Politics Report: The Great Convention Center Debate - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: The Great Convention Center Debate

The hotel-room tax measure campaign is starting to get interesting. What Kristin Gaspar meant, according to her political consultant. And what exactly is an editorial board?

Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis (middle) moderates a debate between Michael McConnell (far left) and Gil Cabrera about a potential measure to increase to the city’s hotel room tax. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

We have posted the video of the Politifest debate about the hotel-room tax increase between attorney Gil Cabrera, a supporter, and philanthropist and homeless advocate Michael McConnell, an opponent.

It was perhaps the deepest city policy discussion at Politifest and it was pretty respectful and interesting.

The essence of Cabrera’s argument: Voters should pass the measure in March because it’s good, the Convention Center expansion will boost city revenues and the economy and the money for homeless services is needed.

The essence of McConnell’s argument: You can’t trust the City Council to spend anything on homelessness, none of the promises are guaranteed and city financial problems, along with potentially increasing costs of the Convention Center expansion, could swallow up other funding. (Cabrera got him when, after McConnell argued that a general tax increase would be better, Cabrera pointed out that would require … trusting the City Council.)

One of the points we have made regularly over the years is that the convention business seems static. It’s no craft beer industry, or stadium rendering industry, if you know what we’re saying. It’s a pie, like this pie:

Pie / Photo via Shutterstock

Pie as in: It’s not a growing industry and thus we’re investing a ton of public money simply to protect our slice of the pie in competition with Vegas and LA, etc. Maybe we should invest public funds into industries that pay better than the visitor industry and are, like, growing. (Our real bias is that we’re so sick of the Convention Center expansion discussion that we’ll probably just vote for it so we can move on with our lives.)

The argument apparently stuck with Cabrera, who sits on the Convention Center Corp. board of directors. This week, he passed along a slide from a presentation he sat through. The industry, it shows, is growing.

This is interesting. We may need to look deeper. However, because it doesn’t conform to our narrative, we may disregard it. Cheers.

Carol Kim Loves the Convention Center

Carol Kim is political director of the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Another person who’s on the Convention Center Corp. board is Carol Kim. She’s also the political director of the Building Trades Council, which represents (most) construction unions.

She kind of caught us off guard when, as a guest on our live podcast recorded Wednesday evening at Mission Brewery in East Village, she began her pitch of support for the hotel-tax increase with a passionate take about the value of … the Convention Center and its expansion. This is surprising because we rarely hear advocates for the tax hike lead with the Convention Center. They seem a lot more eager to talk about the funding the plan provides for homeless services.

I know that there’s a, a very common and overriding narrative that’s often out there about convention centers not being profitable etc, etc, and being loss leaders. Ours happens to be a unicorn. And this is the thing that I want San Diegans to know: Our convention center actually brings in a ton of revenue for the city’s general fund. And without it, I don’t know where that money would come from. I don’t know where we would make up that difference. And beyond that, we actually are turning away a lot of business because we don’t have the kind of floor and exhibit space that we need.

More: When we asked Kim how the campaign was going she offered a pregnant pause and said, “It’s going.”

Fun fact: The Convention Center was first built after the city raised the hotel-room tax from 6 percent to 8 percent in 1978. Scott was 2 years old and Andy did not exist. The hotel-room tax is now 10.5 percent plus 2 percentage points for the Tourism Marketing District assessment (it’s a thing the hotels did for themselves we’re not still tweaked about at all, nope, we’ve moved passed it, yep, ancient history). Someday, they’ll raise the hotel-room tax from 35 percent to 40 percent to make all of downtown a convention center to protect us from the perpetual raging wildfires and high tides of the year 2050. It will be called the Yes! For SAVE EVERYONE! measure.

(The live podcast will post next week.)

POTUS Hopefuls Coming for Brunch

We’ve heard Pete Buttigieg will be in San Diego Sunday (House of Blues) as will Cory Booker, who is appearing at a fundraiser hosted by Cabrera, communications pro Rachel Laing and former Port Commissioner Laurie Black.

Gaspar’s Take on Her Takes

San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar had a lot to say about the county’s plan to open four offices meant to ease voter registration on Election Day, but little of what she said directly related to the idea itself. 

Instead, she said non-citizens can now register to vote (they can’t), shamed the board for voting on it twice and warned of a potential future change to a new election model. 

After we discussed this on last week’s podcast, Gaspar’s political consultant Jason Roe reached out to tell us why the idea itself was bad. 

Quick refresher: A new state law lets would-be voters register at any polling location on Election Day. That should lead to provisional ballots, which take longer to count. The Registrar of Voters thinks that could make it tough to certify the election results within a month. 

He proposed opening four “satellite locations” to get people registered quickly and effectively, and now needs to somehow convince people to go to those instead of their neighborhood polling place. 

Here’s why Roe said Gaspar opposes the idea:  

  • She sees it as an incremental move towards “voting centers,” an alternative model for running elections that Los Angeles is moving to in 2020 and San Diego could consider in 2022. It uses fewer polling places, but sends every voter a mail ballot that they can drop off anywhere. The satellite centers aren’t a solution to a problem, they’re a camel’s nose under the tent, Gaspar thinks. 
  • Vu’s concerns about certifying the election are bunk. In 2016, it took 22 days. They had time to spare. It took so long because there were so many initiatives that each ballot was two pages, doubling the ROV’s workload; many voters wrote in Marco Rubio for president, triggering a hand count on those ballots; and “paranoid GOP voters who don’t trust the postal service were queuing up at the ROV to hand-deliver their ballots.” 

He also said her anger over the re-vote was over county staff thinking they, not the board, run the show. “Kristin has observed this for three years and has reached her limit so you saw a boiling over of that three-year frustration.” 

Gaspar’s voter-fraud concerns, Roe said, stem from there being more registered voters in San Diego than there are eligible voters.  

The LAT Editorializes on the UT’s Turf

One man owns both the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His name is Patrick Soon-Shiong. 

Both papers also have their own editorial boards. Editorial boards are groups of leaders from a paper’s opinion section, and often other parts of the organization, who compose arguments that represent the view of the paper itself — although they say they’re writing just the view of the editorial board, not the paper itself, even though that is its official capacity. 

It is confusing. One of us (Andy) willingly admits he has never known what an editorial board is. The other (Scott) just thinks it’s a long-standing contradiction that no one will confront. 

In any case, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board this week decided to opine on a matter of significance here in San Diego County. 

“Climate change prevention is losing to sprawl in San Diego County,” the LAT’S editorial board wrote 

It was over state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s decision to join a lawsuit that alleges the county’s policy of letting sprawl developers buy carbon offsets to mitigate the environmental effects from their projects’ reliance on automobiles undermines state emission reduction mandates. 

The rampant use of offsets also lets developers buy their way out of building more sustainable projects that could deliver real and lasting environmental benefits for air quality, transportation and for communities,” the board argued. 

In all likelihood, many if not all of the major developments that require general plan amendments from the County Board of Supervisors would be infeasible if not for the county’s policy allowing carbon offsets. An editorial arguing those offsets shouldn’t be allowed is for all intents and purposes one arguing that those projects should not be approved. 

On the other hand: The Union-Tribune’s editorial board also recently editorialized on many of those same projects. 

In that case, the UT’s board was responding to reports on the number of those projects that are located in high fire risk areas. 

The board praised the County Board of Supervisors for steps it took to mitigate fire risk, and quoted Cal Fire Deputy Chief David Nissen saying that wild fires were an unavoidable part of life in Southern California, and that we need to work to minimize that risk. 

The environmental groups who hate sprawl and use all the legal tactics they can to thwart it aren’t likely to take Nissen seriously or to be impressed with supervisors’ actions. But in a state with a desperate need for housing stock, debates over housing projects must pivot on facts — not fear-mongering — even after several years of such destructive wildfires sweeping the state,” the editorial board wrote. 

The UT’s board concluded that fire risk was not on its own a good reason to oppose those housing projects. 

But if California is ever to get over its housing shortage, planners need to be able to build not just in high-transit areas but also in less populated areas away from population centers that are often at higher risk of wildfires,” they wrote. 

These aren’t exactly the same topics that the two boards are writing about. But they’re very closely related, and they come to very different conclusions. This despite the fact that the boards ostensibly speak for two papers that are owned by the same man. 

Scott’s take: The editorial board of the U-T has usually been the main place where the owners of the paper could have a say on public affairs. The paper’s editors, for example, rather adroitly channeled the passions of former owner Doug Manchester and former CEO John Lynch through the editorial board. This difference of opinion between the U-T and LAT indicates that Soon-Shiong doesn’t care at least about this sort of topic. But also, I will repeat that editorial boards are useless if they do not actually speak for the paper as a whole. The talented writers at the paper should just write things under their own bylines if their views don’t actually speak for anything larger than themselves. 

If you have anything you would like to say to us, email scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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