean Beach Street Fair June 23. / Photo by Scott Lewis

After promising to turn signatures in Monday, the campaign to put a measure on the ballot that would raise hotel taxes, fund an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and road repairs has told signature-gatherers to keep working, and resorted to pleading with allies to gather signatures themselves.

Both the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Partnership sent out emails to their stakeholders asking for an all-hands effort to finish the job. Here’s the email from Betsy Brennan, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, to board members:

If each of our members collects 50 signatures, we can do more than our part to ensure the initiative is included on the ballot this November. Please reach out to colleagues, friends, family members, and all registered San Diego voters who have not yet signed a petition to place the measure on the ballot.

The Chamber went with a more subtle approach.  It didn’t want business groups to think it was sending signature-gatherers to their offices.

We are at the tail end of our signature gathering efforts, and just to make sure we are successful in getting this to the ballot, we are asking our members that are vocal supporters of more housing solutions to consider hosting a signature petition at their office. All it requires of you is to have the petition available for employees/customers, and we can arrange for campaign staff to drop off the packet at your convenience. (And don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’ll have a signature gatherer there asking for signatures- we simply ask that you make the petition available for those interested)

Monday, the campaign Yes! For a Better San Diego, told us in a written statement that its leaders had decided to delay turning in signatures because they could not be sure they had enough valid ones.

“Because the election calendar gives us only one shot to qualify, and does not allow us the benefit of a signature by signature recount, we must be extra careful to ensure we have the signatures we need,” the statement read.

This is an acknowledgement that they’re so late in the process that they must pass the initial random-sampling test the registrar of voters applies. The registrar looks at a small batch of the signatures, and determines how many of them are valid. Using that figure, the registrar can project how many valid signatures there are in the whole batch.

If, after doing that, he finds they’ll have between 95 percent and 110 percent of the number needed, it will trigger a full count.

If they’re forced to do a full count of signatures, they won’t make the Aug. 10 deadline to put a measure on the ballot.

This week, in the Politics Report, we reviewed the unthinkable scenario of what may happen if they miss the ballot and what could then happen to the $5 million the city has already committed to pay the partnership that owns a lease on land necessary for the expansion of the Convention Center.

The City Council could itself put the measure directly on the ballot without all this hassle.

But that would ensure that the measure needed support of two-thirds of voters to pass. Proponents of the Yes! For a Better San Diego campaign are holding out hope that, as a citizens’ initiative, it would only need a simple majority to pass after a Supreme Court ruling last year opened up that possibility.

Further, another obstacle to that possibility appears to be falling. In Sacramento, soda companies, the governor and legislators have apparently struck a deal to avoid a ballot measure that would have made all tax measures get two-thirds support from voters no matter what they paid for or how they were put on the ballot.

Correction: The post has been updated to reflect that if the projection of valid signatures shows that supporters will have between 95 percent and 110 percent of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure, it will trigger a full signature-by-signature count of all that were turned in. 

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