Hotel union compensates Briggs, GOP lobbyist

Convention-center expansion’s strange bedfellows

Cory Briggs
  • Cory Briggs

With San Diego's mighty Republican hotel barons yoking themselves to some well-heeled labor organizations to advance their long-stalled convention-center expansion plans, city hall insiders see a watershed moment for county politics.

Doug Manchester, Sr.

Doug Manchester, Sr.

Hastened by the gradual demise of the Union-Tribune, which during decades of ownership by the Copley Press and later GOP wheeler-dealer Doug Manchester acted as both weapon and cheerleader for the party's priorities, the era of voter fealty to Republican kingpins appears finally over.

Rushing to fill the vacuum is a new set of characters, armed with money, social media, and a familiar-seeming penchant for backroom political deals to advance their conflicting agendas.

A key player is Unite Here Local 30, whose website says it represents 4500 hotel, gambling, and food-service workers in the county.

Though a seemingly obvious backer of an expanded convention center, the union has cut an organizing deal with Fifth Avenue Landing, would-be developers of a bayfront hotel project that would block the so-called contiguous convention-center expansion plan pushed by the city's old-guard hotel moguls and their champion, GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Kevin Faulconer

Kevin Faulconer

A victory by Fifth Avenue would require the convention-center expansion to be located across Harbor Drive, an option long opposed by hotel interests but backed by ex-Padres owner John Moores, whose JMI Realty dumped nearly $1 million into an ultimately failed 2016 ballot drive mounted by lawyer Cory Briggs. JMI, it is said, still yearns to develop its downtown land.

John Moores

John Moores

The current convention-center expansion scheme, in the form of a ballot initiative to be circulated by a group calling itself Yes! For a Better San Diego, would boost taxes on hotel-room stays by 3.25 percent downtown and 1.25 percent elsewhere in the city from the current 12.5 percent.

Larded with a claimed $600 million in spending for street repairs and $140 million to cover city expenses related to the homeless, the measure is designed to co-opt as many would-be opponents as possible.

But whether voters believe those projections remains to be seen in the wake of last year's Sandag scandal regarding overstated transit tax revenue.

And pushback from Unite Here, Fifth Avenue Landing, or Moores could play havoc with the proponents' unity pitch, as well as make it difficult to come up with six-figure political contributions from unions and hotel owners essential to footing the multimillion-dollar bill for a costly corps of paid signature-gatherers.

For its part, filings with the federal Department of Labor show Unite Here hasn't been reluctant to put down cash to back its sentiment. The union paid attorney Briggs $15,000 for legal services related to representational activities, according to its 2016 annual financial report, filed last March; $30,000 went to the influence-peddling outfit of Rath, Miller, LLC, cofounded by longtime Republican operative Phil Rath, listing the purpose of "market research for contract negotiation."

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This...is very weird, and very interesting. It seems like a redux of 2016's Prop D, but without the baggage of an opposing downtown stadium scheme. While it would still keep San Diego's transient occupancy taxes competitive, I think a deep read of the fine print for the allocations are in order—especially if they are these projected totals Matt is right to suspect, or set percentages based on actual income.

In any event, I'm suspicious of complicated mechanisms to fund specific earmarks rather than going into a General Fund as is usual, but I'm willng to be convinced.

Employers/developers/city officials have vast sums of money to spend to keep employees from getting good wages and benefits. While unions are not the end-all be-all solution to the woes of employees they are the only ones standing in the way of the total destruction of the middle class. But for unions we would have a two class system consisting of the well-to-do and the working poor. We would only have a Walmart economy of low wages low/no benefits with workers at the mercy of the whims of their employers. Business operates on contracts. The public relies on contracts (credit cards, rental/mortgage agreements, vehicle lease/purchase, etc.) EXCEPT when it comes to employment. Every employee should have a binding contract with their employer. Every employee should have a "seat at the table".

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