Photo by Photograph by Chris Woo
COVID-19 has shut down the national meeting business, leaving the financial status of the existing convention hall twisting in the wind.
When Measure C, a $5.8 billion convention center expansion and homeless relief plan to hike the tax on hotel stays, died at the polls last March, some backers vowed to challenge the public’s vote. Arguing that the measure’s two-thirds requirement for approval should be reduced to a simple majority, well-heeled hotel types were said to be eager to carry out their legal threat to end-run the electorate. Since then, though, COVID-19 has shut down the national meeting business, leaving the financial status of the existing convention hall twisting in the wind. “Staff is currently pursuing an additional loan from the I-Bank to finance the design and construction of a needed roof replacement for the West Building,” according to a May 5 report by the city’s independent budget analyst regarding borrowing from the state-financed California Infrastructure Bank. “The total cost of this project is estimated to be about $7.0 million, $1.25 million of which would cover the design and engineering process.”
Besides those new expenses, city taxpayers are already on the hook for a hefty yearly subsidy of the complex, currently being used for homeless housing. “The City makes annual payments totaling $15.9 million for debt service, dewatering, and long-term marketing in support of the Convention Center,” the report notes. Annual debt service of $12.6 million “will continue at this level until the bonds mature in FY 2028.”
The document goes on to suggest that since the center is now a homeless shelter, the city seeks to use COVID-19 federal relief money to avoid picking up the hefty tab itself. “As it appears the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to Convention Center operations and our homeless citizens may extend beyond July 2020, our Office recommends consideration be given to such an arrangement as soon as possible.”
One of the California legislature’s last hurrahs before the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic came on January 16 with the Back to has Session Bash held by the California Tribal Business Alliance. Says the Bash’s official twitter account: “Started off big. Now we huge. if you don’t like to party and get hype, move on, because that’s what that Bash Life is all about.”
This year’s headliners were rapper Lil Jon and the dance band Hip Service. “Thank you all for the greatest Bash ever!!!!! 2021 is gonna be tough to plan, but I guarantee you we will take it to the next level. See you in one year!!” said a next-day tweet from sponsors.
Party flipping Assemblyman Brian Maienschein flipped at the chace to party with rapper Lil Jon.
The coronavirus now threatens to shut down all such influence-peddling operations in the state capital indefinitely. Among those public servants getting in some final free fun — per the lobbying disclosure of San Diego’s Sycuan tribal band — were Senate pro-tem Toni Atkins, trailed by six of her state staffers. Her fellow Democrat Ben Hueso, running for the San Diego County board of supervisors, was there, accompanied by five employees. Assembly Republican-turned-Democrat Brian Maienschein also made the scene with five assistants.
Not among legislators listed as attending were Assembly Democrat Todd Gloria, running for mayor of San Diego, but four of his staffers showed up. .
At 2018’s Bash, Lorena Gonzalez, author of last year’s controversial gig-curtailing AB-5 Gonzalez, wife of county supervisor Nathan Fletcher, defended her presence at the party to online news service CalMatters. “Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher made the rounds with her adult daughter, chatting with colleagues and taking a quick spin on the dance floor,” reported CalMatters. “It’s fun, and that’s all it is to me,’ said Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee. ‘The idea that something like that would ever affect how I vote on something is just atrocious and offensive. I can’t imagine it would influence anyone.’”
Sycuan anted up $10,000 as its share of this year’s party expenses.
State Senator Ben Hueso flashes the sated smile of a man who has fed well courtesy of AT&T.
Ben Hueso’s pre-COVID freebie
The End of Session bash wasn’t the only pre-COVID-19 free event enjoyed by state Senate Democrat and San Diego supervisorial candidate Ben Hueso. Cell phone giant AT&T, which has plenty of business before the California legislature as well as in San Diego county, treated Hueso to a January 14 dinner it reported was worth $44.62 at Sacramento’s Ella Dining Room and Bar.
Without a steady flow of well-heeled interest peddlers and their targets not interested in curbside take-out, the posh establishment has been shuttered during the pandemic. “It’s the largest challenge we’ve had in our 28-year history of owning a restaurant,” Ella proprietor Randall Selland told KCRA-TV two weeks ago. “We literally never had the scenario of open one-day and then closing eight restaurants the next.”