Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hotel-Tax Battle Gets Closer to the Real War

Here’s how’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.”


“Citizens’ Plan for the Responsible Management of Major Tourism and Entertainment Resources” Released; “Pay Their Own Way” Initiative Updated and Improved

The “Citizens’ Plan for the Responsible Management of Major Tourism and Entertainment Resources” was released today as a precursor to submitting the initiative to the San Diego City Clerk and beginning to collect signatures, as required by law. The initiative was published last week as the “Pay Their Own Way” initiative by proponents Pedro Quiroz, Jr., Richard Lawrence, and former City Councilmember Donna Frye.   Since that time, proponents received input from stakeholders and community members and have refined details of the initiative.

“We appreciate the feedback we received from hundreds of interested residents, and have incorporated many of their suggestions in the revised draft,” said initiative proponent Reverend Richard Lawrence. “It’s clear from the responses we’ve received that the public is frustrated by the city’s failure to more effectively address the management of these resources and appreciates that there is finally a path for resolving them through a public vote,” he said.

“The focus of the initiative is to reform management of our city’s tourism- and entertainment-related resources,” said initiative proponent Donna Frye. “The Pacific Ocean, its bays, its beaches, its rivers and tributaries are irreplaceable natural resources that define the quality of life for city residents and attract tourists who help fuel our local economy,” she said. “The initiative allows the public to vote on creating a more rational, transparent and fair process for management, enhancement and protection of these resources,” she added. “To do this properly we must manage all of these resources as a single, connected ecosystem. This is true both from an environmental perspective and from an economic perspective,” Frye continued. “Visitors and residents share a common value in protecting public access to the Pacific Ocean and all of its resources.”

Currently, the City of San Diego charges hotel guests a 10.5% transient occupancy tax (TOT) on hotel bills. That ranks 101st among cities in the nation. San Diego lags far behind its tourism rivals when it comes to their combined lodging taxes, such as Anaheim (17%), San Francisco (16.25%), and Los Angeles (15.5%).   The Citizens’ Plan will raise San Diego’s TOT to 15.5% for large hotels and 14% for small lodging businesses, generating approximately $90 million annually for the city’s General Fund. The new unencumbered revenues can be used for general public services such as street and sidewalk repair, libraries, parks, beaches, and public safety.

“The initiative provides incentives for hotel owners to assess themselves to pay for the promotion of tourism in San Diego and to invest in facilities that support tourism,” said Rev. Lawrence. “Those who benefit most from tourist-related promotion and facilities ought to pay their fair share,” he said.

Compared to the previously published “Pay Their Own Way” initiative, the revised “Citizens’ Plan” ensures the hotel industry’s surcharge on hotel guests (above the current 10.5% TOT) is permanently eliminated, and the city’s current proposal for the Qualcomm Stadium site receives an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act to avoid litigation delays if the city decides to follow through on this proposal. The revised Citizens’ Plan also provides an expanded introductory explanation about the need for the initiative, so persons signing the initiative can understand the substantial benefits the city and the public will receive if the initiative is approved.

You can read the Citizens’ Plan here: Notice_of_Intent_TFID_Revised_FINAL_ALL.

San Diego Citizens Initiative Launched to Require Tourists and Tourism Businesses to “Pay Their Own Way”

As Board members of San Diegans for Open Government, we have been proponents and advocates of moral and transparent government and try to keep alive a bold vision of open, responsible and creative uses of public resources.

While working on those basic ideas, we have had to learn about how the City of San Diego’s tourism industry works, how its infrastructure money is collected and spent, and who pays and who benefits.  The whole system appears to us to be redundant, fractured and unbalanced.

Local taxpayers continue to be the people paying, while the politically connected continue to be the ones benefiting from that money.  There are so many conflicting regulations that the city is going in all directions, while the residents have been left out of the decision-making process.

It is just wrong.

We shared our concerns and frustrations with our attorney, Cory Briggs.  We explained that we wanted to set out a ballot initiative that gave voters a chance to have their say on these matters, that rid the public of the redundancies and wasteful spending and dealt with the complex issues of tourism in a coherent way.  In other words, we wanted to create a comprehensive plan for how the city could move forward, improve our tourism industry, provide more income for city services, stop wasteful spending, and give real options for a convention center and football stadium — with the only tax increase being on tourists while keeping us competitive with other cities — and let the voters of San Diego make the final decision for themselves.

Mr. Briggs agreed to help us navigate through the process and he worked tirelessly to create something that met all the goals we set out.

Over time, we continued to meet, think, debate and enlarge our concern by trying to find the best comprehensive solution.

We are thankful that Mr. Briggs was not only able to work with everyone who would have to put this plan into action, but was also able to get their assurances this plan could work.

We at SanDOG have tried to say again and again that we are extraordinarily grateful to have the good fortune to work with such a creative, brilliant and persistent lawyer as Mr. Briggs.

We hope that people will take the time to understand what this initiative would do for our city.  We continue to hope that our work will inspire others to look for solutions that continue to make our city a better place for everyone.

Pedro Quiroz, Jr., and Rev. Richard Lawrence

Read the October 22, 2015 Media Advisory here: 2015-10-22_Media_Advisory.

Read the “Pay Their Own Way” Initiative here: Notice_of_Intent_TFID_FINAL_ADVANCE_RELEASE.

SDOG Responds to Anti-SLAPP Ruling

SDOG is disappointed by yesterday’s ruling on the motions filed against it in its lawsuit to protect taxpayers from subsidizing a San Diego State University instructor’s private business. The ruling essentially prohibits watchdog organizations like SDOG from suing to invalidate a subsidy illegally given to a public employee just because the subsidy is used to support a private news business. The ruling fails to distinguish between lawsuits challenging the subsidized activity, which SDOG’s suit did not do, and lawsuits challenging how the illegal subsidy came to exist in the first place. The result is that any public employee who abuses his or her position to secretly obtain taxpayer support for his or her private business will be immune from suits just because the business activity involves arts, politics, or the news. The ruling will be appealed; you can read it here: 2015-09-08_Anti-SLAPP_Ruling.

SDOG sued when it learned that SDSU lecturer Lorie Hearn had negotiated a sweetheart deal for her private business to operate out of the KPBS studios at SDSU and was using the SDSU/KPBS logos to promote her business, all for about $1 per year. SDOG was not concerned with the nature of her business — she claims that it’s a news organization — but was concerned that, as a teacher at a public university, she had abused her position to get for herself what nobody else could get, to take advantage of an opportunity that nobody else knew about. If KPBS wanted to buy news content from Hearn’s private business and let her use the SDSU/KPBS facilities and logos to promote her business, state law and SDSU rules first required a public, competitive-bidding process; the payment of fair-market value to SDSU/KPBS; arms-length negotiations; and approval by the SDSU president personally. None of that happened.

Hearn claimed that the lawsuit was retaliatory because of certain “reporting” done by her business. However, one day before the court hearing on the motions, Hearn herself sent out a press release from a local journalism organization claiming that the lawsuit had nothing to do with any news reporting by Hearn’s business. SDOG agrees: The lawsuit is about the illegal conduct that preceded Hearn’s business getting a secret taxpayer subsidy.

SDOG believes strongly in transparency for public employees and institutions, and is equally supportive of good journalism. SDOG has enjoyed a very good relationship with reputable members of the San Diego journalism profession — sometimes giving information, sometimes receiving information, but always sharing it with an eye toward ensuring accuracy and accountability.

SDOG was never concerned about the “reporting” done by Hearn’s business. The inaccuracies, bias, and hypocrisy were obvious to almost everyone, as the overwhelmingly negative comments to the reports make clear. SDOG’s lawsuit was directed at Hearn’s abuse of her position as a lecturer at SDSU, not at the work product of her private business. The rightful judges of that work product are Hearn’s readers and listeners, and they have delivered their verdict.

SDOG is concerned that this ruling paves the way for any public employee to use his or her position to get secret, special treatment at taxpayer expense and escape being held accountable in court just because the employee’s private business is in a field protected by the First Amendment. For example, a political science professor with a consulting firm on the side could make his business a “think tank” within the university and use public resources to promote partisan politics, but then escape being held accountable because “politics” is protected by the First Amendment. Or a journalism instructor with a public-relations firm on the side could masquerade her business as a “news outlet” within the university and use public resources to reach an otherwise unreachable audience with “reporting” paid for by her clients, again without being held accountable because the First Amendment protects “the news.”

The same way common sense dictates that the First Amendment does not protect people from yelling “fire” in a theatre, it dictates that public employees not escape accountability when they use their positions to get special treatment for themselves — regardless of whether they’re engaged in an arts, news, or political business. The problem is not the business itself but the way in which the business came to be secretly subsidized in the first place by the public institution and taxpayers.

SDOG Releases Draft of HOTEL Reform Ordinance (TOT Increase)

You can read the draft of San Diegans for Open Government’s proposed initiative to increase the City of San Diego’s transient occupancy tax and eliminate its tourism marketing district tax here: HOTEL_Reform_Ordinance_2015-07-17.

2015-08-18 Update: The latest version of the proposed initiative — now called the “Public’s Right to Vote on Hotel Taxes Ordinance” — can be viewed here: Notice_of_Intent_TOT_v4_Sans_Reasons.

Feedback from members of the public should be sent to or posted below.


Yesterday SDOG filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego for its illegal approval of Business Improvement District (BID) taxes for fiscal year 2015-16, and against the BID organizations for conflicts of interest.  If the lawsuit is successful, the taxes will be invalidated and the BID organizations will have to repay all monies they receive from the City for BID purposes even if the monies have already been spent.

You can read the lawsuit here: FY2015-16_Petition_Redacted.

What Happened to the Truth-Loving Angels?

I said in a deposition some time ago that I thought Cory Briggs was to the environmental justice movement in California what Dr. King was to the civil rights movement. Recent events cause me to think some more about that.

Dr. King drew the fire of none other than the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover listened to members of Congress and business leaders from across the nation and used what he considered to be the threat to US security to justify wire taps and surveillance of Dr. King’s movements.

Two agents from the FBI knocked on my door in Chicago and asked me if I would mind answering a few of their questions about my work with Dr. King. I later read a file on me gained through the Freedom of Information Act passed after members of Congress learned the FBI was keeping files on them. It was full of inaccuracies and errors and redacted segments.

I must say I was surprised. I thought the FBI was better than that: more professional, accurate and fair.

Those memories are stirred up today by the behavior of Inewsource. Connected to KPBS, I thought they were one of the truth-loving angels protecting our freedom and the U.S. Constitution.

So, I ask. “Why are they acting like J.Edgar Hoover?”

I suspect the answer is that Cory Briggs took on landowners in his fight on behalf of the Affordable Housing Coalition (AFC) and the renters in San Diego to stop the loss of rental units to condo conversions, and we WON a limit of 1,000 after seeing several years of as many as 10,000 conversions.

Cory took on Walmart on behalf of the Coalition for Responsible, Equitable, Environmental Development (CREED) and other grass-roots organizations and we have WON major commitments to cleaner air and sustainable energy uses that Walmart advertises but for which it gives no credit to Cory Briggs or any of his clients.

Cory took on the City of San Diego and the Maryland Hotel on behalf of the AFC to preserve an SRO that housed some of our city’s poorer residents and we LOST and had to satisfy ourselves with helping the residents relocate.

Cory took on the Port Commission and the Convention Center and the downtown hoteliers and their Tourism Marketing District (TMD) because we asked him to do so. He helped save taxpayers nearly $1 billion when he persuaded an appellate court that a new tax to fund the Convention Center’s expansion was unconstitutional, having been imposed without a public vote. He is still in the midst of a multi-year battle over the 39.5-year, $1 billion TMD tax that was also imposed without a public vote.

Like Dr. King, Cory draws the fire and carries the weight of his leadership role, but it is a big mistake in both cases to think either one stands alone.

Like Dr. King, Cory will support citizens from across California and take on the giants who abuse the environment or trample on the rights of people who cannot afford the costs of going to court to protect themselves from government and special-interest abuses.

Our work with Cory is done through the Courts for which those of us who are followers of Dr. King and friends of the freedom movement know is a place where issues are debated thoroughly and the price of progress is painfully slow, carefully weighed and occasionally disappointing, e.g., Citizens United.

We need Cory Briggs. We need the Courts. We need good, independent sources of news. We need citizens who are independent thinkers who will not blink in the face of criticism—especially when it is inaccurate and manipulated.

I continue to wonder if Inewsource is a friend of the fighters for truth, good government and environmental justice or a panderer to special interests and big bucks—a Mencken or a Hoover. Judging by the names on its list of top donors and how our work with Cory is frustrating their ambitions—i.e., nearly $2 billion in illegal taxes to subsidize hoteliers’ advertising and their ill-conceived Convention Center expansion—it looks to me like the latter.

I recently returned from a celebration in Selma and was reminded there of how important it was 50 years ago for folks from across the nation to join Dr. King in his fight for civil rights. I marched with Dr. King then, and I am proud to work with and stand up for Cory Briggs today.

Richard Lawrence, Board Member                                                                               San Diegans for Open Government

San Diegans for Open Government “Has Hit a Nerve”

Our city governments serve many purposes.  One of the most important roles is to collect our taxes and use that money for the benefit of the residents, and to make laws for itself in a democratic way.  And then to follow those laws.

In San Diego it doesn’t always work that way.  For the most part, our city council does a good job balancing the needs of the city.  But there are times when our government overreaches, and the rights of the taxpayers are infringed upon.

That is where San Diegans for Open Government, or SanDOG, comes in.  In trying to complete our mission, our first goal is to fight for open and transparent government in order to ensure that taxpayer money is being used appropriately.  That doesn’t mean we decide how we think taxpayer money should be spent.  The voters have put laws on the books to ensure they will be the ones who decide what long-term debts the government incurs in their name, and what happens with that money.

Take for example the Convention Center issue.  The city had found a way to take out a $575 million bond for the expansion of the Convention Center, payable by the taxpayers, without putting it to a vote, as the law requires.  SanDOG has no opinion on whether that bond should be taken out.  But the law says the voters get to make the decision whether that $575 million (just under $1 billion after the interest is added) should be used to build an extension to the Convention Center or on the infrastructure backlog.  So SanDOG fought in the courts to require that it be put to the vote.  And it won.

SanDOG has had other victories for open government and taxpayers. Just consider what we’ve done since 2014. We got contractors who bribed Southwestern Community College officials in order to get huge construction contracts to return nearly $650,000 to the school. We made Mr. Goldsmith to turn over hundreds of pages of public records that he was hiding through his use of a private email account. We convinced the city to acknowledge that text messages sent by members of the city council during their public meetings are public records.

Currently SanDOG is fighting several new taxes illegally approved by the city, fighting to ensure that Belmont Park is returned to the public on the timeline voters approved decades ago, and fighting to make sure that if new taxpayer money is used in any plan for a new football stadium or an expanded Convention Center, it gets voter approval.

SanDOG hired Cory Briggs to be our principal attorney. Both he and SanDOG members knew what we were getting into when we decided to take up the fight against government secrecy, taxpayer waste, and political corruption. Too many people have made too much money through this abuse for them to take a citizen revolt without retaliating. Since the abusers are now some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in town, that retaliation could be severe.

And it has been. SanDOG has hit a nerve, but not merely for putting on further display the incompetence of Mr. Goldsmith (remember the “Chalk-gate” prosecution?). Having ensured the taxpayers a vote on any Convention Center expansion tax, SDOG has also brought a similar case regarding the Tourism Marketing District, or TMD. So hoteliers and other downtown special interests are very unhappy with us.

The People—you and I—require a say in all new taxes to ensure that our money is not misused. We amended the state constitution to require details about what the tax is to be used for and voter approval before a new tax can be levied.  About a decade ago, we voters were twice asked to approve a new tax on hotel guests that would have generated more money for the city’s general fund, to be used for everyone’s benefit for the public good. The first tax increase included a small portion set aside to promote tourism generally (not just hotels). The voters said no. The second tax increase did not set aside money for tourism advertising. The hoteliers successfully defeated the second proposal because it had no earmarks at all for them.

Fast forward to 2012. In order to further enrich the powerful, wealthy hoteliers in the city, the politicians devised another plan to impose a new tax on hotel guests, this time avoiding the voters. This new tax is turned straight back over to the hoteliers to do with as they please—to the tune of about $1 billion over nearly 40 years.  The hoteliers sit on a board of directors of a private corporation that receives these illegal taxes—you must own a hotel to sit on the board or even be a member of the organization—and that board approves advertising programs that will bring more guests to their hotels. That’s right. The city approved a new tax that is handed over to hoteliers to spend on bringing more guests to their hotels. Not one penny of this new tax goes to parks, libraries, sidewalks, water pipes, police, fire, etc. All of it goes to the hoteliers to decide how to spend. The tax’s approval never appeared on any registrar of voters ballot. The city’s registered voters were not given the chance to vote on this new $1 billion taxpayer subsidy for hotels.

If SanDOG wins in court, these wealthy, powerful hoteliers stand to lose a billion dollars of taxpayer money set aside to subsidize their businesses. And they are not going to allow that to happen without pulling out all the stops.

The TMD lawyers, in conjunction with city attorney Goldsmith, have tried to have the case thrown out by the judge in every way they can think of. Again and again, they failed. The case is a good one because every new tax must be put to the voters, but this one wasn’t.

Mr. Goldsmith and his friends have tried all kinds of ways to stop Mr. Briggs from representing SanDOG. They have repeatedly tried to prove that SanDOG doesn’t really exist, that Mr. Briggs fabricated our organization, but their attempts fail time and again. They have asked over and over that Mr. Briggs be fined, yet the judge has never found any wrongdoing by him. Twice they tried to bribe Mr. Briggs with large pay-outs, which he refused.

Now desperation has sunk in.  Often unable to win on the merits, the attacks Mr. Goldsmith and the hoteliers have made against SanDOG and Mr. Briggs have become stronger, angrier and more drastic in recent weeks.

It is clear that Mr. Goldsmith and the powerful hoteliers are setting the stage for criminal charges against Mr. Briggs. They began a concerted effort with KPBS and its in-house affiliate, inewsource, to create an atmosphere of doubt surrounding Mr. Briggs. (Anyone who doubts that KPBS and inewsource are taking money from our opponents should check out their highest-level donors and board members. Several of them have immediate connections to the hotel industry or the convention center, and some of the donations were made during the period that KPBS and inewsource claims to have been “investigating” Mr. Briggs.)

First, KPBS and inewsource accused Mr. Briggs of shady real estate deals based on a variety of real estate liens ensuring that his firm is paid monies that it’s owed. But such liens are commonplace and their accusations included no evidence that Mr. Briggs failed to follow the rules that authorize such liens.

Starting the next day these opponents accused Mr. Briggs and his wife of sharing “inside information” and having conflicts of interest because she worked for an environmental firm that wrote an environmental report Mr. Briggs sued over. Mr. Goldsmith, KPBS and inewsource began sharing a confidential deposition transcript prepared under a gag order in SanDOG’s TMD lawsuit. They claimed that Mr. Briggs’ wife was his vice-president at the same time she was working for the environmental firm, a claim that was based on nothing more than a typo. The final, corrected transcript said no such thing; and because the uncorrected draft fit their theory of illegal activity, I can only assume they must have made a conscious decision to use the draft instead. The Reader published a story providing all the facts, but KPBS/inewsource never bothered to correct their story.

Apparently unhappy that the stories were not being well received, these opponents decided to accuse Mr. Briggs and his wife of having fraudulent real estate dealings because they claimed to be “husband and wife” in their estate planning documents even though they were not legally married when they signed the documents. KPBS and inewsource conveniently forgot to mention the laws in California regarding confidential marriages, which make the story baseless and allow unmarried persons to live together as “husband and wife.”

If that accusation were not enough, the opponents went on to accuse Mr. Briggs and his wife of lying on a mortgage document to refinance a residence because it was not owner-occupied. Not only did the couple not lie, but it turns out that inewsource executive director Lorie Hearn and inewsource chair Karin Winner themselves bought a condo in 2007 and signed a mortgage document containing identical owner-occupancy language. According to county records filed by Hearn and Winner under penalty of perjury, each of them lived in a separate residence before buying the condo together and each of them has lived in that separate residence ever since. Neither of them has ever occupied the condo. If Hearn and Winner read the false story about Mr. Briggs and his wife and didn’t catch the hypocrisy, or if they don’t know what their reporters wrote, that’s incompetence; but if they read it and chose to do nothing about it, that’s much worse.

More recently the opponents decided to attack many of the small non-profit community groups that have hired Mr. Briggs to stand up for their rights, groups that do not have the unlimited funds the wealthy hoteliers and other special interests do. The gist of this latest attack is that the groups aren’t following the tax and non-profit laws because sometimes the paperwork contains a mistake. The timing of this story is interesting. Back in April, SanDOG sued SDSU, KPBS, and inewsource because KPBS gave inewsource a secret, no-bid contract that allows it to use KPBS facilities and equipment for fifty cents per year; even though Hearn is an active faculty member at SDSU, which owns KPBS, she negotiated the sweetheart contract and signed it on behalf of inewsource. SanDOG’s lawsuit pointed out that Hearn and Winner have a business relationship renting out their condo but denied having such a relationship on every federal inewsource tax return ever submitted. I am pretty sure it was SanDOG’s decision to point out the lack of transparency and dishonesty at KPBS and inewsource that resulted in the retaliatory article about the non-profits Mr. Briggs has helped over the years.

And so it will continue. KPBS and inewsource will continue to attack everything he does, and everyone who associates with him; to selectively pick comments and “facts” that seem to back up their slanted theories; and to bring in their “experts” who will state that KPBS and inewsource’s version of the “facts” looks really bad for Mr. Briggs.

Mr. Goldsmith is also doing his part. Along with leaking confidential info to inewsource, he recently filed papers accusing Mr. Briggs of committing a misdemeanor crime in the course of representing SanDOG in the Convention Center lawsuit. To appreciate how desperate this stunt was, remember that Mr. Goldsmith not only represents the city in civil matters like the Convention Center case, but is also the misdemeanor prosecutor for crimes committed in the city. Rules governing prosecutors strictly prohibit them from mixing their activities in civil and criminal cases involving the same people. Despite the rules, during a hearing a few days ago, a deputy city attorney was so adamant about a misdemeanor being committed that the judge felt he had to step in and advise Mr. Briggs of his right to remain silent. It is obvious that Mr. Goldsmith’s plan was to use the threat of criminal prosecution to gain an advantage over Mr. Briggs in our civil lawsuit.

As frequently happens when up against SanDOG and Mr. Briggs, Mr. Goldsmith lost that hearing. So just a few hours later—literally on the same day—he had one of his assistants send a letter to Mr. Briggs accusing him of filing false documents in court because his signature does not look the same on every document he files.

SanDOG has been asked why Mr. Briggs has not responded to all the false attacks being made against him by KPBS, inewsource, and Mr. Goldsmith. He has not discussed that with me. But as a retired police officer, I can clearly see why Mr. Briggs has remained silent and has no choice but to step back from the conversation and instead focus on his usual work.

Criminal charges are a serious thing.  Mr. Briggs cannot and should not participate in a system that is so clearly biased against him, that is doing everything it can to take him out of the equation. But with bogus criminal accusations flying—including from an angry criminal prosecutor who, when wearing his civil litigator hat, has been beaten time and again by Mr. Briggs—the best course of action is to say nothing. Mr. Goldsmith has tremendous investigative resources at his disposal (all paid for by the taxpayers, at no cost to him). Given the tremendous animus Mr. Goldsmith has demonstrated toward Mr. Briggs in court and in the press, Mr. Goldsmith is almost certainly putting his taxpayer-funded resources to work trying to find something to rationalize charging Mr. Briggs with a crime. There is simply no reason for Mr. Briggs to play into this false narrative. Besides, it is readily apparent from the lack of coverage the false accusations have received from other local media that the only people who believe them—if they believe them—are Mr. Goldsmith, KPBS and inewsource.

To be clear, I don’t think Mr. Goldsmith and the hotelier-supported media sincerely believe Mr. Briggs has broken any laws. But the goal here is not to see Mr. Briggs behind bars, though that would certainly help them and all the other special interests that he fights on SanDOG’s behalf. They would be happy just having a superficial reason to charge Mr. Briggs with a crime, snap a mugshot, and blast a picture of him holding up a booking placard across the airwaves (with inewsource and KPBS “breaking” the story). The false accusations will eventually fade from memory, but that mugshot will live on forever—at least in the minds of Mr. Goldsmith and all the hoteliers and special interests Mr. Briggs has been fighting.

It is not easy to do what SanDOG does.  As the face of the organization, of course, Mr. Briggs is the person our opponents have chosen to attack.  But the directors of SanDOG understand clearly that if the attacks on Mr. Briggs are unsuccessful, we or the organization’s other members will be next.

What is playing out right now in one biased media outlet and in the city attorney’s office is a perfect, and now very personal, example of the sort of government abuse and political corruption that SanDOG was formed to fight. Those who stand to benefit from it the most have a lot of resources to sustain their attacks, to get rid of Mr. Briggs and then to get rid of SanDOG.

As for Mr. Briggs, I know him well. I know the truly great things he has done for this region. He is an honest, kind, selfless person. He is a man I deeply respect and whom I am proud to call my friend.

Pedro Quiroz, Jr.                                                                                                           Chair, San Diegans for Open Government

(P.S.  If you’re interested in becoming a member of SDOG, fill out our membership form and mail it to us at 4833 Santa Monica Avenue, #7878, San Diego, CA 92017; or e-mail it to sandiegansforopengovernment[at]  Membership is free.  Here’s the form: SDOG_Membership_Application.)

SDOG Prepares to Sue City of San Diego for More Illegal Business Taxes and City’s Advisors for Conflicts of Interest

Today SDOG’s board voted to authorize litigation against the City of San Diego and numerous corporate advisors for violating the state’s taxation and conflict-of-interest laws. 

Several months ago, the city council hired nearly 20 private corporations to serve as advisory boards for each of the City’s business improvement districts (BIDs) for the coming fiscal year. The law requires these advisory boards to make recommendations about how BID taxes should be spent in order to maximize public benefits, not with an eye toward their own private gain. The law also requires voter approval of new tax levies (like the City’s illegal convention center tax that SDOG and Mel Shapiro successfully defeated last year).

But last week, all of the advisory boards recommended that the City give them every penny of the money to spend as they see fit, and the city council unanimously agreed. The city council did not solicit alternative proposals from any other source before levying next year’s BID taxes without a public vote and based its decision only on the advice of the private corporations recommending the money for themselves. If SDOG prevails, the tax will be declared unconstitutional and the City will have to stop collecting it until the voters approve it; the advisors could have to repay all monies they receive for the fiscal year without an offset for any tax monies they might spend during the year (even if spent in good faith while the lawsuit is pending). 

Because the City already spent the illegal BID taxes it levied and collected for FY 2013-14, today SDOG’s board also voted to dismiss a pending lawsuit challenging those taxes. The dismissal was without prejudice, meaning those legal issues may still be pursued in the future. The new lawsuit will cover the same issues and more, including the advisors’ conflicts of interest, and will be filed in the next few weeks.