Opponents of measure to hike hotel tax offer alternatives

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Proponents of a citizens’ initiative to raise more money to expand the San Diego Convention Center and fund programs to end homelessness are asking voters to approve a hike in the hotel occupancy tax, or what’s known as the TOT.

A coalition of hotel owners, business leaders, labor unions and advocates for the homeless kicked off their campaign on Monday, calling for an increase of 1.25 percent to 3.25 percent from the current hotel tax of 12.5 percent.

Not everyone thinks the measure, called “Yes for a Better San Diego,” is a good idea. George Mullen is a San Diego businessman who believes the hotel industry has simply figured out a clever ploy to finance a bigger convention center.

“The hoteliers have been looking at expanding the convention center, or trying for seven or eight years and routinely failed. So they’re using as window dressing, the homeless crisis to try to get the convention center passed. From our perspective, it’s very disingenuous,” Mullen said.

By Mullen’s estimate, that tax hike would rake in an additional $28 million a year for homeless initiatives.

The businessman says that’s less than 10 percent of what the City and County currently spend on homeless programs each year.

Even with the added revenue, Mullen said he’s not convinced that the people who helped to spawn the homelessness crisis will be able to end it.

Councilmember David Alvarez also believes it’s a mistake to link programs for ending homelessness to building a bigger convention center.

Alvarez is making his own pitch to tap money from the hotel occupancy tax.

He’s asked the City Council Rules Committee to look at changing the City Charter so that one cent from the tax would be set aside to fund homeless services and supportive housing over the next five years.

“I’d say we need to focus on the crisis at hand,” Alvarez said. “We don’t have a convention center crisis. We have a homelessness crisis. My measure focuses only and exclusively on homelessness,” Alvarez added.

The Council member said that the City would realize about $130 million over five years, and he says his plan would not raise taxes. On Wednesday, the Rules Committee voted to move forward on Alvarez’ proposal with more analysis and discussion by City Council’s Budget Committee.

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