San Diego’s legal fight to enact hotel tax voting measure just got a little easier

San Diego’s March 2020 ballot measure that would have raised hotel tax to fund convention center expansion, homeless services and street repairs gets some help from a new ruling of the state appeals court that an Oakland tax initiative only needed a simple majority to pass.

While San Diego will soon go to court with a case in itself to validate the hotel tax initiative – Measure C – the latest ruling is now part of several appeals court rulings asserting that a qualified majority is not not required to adopt such measures.

Like San Diego, Oakland initially took the position that a two-thirds majority was needed to pass its parcel tax measure, which was put to the November 2018 ballot by a group of citizens. He subsequently estimated, just as the San Diego city council did last April with measure C, that the tax initiative had prevailed with a simple majority of voters.

Last year, the city of San Diego filed what is known as a validation action asking the court to determine that Measure C was legally passed even though it did not achieve a two-thirds majority including voters. at the time had been informed that it was required for approval. The latest decision in the Oakland case now marks the fourth appeal court ruling finding that simple majority approval is sufficient when a tax increase is written on the ballot by citizens, which was the case with measure C.

“The decision on appeal is a positive sign for the 65% of San Diego voters who have supported significant new funding to address urgent civic needs,” San Diego City Attorney’s Office Mara Elliott said Monday, in a press release. “In particular, Measure C’s potential to provide $ 2.1 billion to programs for the homeless has become all the more urgent during the pandemic, compounding the challenges for people who were not already protected or at risk of becoming so. “

The Court of Appeals in the Oakland case specifically dismissed an issue raised by those who challenged San Diego’s authority to declare the hotel tax hike passed even though it did not get the two-thirds majority, which is traditionally the norm in California law for tax increases or new taxes for a specific purpose.

Community nonprofit, Alliance San Diego, filed a lawsuit against the city last year, arguing it overstepped its authority by voting to effectively change the election result. He noted in his lawsuit that voters in San Diego had received “official voting documents informing them unequivocally that a two-thirds vote was required for Measure C to pass.”

The Court of Appeal in the Oakland case, however, argued that such instructions in the ballots are not sufficient to overturn the result of a vote.

“The AA measure cannot be invalidated on the basis of the voting threshold declarations of the ballot papers,” the court wrote, “because the declarations did not relate to the substantial characteristics of the measure, were not intended to be intentionally misleading and cannot derogate from the law governing the applicable voting threshold.

Isidro Ortiz, a registered voter who joined Alliance San Diego to challenge city council action related to Measure C, said on Tuesday there had been no judicial notice in the judicial district covering San Diego justifying the vote of the council declaring that the initiative had been adopted.

“Moreover, the city council waited more than a year after the March 2020 elections were allowed to act,” Ortiz said. “Elections have a finality. It is the conclusion of a process that voters should have confidence in. The city has violated this trust.

Lawyer Michael Colantuono, who represents the Yes on Measure C coalition, retorts that overall, the court’s ruling is positive for the San Diego case, which is due to go to trial in March, said

“This confirms the view of three other courts that a simple majority was sufficient to approve a special tax or tax increase initiative,” he said. “The second important point is that he maintains that the fact that the ballots indicate that a two-thirds majority voter approval was required does not change the result.”

Jaymie Bradford, executive vice president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the pro-Measure C campaign, said in a statement that “We continue to be encouraged by the results of similar business. in the state and look forward to resolving it locally so that we accomplish what voters demanded – modernize the convention center, generate meaningful funding for the homeless, and fix San Diego’s roads. ”

The initiative was supported by a broad coalition of business, labor and tourism leaders, as well as homeless advocates, who had urged the city to seek legal validation of Measure C, given of its strong presence in the polls with 65.24% in favor of it.

If the city wins in its legal effort, an approved Measure C would increase San Diego’s 10.5 percent hotel tax to 11.75 percent, 12.75 percent, or 13.75 percent, depending on proximity to hotels with the San Diego Bay Convention Center. An analysis of the measure conducted before the pandemic estimated it would generate an additional $ 6.8 billion over four decades, raising $ 4 billion to expand the convention center, $ 2.1 billion for the homeless and $ 700 million for street repairs.


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