Anaheim: Fact Checking The Mayor’s Distortions About The Resort District

Mayor Tom Tait penned an op-ed with the high-minded title of “Change for the Good Of All in Anaheim,” which ran in the OC Register yesterday. It was in response to an earlier op-ed by OCBC President Lucy Dunn criticizing the Tait majority’s defenestration of City Manager Paul Emery in particular, and its general approach to governing Anaheim.

The mayor states that “elections matter” and “now real change is happening.” However, the op-ed provides few examples of change other than the “Sunshine Ordinance” concocted by his leftist Democrat council ally, Councilman Jose F. Moreno. Tait claims it “will bring checks and balances to the outsized influence lobbyists have had on our city.”

In reality, it does no such thing. Moreno’s ordinance requires only some lobbyists to register, while allowing other types of lobbyists – such as government employee union officials – to lobby city officials without registering.

Other than that, the op-ed advances a number of misleading statements and distortions.

“For years, the city has paid too much attention to special interests in the Anaheim Resort District at the expense of our neighborhoods.”

Leaving aside the fact that the mayor supported the policies he now denounces, this is an untrue and unfair statement. He falsely implies Anaheim neighborhoods are subsidizing the Resort District. No examples of neighborhoods being shortchanged to service the Resort District are given – the public is expected to accept this claim at face value.

The reality is the Resort District generates funding that make neighborhood investment possible. The Resort generates a net revenue surplus of $81.7 million for the city.

The mayor claims “balance” has been “missing” and that focus on neighborhoods must be “restored.” Again, that is false and misleading. The fiscal year that just ended was the fourth in a row in which city spending on parks, libraries, community centers and other neighborhood improvements topped $300 million – more than double the capital improvement budgets of Irvine, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana combined.

Prior to the 2018 council elections, the city opened three skate parks, improved a dozen playgrounds, renovated two libraries and added exercise stations, sports courts and fields to city parks.

Recent civic projects that pre-date the “People’s Council” include:

  • A $16 million renovation of Ponderosa Park, including a 10,000-square-foot skate park and ground-breaking for a 12,000-square-foot community center.
  • Widening Brookhurst Street from four lanes to six lanes, adding bike lanes and drought-tolerant landscaping alongside the street.
  • Addition of a playground and picnic areas to Circle Park:
  • Addition of a playground, grassy area and a picnic area with barbeques to Coral Tree Park.
  • Installation of shaded outdoor exercise equipment at the Downtown Community Center.
  • Addition of outdoor exercise equipment, perimeter loop walking trail, sand volleyball courts, picnic tables and a water bottle refill station to Edison Park.
  • Building of a KaBOOM! playgrounds at John Marshall Park, Modjeska Park, Schweitzer Park and Lincoln Park.
  • Complete renovations of Euclid and Sunkist libraries, including new furniture, electrical wiring, carpeting and kiosks.
  • An expanded basketball court, new gazebo, additional lighting, new perimeter fencing and picnic areas in Little People’s Park.
  • The complete renovation of the fire-damaged community center at Manzanita Park; it now houses the Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim.
  • Installation of a 3,800-square-foot skate park and a new playground at Palm Lane Park.
  • Streambed restoration, improved erosion control and added native plants to Pelanconi Park.
  • Converted underutilized space into dog parks with fenced small and large dog play areas at Olive Hills Dog Park.
  • Replacement of the existing restroom building and playground at Sage Park.
  • Installation of a 3,800-square-foot skate park and bathroom renovations at Schweitzer Park.
  • Stoddard Park received a KaBOOM! playground, renovated restrooms and additional playground equipment requested by the community.
  • At Twila Reid Park, three pickle ball courts were built, a softball/soccer field was renovated and a KaBOOM! playground built.

There’s also the Beach Boulevard Revitalization Program initiated under the previous council majority – most recently in a September 2018 vote to accelerate the project. That’s prior to the advent of the “People’s Council.”

Does that sound like the previous council majority was neglecting the neighborhoods? These civic improvements, as well as others currently in the pipeline, are the fruit of the previous council majority’s governance.

Not surprisingly, this evident focus on the neighborhoods is popped down the memory hole in favor of recounting the mayor’s familiar litany of evils.

“Contracting to give away $700 million of future general fund revenue as “economic assistance” to three luxury hotel developers, including $260 million to Walt Disney Co.”

Tait omits the key fact that these 4-Diamond hotels would not have been built absent the Hotel Incentive Program. No 4 Diamond hotels, no $700 million in transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue. You cannot giveaway what you do not have.

The Hotel Incentive Program itself was enacted partly in response to the mayor’s complaint that such programs should be available to all comers.

Also omitted are the thousands of good-paying jobs – both construction and permanent – created by these projects.

“Exempting the Disneyland Resort from paying taxes on admissions or parking for up to 45 years, superseding the will of the voters, should they deem a modest tax needed to maintain vital city services.”

This is dishonest, nonsensical attempt to paint the city’s biggest taxpayer and employer as a tax scofflaw. The Disneyland Resort doesn’t pay taxes on admissions or parking – only guests do. Councilman Jose Moreno has been employing this disingenuous bit of demagoguery for years, and it’s sad to see the mayor emulating his ally’s tactics.

As for “superseding the will of the voters” – again, more nonsense.  The voters have never spoken on the subject of imposing a gate or entertainment tax on the Resort District or any Anaheim venue.  Since when does the conservative mayor of Anaheim get angry because people won’t be paying more taxes?

“Attempting a giveaway of taxpayer-owned Angel Stadium of Anaheim by leasing for development the 150 surrounding acres for $1 dollar per year for 66 years — for land worth more than $500 million.”

This is a lie of omission, since the tentative negotiating framework to which the mayor refers would have also obligated the Angels to invest heavily in the renovation of Angel Stadium. In other words, it could have provided for the revamping of one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the country without Anaheim taxpayers spending a dime. Since when is that a bad thing?

“Rezoning city-owned, park-designated land and then selling it for the construction of industrial buildings.”

Reasonable people can disagree over that particular action, or whether an industrial park next to the I-5 freeway was a good location for a smallish, triangular community park. But to present it as evidence of neighborhood neglect or overweening lobbyist influence is ridiculous.

Mayor Tait then unloads on the 1996 creation of the Resort District:

“All of this comes on top of the city’s $856 million in bond indebtedness, of which 97 percent of the proceeds were spent in support of the resort district and less than 3 percent in neighborhoods. Each year, the city pays about $77 million from its general fund to service this debt. For perspective on the enormity of these resort obligations, the city’s total annual general fund for police, fire, libraries and other vital services is roughly $400 million.”

This passage is written to mislead readers into thinking the Resort District is a fiscal black hole diverting city funds from neighborhood services – which is false. It’s doubly strange because then Councilman Tait voted for the policy he now attacks.

In 1996, when the City Council voted to create the Resort District, the city netted $10 in revenue after subtracting costs associated with the resort area from the revenues it generated. Official studies projected that would increased to $16 million by 2005. Today, the city nets $81.7 million dollars in tax revenues from the Resort District – a more than 800% rate of return directly attributable to the Resort revitalization.

Furthermore, annual TOT revenue from the Resort has tripled from $45 million in 1997 to $148 million in 2016.

Painting the Resort District as some kind of financial albatross around the city’s neck is misleading in the extreme.

“We need to increase our investment in parks, support our schools, address homelessness, revitalize neighborhoods and reduce obstacles for all businesses.”

This is a good one. As already noted, increased investment in parks and civic amenities has been increasing for some time. The city began moving on Beach Boulevard Revitalization via public-private partnership well before district elections and the “People’s Council.”

Homelessness, on the other hand, has exploded since the advent of the “People’s Council” – which recently voted to place additional regulatory requirements on developers as part of Moreno’s “Sunshine Ordinance.”

“But after decades of investing in the Anaheim Resort, it is time to also invest in the 360,000 residents of Anaheim, who look to the council to protect their best interests.”

Again, the mayor’s statement is dishonest, and designed mislead readers into wrongly thinking the city has not been investing in its residents.

When an argument rests on distortions, half-truths and falsehoods, it must be a weak one. And Mayor Tait’s case is weak. The Resort District has been an undeniable success, far exceeding the expectations of its authors. The policies which the mayor criticizes have underwritten – not short-changed – investments in neighborhoods. The policies which the mayor denounces led to Disney now investing $2 billion in the city, which will yield greater economic activity and tax revenues to fund neighborhood investment.

Despite the talk of “changing Anaheim for the good of all,” what has the Tait majority really accomplished besides really long council meetings? Firing an effective, accomplished city manager and looking for a sixth city manager in seven years. Putting city government into the business of making immigrants feel welcome. Creating a homeless policy task force that serves as a platform for radicals who want to allow the homeless to live in city parks. Needlessly booting every city commissioner. Passing a politically-driven “Sunshine Ordinance” that requires some lobbyists to register but not others.

And apparently coming down the pike: imposing “inclusionary housing” mandates on developers and ending the contract-out of park maintenance to private operators, among other things. How does that “reduce obstacles for businesses“?

The mayor is concerned enough about future city finances that he vigorously opposes making it more difficult for future councils to raise taxes, and yet there are no indications the Tait majority plans to pursue additional pension reform or explore achieving savings via contracting out.

The reality is the actions of the Tait-Moreno council majority is much more about political control than what’s good for Anaheim neighborhoods.

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