San Diego’s March 2020 ballot measure that would have hiked the hotel tax to finance a convention center expansion, homeless services and street repairs is getting a little help from a new state appellate court ruling that an Oakland tax initiative needed only a simple majority to pass.
While San Diego will soon be going to court with a case of its own to validate the hotel tax initiative — Measure C — the latest ruling is now among several appellate court judgments affirming that a supermajority is not required to pass such measures.
Like San Diego, Oakland initially took the position that a two-thirds majority of the voters was needed to pass its parcel tax measure, which was placed on the November 2018 ballot by a citizens group. It later opined, just as the San Diego City Council did last April with Measure C, that the tax initiative had prevailed with a simple majority of the voters.
The city of San Diego last year filed what’s known as a validation suit asking the court to determine that Measure C was lawfully enacted even though it fell short of the two-thirds majority that voters at the time were told was needed for approval. The latest ruling in the Oakland case now marks the fourth appellate court decision concluding that simple majority approval is adequate when a tax hike is placed on the ballot by citizens, which was the case with Measure C.
“The appellate decision is a positive sign for the 65 percent of San Diego voters who supported significant new funding to address pressing civic needs,” San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office said in a statement on Monday. “In particular, Measure C’s potential to provide $2.1 billion for homeless programs has become all the more urgent during the pandemic, which is exacerbating the challenges for people who were already unsheltered or are in danger of becoming unsheltered.”
The appellate court in the Oakland case specifically shot down an issue raised by those who have challenged San Diego’s authority to declare that the hotel tax hike had passed even though it fell short of a two-thirds majority vote, which has traditionally been the standard in California law for tax increases or new taxes for a specific purpose.
The nonprofit community organization, Alliance San Diego, filed suit against the city last year, arguing that it overstepped its authority when it voted to effectively alter the election outcome. It noted in its lawsuit that San Diego voters had been provided “official ballot materials unequivocally informing them that a two-thirds vote was needed for Measure C to be adopted.”
The appellate court in the Oakland case, however, argued that such instructions in the ballot materials are not sufficient to overturn the outcome of a vote.
“Measure AA cannot be invalidated on the basis of the ballot materials’ voting-threshold statements,” the court wrote, “because the statements did not concern the measure’s substantive features, were not alleged to be intentionally misleading, and cannot override the law governing the applicable voting threshold.”
Overall, the court ruling is a positive for San Diego’s case, which is supposed to go to trial in March, said attorney Michael Colantuono, who represents the Yes on Measure C coalition.
“It confirms the opinion 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 it holds that the fact that ballot materials said 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 one of the leaders in the pro-Measure C campaign, said in a statement that “We continue to be encouraged by the outcomes of similar cases around the state and look forward to resolving it locally so we accomplish what voters asked for — modernizing the convention center, generating meaningful homelessness funding, and repairing roads throughout San Diego.”
The initiative was supported by a broad coalition of business, labor and tourism leaders, along with homeless advocates, who had urged the city to seek legal validation of Measure C, given its strong showing at the ballot box. Voters favored it by a 65.24 percent margin.
If the city prevails in its legal effort, an approved Measure C would increase San Diego’s 10.5 percent hotel tax to either 11.75 percent, 12.75 percent or 13.75 percent, depending on how close hotels are to San Diego’s bayfront convention center. An analysis of the measure conducted before the COVID-19 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 homelessness and $700 million for street repairs.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com