A sharply divided San Diego City Council is expected to decide soon whether two disputed proposals – SoccerCity in Mission Valley and a convention center expansion – will be presented to voters in November 2017 or November 2018.
Arguments for waiting until the 2018 general election include significant extra costs for a 2017 special election, unresolved details of both proposals and city voters easily approving a ballot measure last year that said such proposals should be decided in higher-turnout general elections.
The main argument in favor of having a special election this November is the time-sensitivity of both proposals.
Proponents of SoccerCity say delaying a vote on their proposal until late 2018 could cost San Diego a Major League Soccer franchise, essentially killing the entire plan.
Proponents of the other measure, which would raise hotel taxes, say there’s an urgent need for additional convention space and the extra money the measure would provide to fight homelessness and help fix San Diego’s crumbling streets.
Councilman Scott Sherman said he thinks those arguments will persuade a majority of the nine-member council to call a November 2017 special election and place both proposals on that ballot.
“I don’t think it will be 9-0, but I think both will get more than the five votes needed to put them both on the ballot this November,” Sherman, a Republican, said on Friday.
But at least two council members — David Alvarez and Barbara Bry, both Democrats — say they won’t send either measure to voters this November under any circumstances.
Qualcomm Stadium property with condos and retail, is a citizens’ initiative supported by FS Investors of La Jolla.
Once the Registrar of Voters finishes validating at least 71,646 of the roughly 108,000 signatures submitted in favor of the initiative, the council must either adopt it or submit it to voters.
Hardly anyone has suggested the council should simply adopt the measure, and even FS Investors has lobbied for a public vote this November.
But a spokesman for City Attorney Mara Elliott said last week that the council has complete discretion to submit the initiative to voters on any ballot it chooses: the June 2018 primary, the November 2018 general election or an earlier special election.
Measure L, which more than 65 percent of voters approved last November, says citizens’ initiatives and referendums must be submitted to voters in November general elections, but gives the council the authority to submit them to voters earlier.
The convention center proposal is not a citizen’s initiative, giving the council the additional discretion to simply reject it and never present it to voters. And the council couldn’t adopt the proposal without a vote because it’s a tax increase for a specific purpose, which requires approval by two-thirds of city voters under state law.
The spokesman for Elliott said if council members decide to call a special election for either of the two proposals, such a move doesn’t prevent them from deciding to put the other proposal on the November 2018 ballot.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer is spearheading the convention center proposal and endorsed the SoccerCity proposal on Friday. But the spokesman for Elliott said Faulconer, a Republican, has no power to veto council decisions regarding when ballot measures are submitted to voters.
Council members Bry and Alvarez say the high cost of a special election this November is a strong argument for waiting until November 2018, when the city would share election and ballot costs with many other jurisdictions.
The city clerk has estimated a special election for the convention center proposal alone would cost $5 million, and the addition of SoccerCity would increase that.
The cost for a special election on SoccerCity could be particularly high if the city can’t put the 600-page proposal online, and has to mail printed versions of the entire proposal to every registered voter in San Diego.
“I’m not interested in spending millions on a special election when we are seeing an exodus of police officers and making other budget cuts to close a large deficit,” Alvarez said.
Sherman said the $5 million is already included in the mayor’s proposed budget and that delaying the votes, especially SoccerCity, would be unfair.
“The people who signed the SoccerCity petitions didn’t expect it to be pushed out a year and a half,” he said. “You’d be going against the will of all of those people.”
But Bry and Alvarez said allowing city voters to make crucial decisions during low-turnout special elections is also unfair, citing the electorate’s strong support for Measure L.
“I’m really set on a November 2018 election because of Measure L,” Bry said.
Alvarez said San Diego voters obviously agree.
“Measure L, which was supported by almost two-thirds of voters – was quite clear that we should put the most important issues before the voters in a November general election,” he said. “These are really important decisions and I don’t believe in disenfranchising voters from such decisions.”
Ward, however, said the urgency of the proposals, particularly the convention center measure’s money to fight homelessness, makes it appropriate for the council to consider using its discretion to override Measure L.