San Diego coalition wants to raise hotel room tax to fund homeless solutions, road repairs and more

A coalition of tourism, business and homeless advocates and organized labor interests has launched a citizens’ initiative to significantly increase the hotel room tax to fund an expanded convention center, homeless solutions and road repairs.

The proposed measure, which backers hope to qualify for the November ballot, seeks to revive a long-stalled effort to enlarge the bayfront convention center years after a court ruling nullified a hotelier-approved tax hike to finance the project.

San Diego’s hotel and tourism leaders have long argued that the city is losing out on millions of dollars in business because the center is not big enough to accommodate larger, more lucrative conventions.

“Providing more opportunities to San Diegans is at the heart of this measure. It begins with the men and women who will build the convention center,” said Carol Kim of the San Diego County Building Trades Council, which is backing the effort.


“For others, it will be the first chance they have to work for a living wage and healthcare. The contributions of these workers in this future building will bring millions of new dollars to San Diego tourism’s economy each year, and it will be the success of their work that will bring millions more to help the homeless.”

The group hopes to launch a signature-gathering drive within the next month. More than 71,600 valid signatures will be needed to qualify the measure for what will be a very crowded November ballot.

Under the measure, voters will be asked to raise the city’s transient occupancy tax by 1.25 to 3.25 percentage points. The highest rates would be paid by those staying in downtown hotels, closest to the convention center.

Hotel guests now pay a 10.5% room tax, although there is an additional levy of 2% for hotels of 70 rooms or more to pay for tourism marketing.


The increase would raise an estimated $6.4 billion over 40 years, with the majority going to the convention expansion, estimated to cost as much as $685 million.

What is different from earlier proposals is that some $2 billion would be dedicated for homeless funding. An estimated $600 million would be dedicated for road repairs.

Advocates point out that funding for homelessness would get a big boost during the first five years, when 41% of the money collected, or $140 million, would go exclusively to addressing the city’s growing homeless population.

Bob McElroy, president of the Alpha Project, said he supports the initiative because it would create a steady stream of income for groups that help the homeless.


“We’ve never had a consistent funding stream,” he said, noting that even the three large tented shelters the city has created to help about 700 homeless people are funded only through July.

The money, if used smartly, could go a long way, McElroy said, noting that just last week he looked at a 159-unit building that could be bought for $7 million.

“It’s just pennies on the dollar what new construction would cost, but we don’t have the money for it,” he said. “If we did, I could do this in two months.”

Weisberg and Warth write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.