“Welcoming Anaheim”: Will Anaheim Institutionalize Identity Politics?

Councilman Jose F. Moreno’s day job is associate professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Long Beach. The left-wing politician is a long-time practitioner of identity politics and during the 2016 campaign, he supported Sanctuary City status for Anaheim when asked about it at a progressive candidates forum.

He’s been backpedaling on it since being sworn in, pushing a more anodyne sounding “Welcoming Anaheim” initiative – the policy fruits of which the Anaheim City Council will consider tonight.

The implementing resolution and a list of “ideas and recommendations” can be found here.

Although a number of the recommendations are relatively harmless or are redundant to existing city programs, as a whole Welcome Anaheim is designed to institutionalize multiculturalism and identity politics in Anaheim city government. The descriptions are vague; the devil is always in the details of implementation.

Institutionalizing Identity Politics
The resolution recommends creation of a specific city staff position which would be “responsible for overseeing efforts on immigrant integration and coordination among local stakeholders and partners.

This raises some questions one hopes will be asked at tonight’s council meeting:

Why should the City of Anaheim – or any local government, for that matter – be in the business of “immigrant integration”? Is it wise for the city to create a special position dedicated to serving only a particular segment of city residents based on their immigration status?  This is the institutionalization of identity politics in City Hall. Shouldn’t city government treat all residents the same?

If created, does anyone believe the creation of this immigrant services coordinator position won’t be followed by more positions and resources? Moreno has repeatedly stated his belief that the city should hire more employees, and this pet project will almost certainly grow in scope with time.

And while the resolution doesn’t identify the “local stakeholders and partners” with whom the immigrant integration coordinator would coordinate, any observer of Anaheim politics can guess who they would be: OCCORD, OCCCO, CLUE, the AnaheimBROS, UNITE-HERE, the OC Central Labor Council.  This would make Anaheim City Hall their official partner, allowing them and other elements of their political coalition to tap into the resources and reach of city government to advance their goal of re-shaping Anaheim into a progressive bastion.

The Political Subtext of Welcoming Anaheim Recommendations
The Welcoming Anaheim agenda item is accompanied by a laundry list of “ideas and recommendations” – some redundant, others with a camouflaged political subtext.

  • Create a new resident “Welcome Kit” that provides basic introductory information about Anaheim and ways in which residents can find resources and sign up for critical city services

Anaheim already has such a program. It’s called Hi Neighbor and was one of Mayor Tom Tait’s first initiatives, launched during his 2011 State of the City speech.  Such redundancy is at odds with another 2011 Tait initiative, the Regulatory Reform Task Force charged with streamlining city government and eliminating such duplication.  Why implement this recommendation is Hi Neighbor is already effective in achieving the same end. And if isn’t, then why create a duplicate program that serves Anaheim residents who happen to be immigrants?

  • Work with community partners and stakeholders on providing citizenship & resource fairs in city facilities throughout the year;

Why? Non-governmental organizations such as labor unions, political parties and other political and community organizations are continually holding citizenship fairs throughout the year. OCCORD, for example, has an annual budget of nearly $800,000 and professional staff dedicated to organizing citizenship fairs. Councilman Moreno complains city staff are stretched to thin: why stretch them thinner by engaging them in an area that is more appropriately the province of private organizations, who already have it well in hand.

  • Provide ESL naturalization courses in coordination with the North Orange County School of Continuing Education (publicized in the Anaheim Community Services Department magazine and the Anaheim magazine)

Again – why is this the responsibility of city government?

  • Work in conjunction with stakeholder groups and other nonprofits on the development of a survey in order to assess the needs of new residents and to gain feedback on ways in which the City of Anaheim can better serve our new residents

Why ask only “new residents” how the City of Anaheim can better serve them? Do they have more of less need of adequate police protection, well-maintained roads, clean parks and safe neighborhoods than “old residents”?

  • Join other community stakeholders in creating a citywide multicultural event celebrating the city’s diversity

Again: why should this be the responsibility of the City of Anaheim? For Pete’s sake, the Tait/Moreno majority yanked city funding for the annual Fourth of July festivities – a unifying event celebrating the universal, eternal principles of America’s founding – but they want to City Hall to help organize an identity politics festival?

  • Showcase films/performances that are culturally relevant at the Pearson Park Amphitheater Nights.

What do Councilman Moreno and his allies mean by “culturally relevant” and who decides what is and what is not “culturally relevant”?  Are concerts in the parks to be subjected to an identity politics litmus test? If Councilman Moreno’s rhetorical record and social media profile are reliable guides to his views on “culturally relevancy,” this could be cause for concern:

  • Creation of a Neighborhood Ambassadors Program to develop community leadership through the existing Neighborhood Academy. Neighborhood Ambassadors could be utilized to welcome new residents into our neighborhoods as well as invite new residents to participate in the Neighborhood Academy

A cynic would see this as a Trojan Horse to create a city-sponsored network of progressive activists conducting community organizing activities under the rubric of city government – and the nature of Anaheim politics usually vindicates cynicism.  It certainly a good way for the “Ambassadors” to use the imprimatur of the city to identity potential political supporters.

  • Creation of a new online city resource portal that can be tailored towards new residents

Huh? Are we supposed to believe immigrants use websites differently than non-immigrants?

Create a new page on the city’s website dedicated to detailing Anaheim’s demographic information

Apparently, no one associated with the Welcoming Anaheim task force is aware such a page already exists.

  • Create a new program within the Clerk’s Office introducing new residents to their city government and the democratic process to ensure they have access to all parts of government

Again: how does this work and why is it necessary? Do Welcoming Anaheim proponents believe immigrant residents incapable to navigating the city website – including the City Clerk’s section, the Transparency section and other sections pertinent to accessing their city government? Is this just a manifestation of the progressive impulse to always respond to anything with a new program?

  • Partner with the school districts to supplement their efforts on providing a welcoming environment to new residents

Again: why? The Anaheim Union High School District and the Anaheim Elementary School District, for example, hold frequent public forums for immigrant parents, especially of late. Why should the City of Anaheim extend itself into an area that is outside its ordinary purview and already being well-handled by other organizations. Because it can? Because it makes the authors of the Welcoming Anaheim feel goods about themselves and set them up for hosannas?

  • Provide workshops on starting a business in Anaheim in coordination with local business groups

Finally, a good idea: as long as it is geared to all Anaheim residents and anyone interested in doing business in the city – regardless of their immigration status.

Furthermore, and if the city is going to work with local business groups, it should work with all business groups – not just those politically favored by the Tait-Moreno majority (i.e. the Anaheim Small Business Organization). It’s important that the city not be in the business of “picking winners and losers,” after all.

Opening Bid In Infecting Anaheim City Hall With Identity Politics
Taken together, it’s fairly obvious Welcoming Anaheim is the opening bid in institutionalizing identity politics in Anaheim city government.  If this were merely about making immigrants feel “welcome,” this initiative would be unnecessary. The Hi Neighbor and City of Kindness programs apply to everyone, immigrant and native-born alike. If Mayor Tait and Councilman Moreno believe a special welcoming program targeting immigrants is necessary, that’s a tacit admission that Hi Neighbor and City of Kindness are failures.

But this is about more than that. Mayor Tait may or may not buy wholeheartedly into Moreno’s divisive brand of multiculturalism and identity politics. But Tait is only mayor for a little more than 12 months. Moreno and his allies are on a mission, and have hesitancy using public institutions to transmit their political values. The wholehearted support he and his political allies give to extending Ethnic Studies classes as far down as middle school is just one example.

“Welcoming Anaheim” is being set up as a similar vehicle. As Mayor Tait has rightly observed, legal immigration is beneficial for America, and boosts economic growth. Immigrants bring drive and energy to work, business formation and investment – and they’re probably more likely to overcome regulatory barriers than native-born Americans due to that drive and energy.

Welcoming Anaheim isn’t necessary to help immigrants succeed, but it more likely to be divisive than unifying, especially in this era of increasingly polarized and bitter politics. It ought to be rejected.

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