Business, tourism leaders support ballot initiative to increase visitor tax
Published - 05/22/18 - 03:43 PM | 5544 views | 0 0 comments | 100 100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tourists fill the sand in Ocean Beach on a sunny spring afternoon. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Tourists fill the sand in Ocean Beach on a sunny spring afternoon. / Photo by Thomas Melville
A new citizen’s initiative seeks to ask voters in November to sanction an increase in the city’s transit occupancy tax to fund the convention center expansion, homelessness programs, create new jobs and continue road repaving and other infrastructure improvements.

The “Yes! For a Better San Diego” campaign proposes a 42-year increase in the city's visitor tax that they claim would raise $6.4 billion over the life of the measure: $3.78 billion to expand and update the convention center, $2.02 billion for homeless services and $604 million for street repairs.

The campaign has been endorsed by the San Diego Tourism Authority and the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association, joined by local tourism businesses including those in Ocean Beach and Point Loma.

Both the San Diego Tourism Authority and the Hotel-Motel Association cited the initiative’s creation of 7,000 new permanent jobs and its addition of $40 billion to the local economy, as solid reasons to support the measure.

“As a small-business owner, I know how important convention center visitors are,” said Mina Desiderio, the creator of Wonderland Ocean Pub in Ocean Beach and owner of The Local restaurant in PB and Resident Brewing downtown. “Workers and small businesses benefit when visitors come to America’s Finest City. The initiative invests in tourism, and tourism means jobs.”

Tourism is a huge component of the San Diego job market. One out of eight jobs in San Diego are tourist-related, employing nearly 200,000 people. That makes tourism the region’s second largest employment sector. 

“The Yes! for a Better San Diego initiative will create thousands of good-paying jobs, from entry-level positions to upper-level management,” said Joe Terzi, president/ CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority. “This measure invests in tourism and our local economy, without costing local taxpayers a dime.”

The Convention Center is of critical importance to the city’s overall tourism industry. While convention center attendees make up just 6 percent of San Diego visitors, they spend much more than the average visitor, accounting for 27 percent of all visitor spending.

“Spending from convention center visitors has a ripple effect on our local economy. It creates jobs at businesses large and small,” said Elvin Lai, CEO of the Ocean Park Inn and Hotel in Pacific Beach and president of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association. “Tourism workers are chefs and brewers, sport-fishing guides and surf instructors, marketing executives and CEOs. Our industry builds careers that move from the hotel lobby to the executive office.”

During the first years of the tax increase, 59 percent of revenues are earmarked for the convention center and 41 percent to homelessness programs. Between 2025 and 2061, 59 percent would go toward the center, 31 percent to homelessness programs and 10 percent to city street repairs.

“Repairing an additional 150 miles of streets each year means ‘every’ neighborhood wins,” said La Jolla resident Joe LaCava, former chair of the Community Planners Community, which oversees the city’s more than 40 citizen advisory groups. “With $600 million dedicated to repair streets across San Diego, paid for by visitors and not local residents, it is a huge win for our communities.” 

Deacon Jim Vargas of Father Joe’s Villages highlighted the initiative's job creating potential to alleviate homelessness. “Generating more good-paying, entry-level jobs in San Diego is key to the success of our job training programs,” Vargas said. “The immediate funding this measure provides would support programs that help people transitioning out of homelessness.”

Proponents must gather 71,000 signatures for the issue to appear on the November ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would increase the visitor tax on hotel bills by 1.25 percent to 3.25 percent.

The proposed November ballot measure is supported by a coalition of downtown tourism and lodging organizations, civic and community activists, organized labor and homeless advocates. For more information about it, visit

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