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California Supreme Court Denies Request to Hear
San Diego Hotel Tax Dispute

Controversial Ballot Initiative Would Expand Convention Center

By Jonathan Trager

The State Supreme Court in California has refused to weigh in on a measure that would in part pay for a major expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.

The court’s decision in late November is the latest turn in a legal dispute that has spanned more than three years. The court gave no explanation for denying to rule on the validity of Measure C, which appeared on the March 2020 city ballot and garnered 65% of the vote.

Measure C sought to hike the city’s 10.5% hotel tax to as much as 13.75% to help finance the convention center project as well as services for the homeless and street repairs.

At issue is whether the measure qualified as a “citizen’s initiative,” which would mean it required only a simple majority of the vote to pass. If it was a measure spearheaded by government, a two-thirds majority would be necessary.

A three-judge appellate court panel previously said it was unable to decide the citizens’ initiative question and that question would have to be answered by another court.

Attorney Michael Colantuono represents Yes! For a Better San Diego, a coalition of tourism, business, and labor leaders that led the effort to qualify the measure for the ballot. He said the coalition is “disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take the case to resolve it quickly.”

“But we are committed to getting this resolved as quickly as possible to implement the will of a great majority of San Diego voters who approved Measure C to fund roads, homelessness services, and a Convention Center expansion,” said Colantuono, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We look forward to working with the Superior Court to resolve the remaining issue.”

Meanwhile, the California Taxpayers Action Network (CTAN) had argued that Measure C was a “negotiated, sponsored, supported, and promoted city-sponsored initiative.” Attorney Cory Briggs, who represents CTAN, said he and his client will now “proceed with our court-authorized investigation of the public officials who peddled Measure C in the disguise of a citizen’s initiative and look forward to proving that in court,” the Union-Tribune reported.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to rule on the matter means it now heads back to San Diego County Superior Court. The issue will likely be resolved in mid-to-late 2024.

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