PANA Statement on Convention Center, Homelessness and Affordable Housing

 

Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) has received multiple inquiries about an article in VoiceofSanDiego.org on September 22, 2017, concerning negotiations with the tourism industry and representatives of Mayor Kevin Faulconer.  PANA’s response is as follows:

1. PANA will not be a party to any negotiations that seek to prioritize a luxury for the tourism industry over life’s basic necessities for persons who are forced to live on the streets because of years of inaction and bad judgment by the Mayor.

San Diego is facing an unprecedented homelessness and public-health crisis that has its roots in the lack of affordable housing, shelter, and services for a substantial segment of our population. The crisis is not a surprise.  For example, more than 10 years ago housing advocates tried to prevent the City of San Diego from allowing the conversion of single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) – often the last affordable-housing option for at-risk individuals and families – into luxury hotels and condos.  Then-City Councilman Kevin Faulconer frequently voted with developers in support of those conversions.  And over 18 months ago, U-T San Diego wrote an  describing how the loss of SROs was exacerbating the homelessness problem, with long-time homeless advocate Bob McElroy reported as saying: “I have never seen this many people on the streets in the 30 years I’ve been doing this and the elimination of the SROs is a major component.”  

The Mayor recently sent his representatives – one from his office, and others in the private sector acting at his behest – to negotiate with PANA and other community organizations to come up with a mutually agreeable “citizens’ initiative” for the June 2018 ballot.  As they proposed it, the initiative would increase the transient occupancy tax (TOT) primarily for a convention center expansion, with not even one-third of the money set aside to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.  The Mayor’s representatives promised that they and the Mayor would also support a separate “citizens’ initiative” focused on taxing home buyers and home owners in exchange for the community’s support for the June 2018 convention-center tax.

The Mayor and the tourism industry clearly understand that they need substantial community support for a new tax to expand the convention center.  What they do not understand is that PANA will not sell out its members and constituents with half-baked promises and weak assurances of financial resources to address the real crisis.  The loss of business from an un-expanded convention center – even if the Mayor and the tourism industry could prove and quantify the loss with any degree of certainty, which they cannot do – pales in comparison to the actual loss of life and the dire risk to public health that arises from our homelessness and affordable-housing crisis.  

If the Mayor and the tourism industry truly care about ending the crisis, they will stop trying to combine a TOT increase for the convention center with a revenue increase for homelessness and housing.  There is no moral equivalence between the two.

2. PANA will not be a party to any negotiations that use the human crisis created by the Mayor’s inaction and bad judgment to justify disenfranchising voters through early elections on non-emergency matters.

Last year more than two-thirds of the City’s voters approved Measure L, which requires that citizens’ initiatives be put to voters at general elections in November when most people go to the polls in order to maximize voter participation.  PANA was one of the leading voices in support of Measure L and worked tirelessly to help it pass with such a high margin, because we know that our democracy works best when the most people vote.

The Mayor and his representatives have been trying to persuade PANA that there is a genuine “need” to vote on a new tax for the convention center in June 2018 instead of waiting for November in order to take advantage of a “loophole” created by a recent court ruling.  PANA does not agree that there is a loophole the Mayor can exploit.  But even if there were, PANA would never go along with a scheme to disenfranchise voters – especially when the only goal is to make it possible for politicians and special interests to bend the rules to their personal advantage.  

If expanding the convention center is so important, the Mayor and the tourism industry should put it on the ballot as a stand-alone item when the most people will vote.  That will be in November 2018.

3. There is only one true emergency that warrants an election in the immediate future: raising the TOT to provide more funding to fight homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.

When PANA supported Measure L, it did so with the understanding that the City Council would retain the discretion to bring forward emergency ballot measures for voter approval.  In fact, the City Council voted earlier this year to reject the Mayor’s first ballot proposal for raising the TOT to pay for expanding the convention center, infrastructure, and the homeless – again, with only a pittance allocated to fight homelessness – correctly reasoning that there was no true emergency related to the convention center.  (It remains mired in litigation, and the City relinquished control of the land needed for the expansion when it defaulted on its lease two years ago).

There is only one true emergency that justifies the voters going to the polls before November 2018.  That emergency is the lack of financial resources needed to pay for shelters, transitional and supportive housing, mental-health services, and public sanitation, health, and safety.  It has become clear that the Mayor is not willing to be a “leader” on this issue, that he is only willing to be a “cheerleader” for the tourism industry.  

The City Council should take the reins and schedule an emergency election that generates new revenues for the General Fund so that the City has the financial resources necessary to end the public safety and health crisis as quickly as possible.  If the Mayor vetoes such an action and at least three members of the City Council support his view that kowtowing to the tourism industry is more important than keeping every member of the public safe, then they should have to own those votes and face the political consequences.

PANA is confident that the voters will never tolerate politicians exploiting a crisis – a genuine humanitarian crisis that has so far taken the lives of at least 16 people and has made San Diego the epicenter of America’s hepatitis A epidemic – in order to benefit special interests.

Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) is a research, community organizing, and public policy hub dedicated to advancing the full economic and social inclusion of refugees. PANA lifts up refugee voices and builds leadership in communities to increase civic engagement and create an inclusive civil society. PANA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity based in San Diego County.

PANA is here and available to support our refugee community. Please contact us at info@panasd.org or 619-732-6793.

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Pana San Diego