After an hour of fractious debate, the San Diego City Council on Monday voted to give $50,000 in hotel tax revenues to the Sail America syndicate to defray costs during its recent victory to regain the America's Cup.
The council also pledged up to another $50,000 in hotel taxes to promote San Diego as the next site of the Cup races in three years.
The two-part allocation on a 7-1 vote was an uneasy compromise struck between council members who fought bitterly about what they should do to "send a message" that San Diego was hungry to serve as host for the lucrative race.
On one side was Councilman Bill Cleator, who went into Monday's meeting with the idea of giving the entire $100,000 to help retire the debt for Sail America. Sail America staff reached Monday said they didn't know how much money is owed, but reports immediately before Conner's victory had the syndicate $2 million shy of its goal of $15 million.
To alleviate the pinch, Cleator, who is a longtime friend of skipper Dennis Conner and Sail America President Malin Burnham, had been asking his colleagues to consider spending public money to show that city government was eager to make a commitment to the yachting competition. He withdrew his request several weeks ago when several busloads of homeless people came to the council demanding housing and government assistance.
But in the afterglow of Conner's victory, Cleator resubmitted the item Monday, only to butt heads with colleagues Judy McCarty, Celia Ballesteros and Abbe Wolfsheimer.
The council members questioned whether it was proper to use the hotel tax money "retroactively" to help retire a debt. They initially said they would only support a measure that would use the tax money to promote San Diego--and tourism--for the next Cup races.
Cleator's only supporter during debate was Councilwoman Gloria McColl, who reminded her colleagues that they have already voted to use $500,000 out of the hotel tax till to expand San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and an additional $73,000 to spruce up street medians in time for the Super Bowl next January.
She said that Conner's victory has already reaped a public relations windfall for the city because it produced headlines that translated into " 'San Diego feels good.' The world knew we were a good place."
Voting to help pay the syndicate's debt, she said, would be the answer to a question: Is San Diego "grown up enough or are we still a sleepy little city down by the border?"
Eventually, after several rounds of tortuous debate, council members decided to split the difference.
Voting against the compromise was Abbe Wolfsheimer, who said she couldn't justify spending any amount to help pay for the syndicate's past expenses.
Mayor Maureen O'Connor was absent Monday because she flew to New York City to appear with Conner and his crew for a ticker-tape parade today.
In her State of the City address, O'Connor said she didn't want to see public funds spent in the campaign to host the next America's Cup races, and her position has been that the San Diego Unified Port District should pay for the necessary facilities and preparations.