LOS ANGELES — A Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a request for an injunction from a San Diego hotel workers union seeking to block a vote on a special tax to fund the San Diego Convention Center expansion.
Unite Here Local 30, which represents San Diego hotel workers, filed the suit last Friday challenging a proposed tax that would pay for the bulk of the $520 million expansion.
The City Council on Jan. 24 approved creation of a convention center financing district through which local hotels would pay special taxes covering the majority of the expansion costs.
That tax would support half a billion dollars worth of bonds issued to finance construction.
Rather than putting it to a vote of the electorate, the ordinance puts the proposed tax to a vote of hotel owners, two-thirds of whom would need to approve the tax on April 23 for the plan to move forward.
The union contends that city voters, not hotel owners, should be the ones voting on the proposed tax hike. The California Constitution requires that taxes be approved by a two-thirds vote of the qualified electorate.
The union has previously protested the composition of a convention center board included in the expansion proposal. The nine-member board would have four hoteliers, two labor representatives, two at-large members and one individual representing a tourist attraction.
The union perceives the board composition as giving hotel owners an unfair advantage over convention center workers.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel indicated that at this time, the request to stop the vote is premature and duplicates the city’s plan to file a validation proceeding if the tax is approved.
City attorney Jan Goldsmith had announced plans on Feb. 1 to test the plan in court if the tax is approved. Only one other California city, San Jose, has passed a tax in this manner.
Curiel’s ruling allows the vote on the convention-center funding plan to go forward. The court will hold another hearing on April 6 to determine whether to dismiss the case entirely.
Officials recognize that a similar plan has been used only once and that its legality should be tested through a validation proceeding before any taxes are collected, according to a release from the city attorney’s office.
The proceeding will allow all parties, including Unite Here, to join the proceedings, Goldsmith said.
“This lawsuit was unnecessary,” he said. “If the tax is approved, the city will initiate validation proceedings and everyone will have the right to be heard on the law in favor and against. That’s what the validation process is designed to do.”
The city attorney’s office delayed the validation proceedings until after the vote, because if it doesn’t pass, it will be a moot point.
“It will be a better use of the city’s resources to allow the vote to happen. If the measure fails, then this lawsuit is moot,” said deputy city attorney Walter Chung, who defended the application for an injunction.