Organizers of a referendum drive to overturn a fee increase imposed by the City Council on commercial building projects announced Monday that they will begin collecting signatures the day after Christmas.
The campaign will be run by the Jobs Coalition, a group of more than 50 small businesses, organizations and community groups that oppose the 23-year-old fee, which helps fund affordable housing projects.
If the group obtains enough signatures, the City Council will have to decide whether to rescind its action on the levy or place the issue before voters. The coalition needs to collect around 34,000 valid signatures by Jan. 23 to qualify.
The council voted 5-4 in November to put the so-called "linkage fee" back to 1.5 percent of the total construction cost of a project. The rate was halved in 1996.
The increase, which was affirmed in a separate council vote two weeks ago, is to be phased in over two years.
Developers of certain types of buildings will see far larger hikes, ranging up to 744 percent for warehouses or storage facilities, according to city documents.
Jerry Sanders, the former mayor who is now president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, has called the fee a "jobs tax" that could push the city's economy back into a recession.
"It will certainly cause some businesses to scale back or eliminate expansion plans, which will reduce job growth," Sanders wrote in a letter to supporters of the campaign. "Other companies will take their business -- and local jobs -- elsewhere and many more simply won't consider moving to San Diego."
He predicted the hit to businesses and jobs will be "severe," but the impact on affordable housing will be minimal, since the funds will lead to construction of only about 100 units annually. About 45,000 families are on a waiting list for housing assistance, according to city officials.
Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said the fee increase is only one part of many solutions needed to solve the affordable housing problem. The municipal code calls for the levy to be reviewed annually, a procedure that wasn't followed for years.
Several referendums seeking to undo council actions have qualified over the last few years.
Last week, the council voted to place the controversial update of Barrio Logan zoning regulations before voters in the June primary election. A couple of years ago, ordinances involving medical marijuana and restrictions on big box superstores were repealed because the council members didn't want to spend city funds on elections.
—City News Service