Del Mar's Proposition H grants the City Council the authority to increase the city's transient occupancy tax, or TOT, charged to hotel guests from its current 10.5 percent up to 13 percent.
The key word here is authority. This is not a definitive raising of the rate, only an approval for a future rise as council members see fit.
That proviso though, we believe, will be a confusing one to voters. There is no definition to the measure; it is not black and white, only a shade of gray. You are voting for something that may or may not happen.
Adding to the confusion was a recent brouhaha over wording in a retracted ordinance that allowed for consideration of a future tourism marketing district. Fearing the marketing district tax would cut into revenues for the city, a group of former Del Mar mayors and council members wrote a ballot argument against Prop H. Although they later backed off on their opposition when the ordinance was axed, the argument still appears in the ballot pamphlet.
There is a compelling argument that resident taxpayers bear the brunt of the estimated two million visitors each year to the city's beaches and that the tax would be paid for by visitors only. But large portions of those beach visitors are not hotel guests only. Wouldn't a better plan of attack be to continue intensive revitalization efforts and keep hotel guests and all visitors, for that matter, in the city and spending sales tax-generating dollars? If that sounds like better marketing of the city, as a tourism destination, so be it. Isn't that what all this revitalization is about anyway?
City Council members have also said any future TOT increase will keep the city competitive with the rates of neighboring cities. Really? To us, providing a competitive hotel rate would be one that is cheaper than neighboring hotels and gives hotels a better chance to attract travelers who these days, are watching their spending very carefully.
The one plus in the discretionary aspect of this measure is that the Tot raise will not be performed immediately. That's a good thing, because in a recessionary economy with dwindling credit and drops in discretionary spending, raising taxes on hotel guests would not be a wise move.
We are going to recommend a No vote on Proposition H. We believe it is ultimately unfair to voters to ask their opinion on an issue without allowing them to definitively decide its outcome. If this measure does pass though, we hope that in the future before raising the TOT, council members will seriously take into consideration prevailing economic conditions. In these times, our hoteliers and the city for that matter, needs all the help they can get attracting business.