San Diego City Council Resurrects Measure C – Defeated at the Ballot Box – in Order to Expand Convention Center, Long Sought by Establishment

by on April 7, 2021 · 17 comments

in Election, San Diego

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council resurrected the local establishment’s long-sought expansion of the convention center, by declaring that Measure C – the hike to the city’s hotel tax to enlarge the center defeated by the voters of San Diego – actually was passed. The measure needed two-thirds of the vote but only garnered 65.24 per cent.

But, business writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Lori Weisberg, reflecting the general attitude of the council majority, said the measure only “technically failed.” Is that like saying ‘Joe Biden only technically won’? Tax hike measures need that two-thirds. Until now, it appears.  Weisberg explains:

… there have been three appellate court decisions concluding that simple majority approval is adequate when a tax hike is placed on the ballot by citizens, which was the case with Measure C. The state Supreme Court has so far denied review in two of those cases, which is seen as an encouraging sign for Measure C backers. A third case is awaiting the high court’s review.

Buoyed by those rulings, the council agreed Tuesday to officially declare that the ballot measure was approved in the March 3 election last year and to have City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office file what’s known as a validation lawsuit to legally confirm whether the measure did or did not pass. The council also approved a resolution authorizing the future issuance of bonds for the convention center expansion and homeless programs. No bonds, though, would be issued nor would any increased hotel taxes be collected until there is a favorable ruling in the city’s validation lawsuit.

Not everyone was happy with the council vote. At least one councilmember was highly critical of the decision and believes it’s sending the wrong message to the electorate by changing the voters’ decision when they were advised a year ago that if Measure C was going to pass, it needed two-thirds majority – which it did not receive. Newly-elected Councilmembr Elo-Rivera said:

“My vote today is about the integrity of our democratic process. Today’s vote is not about the merits of Measure C. It’s not about expanding the convention center, or creating good-paying jobs or funding homelessness and infrastructure. Those are attractive red herrings … For the city to certify that the measure passed despite not reaching a threshold we communicated to the voters is a disappointing and unnecessary loosening of our commitment to maintain the purity of the city’s democratic process.”

The council vote was voter manipulation, said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego.

“In elections, close enough is not good enough. The question before you is not about whether Measure C is a good measure or a bad measure but do you have the authority to act beyond your ministerial duty to change the outcome of the election, and you do not. Voters decide elections, not the City Council.”

Here is the link to Lori Weisberg’s article at the San Diego Union-Tribune from April 6, 2021.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

DrTom April 7, 2021 at 12:46 pm

At the time of the election, two-thirds majority was required and not attained. It does not seem fair that now the City Council changes the rules to suit themselves. This is just very obviously not fair and is a bad ruling.


Frank Gormlie April 7, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Can’t disagree wit ya, Tom.


Geoff Page April 7, 2021 at 1:45 pm

I’ll go way beyond not fair, this is criminal. And our new mayor and Campbell both agreed with this. I hope to hell the courts put a boot up both their asses on this one.


DrTom April 8, 2021 at 3:25 pm

Yes Geoff, I agree with you, and wish I’d said what you said. Thanks.


Kevin Harris April 8, 2021 at 1:28 pm

A few years ago I was actually an employee there, if the good citizens of San Diego actually knew what I saw, they would collectively push the convention center into the bay. The number of employees collecting $100,000 salaries was beyond belief, and no one was accountable,
Hi, is X in today, oh, no sure, ok, is he off today or what, not sure, ok, will he be in tomorrow, not sure, multiple that by a dozen or two, I was at a high level meeting with a dozen of the higher-ups, and I suggested that in the main office an in/out board be posted with names so we knew who was there or not, total silence, I said its a little frustrating not knowing who is at work on a daily basis, and if they are coming in late, not coming in, sick, on vacation or what, no answer, ok, how many lay-offs of upper management occured over the last year with zero business there? Want to guess?
I hopped over to the Marriott next door, every morning, all department heads met at 8am sharp, you would not dare not show up on time, ever, if another dept head called you, you had 30 minutes to return the call, period,
If there was an all hands on deck meeting at the convention center, out of 25 people expected to attend 5 or 6 might show up,
Maybe it’s a private v. public job thing? not sure, but in a business meeting with the convention center management, we alway’s ate there lunch (or better yet, the taxpayers lunch)


kh April 8, 2021 at 2:11 pm

I voted in favor of measure C and still find this maneuver to be an insult to the democratic process.


Geoff Page April 8, 2021 at 2:49 pm

That should be the exact sentiment for people on both sides of Measure C. It’s a momentary high for the proponents of Measure C, with a miserable hangover. Everyone should speak out about this.


DrTom April 8, 2021 at 3:27 pm

This tells us a lot about our Major and City council. Impeach all of them, who voted for this.


Paul Webb April 11, 2021 at 12:23 pm

One other thing that has not been brought up, possibly because it is something of a digression, but the use of the convention center as a homeless shelter was a complete rip-off of public funds. By my calculations, the cost per person per day was $262 over the course of its use. Other homeless shelters run by non-profits run in the $60 to $75 a day range. True there were some additional services at the convention center, but, really? Four to five times the cost?

What we were seeing was not a humanitarian effort to house the homeless during the pandemic. It was a thinly veiled attempt to financially prop up the convention center corporation during a time of no conventions. It it were reported openly as such, I might not have as much of a problem, but I dislike the lack of candor on the part of the city. I know, silly me, expecting transparency from our city leaders!

By the way, does anybody know if the convention center is still pumping water from the foundations and discharging it into the bay?


Geoff Page April 12, 2021 at 10:46 am

In order to build the convention center where it is, an extensive dewatering system was needed that was originally planned only for construction. It became apparent it would be needed permanently. The water being pumped into the bay is that groundwater. That pumping has been drawing a plume of contaminated underground water toward it for years. I have not heard much about that for a long time and am hoping they sank wells to intercept it and are treating that water somewhere.


Paul Webb April 12, 2021 at 11:58 am

Geoff, that is my understanding of the situation. The reason I asked if it is still going on is that current Army Corps of Engineers regulations do not allow continuous de-watering. To the best of my knowledge (not claiming that it is complete), no wells have been drilled, and, in any event, I don’t know where you would dispose of the contaminated water.

Some years ago, I was in a meeting at MTDB headquarters during the construction of their parking structure. There was a great deal of excavation and earth movement, apparently in the area of the contaminated soild. The stench of petrochemicals was so great that I literally got sick.


Geoff Page April 12, 2021 at 12:42 pm

I seem to remember the plume was coming from the Greyhound station. Interesting about the Corps. Maybe it’s a renewable permit of some kind. Maybe the water is going into the sewage system, who knows.

I did a lot of underground work in my day downtown, what you experienced was typical of many areas. The underground all around the bay is toxic. The worst offender is the Navy.


Judy Swink April 12, 2021 at 7:08 pm

The original convention center plus garage was built in the mid-80s. I don’t recall just when the first expansion was built but it seems possible – re Army Corps rules (which are likely based in the Clean Water Act rules) – that the convention center may have been grandfathered. I think the water is discharged into the bay, and I think there are purification requirements before that can be done. Just remembering impressions from 30-40 years ago….


Geoff Page April 12, 2021 at 9:41 pm

It appears that you know something of the construction on the center. The center was built by the most litigious contractor in California, Tutor-Saliba, and I believe they made a big claim for an extra on the project because of the ground water level. It seemed silly at the time to claim they did not expect the amount of groundwater they encountered right next to the bay. I think the geotechnical report showed a much lower level for some reason. The plan was to have it only for construction but it is still in use today.


lyle April 12, 2021 at 8:46 am

In partial answer to the last question, this mornings VOSD article about the convention center did mention the required budget item for removing ground water from the parking garage. I inferred this was an on-going expense.

Also the same VOSD article indicated that the decision to to house homeless people in the convention center was a smart business decision. Most of the money came from the federal and/or state government, and allowed the center to keep about half of their employees.

So the conclusion I’m drawing from these two credible articles is that it is smart business to rip off the government; but I guess I’m digressing.


Judy Swink April 12, 2021 at 7:04 pm

Lyle, yes, the “groundwater” pumping is & must remain perpetual. The reason for the quotation marks is because the convention center is built on fill from dredging and the “groundwater” rises and falls with the tides. With sea level rise, that will become increasingly challenging.

As for “ripping off the government”, I don’t see it that way. The money was intended to help businesses stay afloat and keep employees employed so they can buy food and necessities and to pay rent or mortgages, likely car payments as well. Too bad only 50% of the employees could be retained but that’s better than 100% without a job and a job market that is challenging at best.


Paul Webb April 13, 2021 at 9:55 am

When I referred to the ACOE rules regarding the continuous dewatering of the convention center groundwater, I was specifically referring to the ACOE regulations that were adopted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The CWA was in effect at the time of the construction of the convention center, so I am curious about how the dewatering was allow to happen at all. Not curious enough to do my own research, mind you, as that would take actual work, which I am generally disinclined to do. I was just hoping someone might know.

While I somewhat agree with Judy Swink’s comment regarding keeping people on the payroll during the pandemic, I’d feel a lot better about it if the city was more forthcoming about its reasons for choosing the convention center site and if there was a clearer breakdown in the costs of the program relative to the cost of alternate means of housing the homeless. At the rate the city was paying, they could have put all the homeless on cruise ships (assuming that the cruise ships were operating) for far less money. And, yes, it was primarily state and federal money, but the taxpayer still is responsible for paying for it eventually (or, in the case of federal money, maybe our children and grandchildren will pay for it).

By the way, if any readers of the Rag do not know Judy Swink, she is a long time community activist with an extensive track record with C3, the mission bay committee, San Dieguito River Valley Regional Park and many other laudable activities. I pay attention to and respect anything she says, even if it sounds like I am disagreeing with her here.


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