Anaheim GardenWalk Tax Breaks Speak of a Tale of Two Cities

Ahead of yesterday's Anaheim city council meeting, a mailer to city residents from the Orange County Employees Association and numerous news reports on recently approved tax incentives for two future GardenWalk-area hotels made sure for a packed house. Mayor Tom Tait had an idea what would dominate the discussion of the public comments section and pleaded for civility.

The chambers were indeed filled–more evenly than the pro-subsidization-stacked meeting two weeks ago–and people spoke for nearly two hours on both sides of the decision to allow for up to $158 million dollars in tax incentives. It was one of the most contentious gatherings at city hall since the Gigante supermarket liquor license desmadre of years past.

The divide on display showed Anaheim becoming a tale of two cities. Opponents noted time after time the hit Anaheim's public services have taken and could take while council members Harry Sidhu, Gail Eastman, and Kris Murray voted in favor of major subsidization of the hotel development. Many gestures of gratitude were afforded to councilwoman Lorri Galloway and Mayor Tait, although both were in favor of an earlier plan passed under the rubric of “economic freedom” which calls for deregulation, including those that would negatively affect public services. Complaints from speakers ranged from streets in poor conditions, cuts to the senior center, and a planned future slashing of one million dollars from the city's public library system. In short, slash the public good and subsidize the private sector.

“I found out about what happened at a Los Amigos meeting I went to last week with OC Dream Team,” resident Maria Zacarias says of what motivated her to attend and speak for the first time at an Anaheim council meeting. “I worked at the resort area before and the GardenWalk. When I found out how much the developers were getting I thought it was really unfair while my aunt's neighborhood is still looking depleted,” she added.

Taking note of the heavy presence of suits in the house as opposed to grassroots, Zacarias definitely thinks there is a growing reality of a two-track Anaheim. “It's funny how the resort area is lit up, while the neighborhood where I live is dark. My aunt doesn't even let my cousins go out at night because of recent shootings.”

Proponents, of course, were present as well coming from the likes of 2012 city council hopeful Jordan Brandman, members of Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR), and organized union trade workers. The line was mostly consistent: increased tax revenue–including ad nauseum citation of a hotel developer commissioned study statistic of a supposed $4.4 billion boost to the local economy–and job creation. Larry Slagle, Co-Chair of (SOAR), spoke after Zacarias in support of the controversial decision. “This is a tax break that will breathe life into the GardenWalk resort area, specifically in the area of retail sales” he said, “You can't please all the people all the time.”

After Slagle addressed the dais, Jill Kanzler, Executive Director of SOAR took to the podium and spoke against the characterization of the tax break as a giveaway. “This is money that's going to be generated by revenue… It's going to go to make sure these hotels get built, that the jobs are created.”

The framing was very similar to that which supported mega developer Mike Harrah's phallic homage to himself in the form of One Broadway Plaza in SanTana: The economy is sluggish and construction jobs would be created, questions of what would be built and how be damned. Such sloganeering was on full display in Anaheim, but nary an inquiry into what kind of jobs would come after the construction of the hotels was made.

Los Angeles and L.A. Live were mentioned towards the end by OCCORD's Eric Altman and a response to him by councilwoman Murray, but the taxpayer subsidization of the hotel/tourism industry in the city of Long Beach could have easily been cited for purposes of comparison. A 2009 Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy Study looked into what $750 million dollars of taxpayer investment into Long Beach's tourist industry had yielded and found concentrated poverty as the result. One of the main drivers was low-wage hotel service jobs with few or no benefits.
The same could be the end result in Anaheim, despite all the cheerleading.

Public angst and outrage were expressed, but in the end, Tait noted it was too late. “There is nothing to vote on today,” he said at the conclusion of public comments. “There's nothing to discuss. I appreciate everyone coming here…but there is nothing to discuss by law. It is a done deal. It was signed on the 31st.”

There is a scheduled KABC-TV Channel 7 town hall on the matter this coming Monday at Saint Anthony Catholic Church from 5 p.m-9 p.m. anyhow, but the discourse could shift beyond the deal, to those who approved it. Council members Eastman and Murray, both Advisory Committee members of SOAR with their vote being consistent with the organizational position, alongside Sidhu, did face folks vowing to recall them, which if ever made good upon as a political consequence for their actions would be the second such move taken against a council trio after Fullerton is already well on its way.

Go get 'em, cabrones.

Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!

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