San Diego City Council Considers Corporate Power Grabs and Give-away of Convention Center

by on March 19, 2012 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Popular, San Diego

Council to take up 11th hour giveaway of Convention Center

by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / Originally published March 16, 2012

As mentioned [last Thursday – March 15], it’s going to be a busy couple of days at the City Council for gigantic corporate power grabs, and it won’t just be whether we will require the mayor to distribute hundreds of millions of taxdollars to campaign contributors. Also on Tuesday [March 20], the council will be considering whether to give away control of Convention Center booking to a consortium of hoteliers and private tourist and business interests.

Right now, the Convention Center Corporation handles booking at the Convention Center. It’s accountable to the city’s elected government and the public, and its purpose is specifically to maximize the financial wellbeing of the Convention Center. Since the Convention Center is a public asset, it means the CCC’s job is to protect the economic interests of all San Diegans. This proposal would end all that by outsourcing control of the booking to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, a private group with no public accountability that exists to maximize private profits. In fact, it’s their job to specifically profit off the public if and whenever possible.

Recent protest at San Diego Convention Center during State Democrats' Confab.

So the plan to hand booking over to ConVis means that hotels would be able to directly divert business out of the Convention Center and into their own meetings spaces. In practice, that means anything that doesn’t demand use of one of the largest halls at the Convention Center. It means that basic labor practices that have been established and protected with public input and accountability wouldn’t apply to the outsourced events, and that the public wouldn’t see the money generated by those events. It would hollow out the business that the Convention Center Corporation has spent the last decade building up, undermining not just revenue but its long-term fiscal health in order to pad the bank accounts of rich hoteliers.

And wouldn’t you know it, the private push to seize control of a public asset and cut off all accountability was dropped in at the 11th hour via the second supplemental to the Tuesday docket. By design, it prevents legitimate public review, input or opposition. By further AMAZING coincidence, the ballots go out on Monday for hotel owners to vote on imposing the tax, letting the mayor deliver on promises to his cronies at the very moment they’re receiving their ballots. Unclear which councilmembers have also bought into this absurdly choreographed rip-off, but we should find out soon enough.

Of course, that sort of contempt for the public is par for the course in this whole saga. The deal has been on legally, ethically, and economically shaky ground from the beginning. It’s a tax that proponents at City Hall still continue to dishonestly represent, likely being put in place through an illegal process. It creates multiple layers of conflict-of-interest and its desperation to plunder the city for rich downtown profiteers is painfully transparent. And oh by the way, the economic projections sponsored by proponents have been roundly discredited by independent analysis. In other words, proponents are deceiving the public whenever possible, and trying to sneak past the public entirely when deception isn’t an option.

To recap: Hoteliers spend zero dollars to fund a major convention center expansion, de facto operation of the Convention Center, its hiring and labor practices, and even its booking. They would be able to divert a core chunk of the Convention Center’s business to their own coffers at the public’s expense, and leave the public with no recourse. The public would pay the hotels $300 million in taxes directly, an unknown and uncapped number diverted from the city’s general fund, and lose control of a huge public asset. To accomplish the giveaway, proponents are trying to ram approval through at the last minute before anyone can notice or react.

This is straight up robber baron stuff that should conjure images of the worst moments of kleptocratic governance. We know that several councilmembers see giving away the city to corporate interests is a feature not a bug. And we know others talk the right talk up until the point that their campaign checks are threatened. We’ll see which are able to keep the interest of the city ahead of their personal ambition on Tuesday, and which are in the ever-deepening pockets of their donors.

Look: If city councilmembers vote to give away the Convention Center and charge the public for their trouble, they might get nice mention in a plaque on the Mayor’s shiny legacy project. Trouble is, will anyone else in San Diego be able to afford to see it?

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