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A Superior Court judge will soon decide if a nonprofit group has the right to challenge whether certain payments from hotel owners can be used to promote San Diego’s tourism industry.
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The hotel assessment being challenged is expected to generate more than $1 billion over 40 years.
Judge Joel Wohlfeil will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that pits San Diegans for Open Government against the city and the San Diego Tourism Marketing District. The arguments on a motion from the city and marketing district to dismiss the lawsuit will focus on whether the nonprofit has legal standing to sue over assessments levied on hotels.
In order to file a claim, people or organizations must prove they have a stake in the outcome of the case.
San Diegans for Open Government filed the lawsuit in late 2012. The group argued it was illegal for the City Council to renew an ordinance allowing the city to tax hotel owners and then let the marketing district use that money to promote the city’s tourism industry. The lawsuit claimed that the ordinance was invalid because voters had not approved it.
In legal briefs, the nonprofit has said it has standing to sue, in part because one of its members paid the hotel assessment in question. The city and Tourism Marketing District dispute that claim. Even if one of the group’s members did pay the assessment, they have argued, the nonprofit has no grounds to sue on her behalf.
San Diegans for Open Government and the defendants have traded barbs in legal briefs filed after the case went to trial in November.
Each side has accused the other of fabricating evidence to support its case. Given that the hotel assessments could generate more than $1 billion over 40 years, San Diegans for Open Government argued in one brief that the city and the marketing district “have at least a billion reasons to lie.”
The defendants, meanwhile, have challenged how the nonprofit operates, most notably questioning the group’s relationship with its attorney, Cory Briggs, who has been the subject of a months-long investigation by inewsource.
San Diegans for Open Government “is the alter ego” of Briggs Law Corp., the defendants wrote in one legal brief. “It is a tool BLC uses to earn legal fees.”
Briggs did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office declined to comment. The Tourism Marketing District would not comment on ongoing litigation.
If the judge sides with San Diegans for Open Government, the lawsuit will move forward, leaving the future of the hotel assessment in limbo. A judgment against San Diegans for Open Government would put an end to the lawsuit, but it wouldn’t squash all threats against the marketing district.
The legal battle is unfolding as San Diegans for Open Government embarks on a signature-gathering campaign for a much-discussed ballot initiative that, if approved by voters, would do away with the Tourism Marketing District.