Here is the complaint:
On February 1, 2017, San Diegans for Open Government (SDOG) sued the East Village Association, Inc. (EVA), a non-profit that runs the business improvement district in the East Village neighborhood of downtown San Diego, for not turning over public records.
On January 24, SDOG accused EVA’s board of directors of illegally hiring an interim executive director or interim board liaison in secret on January 20. SDOG also asked for all communications between EVA board members and the person hired during the secret meeting. EVA responded by denying the existence of any such communications.
SDOG alleges in its complaint that on January 24 “a person whose initials are B. H. e-mailed members of EVA’s board of directors to thank them for the opportunity to serve them and expressing excitement to begin working for them and appreciation for ‘giving me a chance.'”
You can read the lawsuit here: complaint.
On May 10, 2016, the San Diego County Superior Court ordered the League of California Cities to disclose portions of nearly 175 e-mail communications, rejecting claims by the League and San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith that those items should remain secret due to attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product. The court gave the League 20 days to disclose the items. You can read the ruling here: WordPress_2016-05-10_Minute Order.
Following a judge’s ruling last week that SDOG has standing to challenge the San Diego Tourism Marketing District tax’s illegality in court, several people observed that the years-long strategy of the hoteliers’ lawyer, Mike Colantuono, in making personal attacks against SDOG and our attorney, Cory Briggs, appeared to be even worse than what people see in the movies. Those people asked SDOG whether we have any idea why Mr. Colantuono would behave in such a way.
As SDOG argued to the judge before he made his ruling, the hoteliers have more than one billion reasons to fight dirty and lie (the TMD tax will generate well over $1 billion over 39.5 years) and Mr. Colantuono has had more than two million reasons to be dirty and dishonest (his firm has been paid more than $2 million so far by the taxpayers). The top hotelier represented by Mr. Colantuono essentially confirmed this when he said that they “have pursued every legal avenue available to keep this case from going to trial.”
What many people do not realize is that, at the exact same time Mr. Colantuono was developing his scorched-earth strategy to go after SDOG and its attorney in a court of law and in the court of public opinion with lies and personal attacks, he was representing another San Diego client and writing nice things about SDOG.
In 2013 and 2014, Mr. Colantuono was representing the Downtown San Diego Partnership in a lawsuit filed by SDOG to challenge the legality of what is known as the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District. That lawsuit was settled in October 2014 with the help of a mediator. The settlement included a joint public statement in which DSDP was very complimentary of the work that SDOG does in the community. DSDP wrote: “We saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of San Diegans for Open Government’s expertise and its years of experience in advocating for San Diego residents on good-governance and public-finance issues.”
Guess who signed off on that statement? Mr. Colantuono did. You can see his signature and read the full statement here: SDOG-DSDP_Statement.
SDOG has no idea why Mr. Colantuono would be praising SDOG at the same time he was in the middle of an ad hominem attack campaign against SDOG and our attorney. It should make one wonder whether he told the hoteliers that he was taking a contrary position for another client right here in San Diego. Did the hoteliers know their lawyer would waste more than three years and over $2 million from taxpayers to tell a story he didn’t even believe?
Here’s how VoiceofSanDiego.org’s Liam Dillon described the San Diego hoteliers’ efforts to prevent San Diegans for Open Government from challenging the illegality of the 2% Tourism Marketing District tax that was put before hoteliers rather than voters in 2012:
“San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil made a big decision in recent days over the fate of more than $1 billion in projected tax dollars.
“For more than three years, activist attorney Cory Briggs has been challenging the Tourism Marketing District, which charges a 2 percent fee on visitors’ hotel bills on top of the city’s regular hotel-room tax. Briggs says the district’s fee is exactly the same as a tax and therefore should have been voted on by the public, not the hotel industry. He and other lawyers won a similar argument to throw out the financing plan for the Convention Center expansion.
“The hotel industry, however, argued that Briggs shouldn’t even be allowed to challenge the tourism district. They said that his clients, nonprofit San Diegans for Open Government, were a sham and simply an alter ego of Briggs.
“Wohlfeil rejected that argument, saying that San Diegans for Open Government passed the ‘microscopic’ examination by the hotel industry. The case will now move to a trial on whether the 2 percent fee is a tax later this year.
“If you want to understand why this is all so significant, check out the statement given to inewsource by tourism district chairman and hotelier Bill Evans after the ruling: ‘This case is vital to our industry and to our city,’ he wrote. ‘As a result, we have pursued every legal avenue available to keep this case from going to trial.’
“Translation: This money is so important to the hoteliers that they did everything they could to destroy their opponent before they actually had to argue it was legal.”
To friends, he’s an environmental crusader and taxpayer advocate taking on the big dogs. To enemies, he’s a profit-fueled litigator and agitator. And this year featured some of the sharpest attacks on his motivations and practice yet.
Whatever your feelings about attorney Cory Briggs, the man has played a major role in shaping — and halting — big San Diego development projects in recent years while racking up some serious legal fees for everyone involved.
This year was no different. His lawsuit challenging the legality of a 2 percent levy on hotel room bills has made it to trial and the prospect of losing tens of millions of dollars to promote the city as a tourist destination has some in the visitor industry nervous. That, combined with another legal threat to the mayor’s preferred Convention Center expansion plan has led San Diego’s most disruptive lawyer to add another title to his repertoire: ballot initiative author.
Briggs has written new city legislation that, if approved, would overhaul and increase San Diego’s hotel tax while paving a way for hoteliers to finance a new Convention Center expansion downtown away from the coast with or without an adjoining sports facility. It would also create a new, legal path marketing San Diego with hotel tax dollars.
The wide-reaching initiative — known as the Citizen’s Plan for San Diego — aims to be a sort of grand compromise that benefits taxpayers, environmentalists, hoteliers, sports fans, convention-goers and higher-ed while bringing transparency and voter approval to the hotel tax.
In short, the hotel tax would increase to 15.5 percent, but allow hotel owners to funnel 2 percent toward marketing efforts and another 2 percent toward the construction of a convention center expansion off the water, which they would then own and operate. Hoteliers could also take over operation of the existing center if the City Council votes to transfer ownership.
The initiative exempts a new downtown football stadium — or a Qualcomm stadium renovation — from much of the California Environmental Quality Act and prevents any more public funds from being spent on a coastal expansion (a project Briggs is still fighting in court but dealt a near-fatal blow to in 2014 when all funding was lost).
By offering potential solutions to the city’s stadium and convention center woes, Briggs is poised to enter the city’s decision-making arena and succeed in two areas Mayor Kevin Faulconer has struggled to make headway all year. Ironically, questions about the measure’s legality and ability to survive a lawsuit have arisen as its main drawback.
The push marks a public shift for Briggs from reactive complainer to proactive fixer, that is, if enough voters understand and support the initiative to make it happen.
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