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Opponents of Anaheim’s Living Wage Measure Concede Defeat

Does the ’96 Disney deal make the measure apply to the Mouse? Photo by Gabriel San Roman

A week after Election Day, opponents of Anaheim’s living wage ballot initiative sounded like they came back from the saddest place on earth. Vote counts since last Tuesday have turned a slim margin for the measure into a firm three-percent lead. But the “No on Measure L” campaign conceded defeat yesterday morning even before the latest tally.

“After continuing to monitor the ballot counting it is now clear Measure L will narrowly pass,” says Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. “This is a tragic outcome for Anaheim. The special interests pushing Measure L lied to voters and tricked them into thinking this flawed measure will help many Anaheim workers.”

The measure’s provisions hold that resort-area corporations that have tax rebate agreements with the city will be subject to a new minimum wage scale starting at $15 an hour next year. The base salaries rise a dollar-per-year to $18 an hour in 2022 before cost of living adjustments take over.

The concession comes after a ferocious effort to defeat the ballot initiative. Light posts all across the city had “No on Measure L” signs affixed to them. They claimed the initiative “helps a few, hurts a lot” in trying to convince voters. Mailers highlighted news reports regarding the legal opinion of Anaheim’s city attorney that held the measure wouldn’t apply to the Disneyland Resort [1] after a pair subsidy agreements for a planned Disney luxury hotel and decades-long entertainment tax ban got cancelled before the election [2].

An attempt by the No campaign to use a tent encampment as a backdrop prop at Maxwell Park in arguing Measure L would dry up general fund revenues needed to address homelessness got disrupted by protesters [3]. Blip aside, the opposition cut into the momentum of the measure’s proponents, just not enough to prevail in the end.

“Time will show the voters the truth,” says a defeated Ament. “At best, it will only give a raise to about 150 Anaheim residents, but it will drive investment out of our city that will cost thousands their jobs and will cost residents hundreds of millions in tax revenue that could have addressed our most critical issues, including homeless services and public safety.”

Despite the concession, the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions that pushed for the living wage law isn’t celebrating just yet.  “We’re cautiously optimistic about the results,” says Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11. “We’re going to wait until more ballots are counted before we can feel great about where we’re at.”

Hotel projects in the resort-area, including a pair of planned Wincome luxury lodges, have bed-tax agreements making them potentially subject to the ordinance. Once the vote settles, a key question at the heart of the campaign battle remains: Does Measure L apply to the Disneyland Resort?

Richard McCracken, the principal author of the ordinance, contends that a 1996 Disneyland expansion deal qualifies as a “tax rebate” and would make the measure apply to the company [4]. Anaheim city council issued $510 million in bonds decades-ago for resort-area improvements and projects such as the expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center and the construction of the $108 million Mickey and Friends parking garage. In exchange, Disney invested $1.4 billion in constructing California Adventure, Downtown Disney and the Grand Californian Hotel. The city continues paying off the bonds with interest until 2037 using, in part, hotel, sales and property taxes generated by the Disneyland Resort.

Disney workers appeared on mailers supporting the measure. Three unions representing them, including Unite Here, funded the election fight. But after the vote count, a potential legal battle looms.

“When we prevail, we’re going to wait until January when employers who receive subsidies go to $15 an hour,” says Briceño. “We’re going to monitor to make sure that they’re complying with the law in Anaheim.”

And if they don’t, the coalition is prepared for litigation.