Today marks one of the most significant City Council meetings to be held in Anaheim since we recalled the KKK members off our Council in the 1920s. You could not pay me to be Mayor Tom Tait today, and yet, many of us are glad it is he that sits in the center seat on that raised platform, Chairing tonight’s meeting. Tom Tait has become Anaheim’s symbol for “Keep Calm and Carry On,’ southern California style.
On tonight’s agenda, which is a Special Meeting called on an otherwise non-Council meeting date, the City Council, with Councilmember Gail Eastman scheduled to call in from Michigan) will consider two contentious agenda items, previously postponed when “civil unrest” disrupted the Council meeting on July 24th.
A possible ballot initiative to allow Anaheim residents to vote on future subsidies of Resort hotels using TOT revenues, will be the first item considered for vote.
The second decision is whether or not to place on the ballot an opportunity for voters to change the City’s Charter to create Council Districts, dividing the city into six distinct areas, each with its own Councilmember responsible to, and elected by, the residents of that District or Ward.
As if these two items were not enough to pack a Council meeting, the business will take place following public comments to allow residents to share their views on community tensions and violence, following recent Police shootings.
In light of the expected crowd, the meeting has been moved from the usual Council Chambers at City Hall (with a capacity of roughly 200) to the Cook Auditorium at Anaheim High School, where at least 1,000 might be comfortably seated. It stands to reason that the City needed a larger venue, centrally located for the audience expected to speak from the Anna Drive area, and something that was not already booked with previous events. But those of us with a passion for history cringe at the idea of folks wearing bandanas over their faces storming into a Depression-era historic landmark when they have shown little signs of respect for property to date. We can only hope that a better crowd attends tonight’s meeting.
The surrounding neighborhood is already bracing for impact, with storefronts being boarded up, and private security hired along Lincoln, by business owners reluctant to join others further east. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, the Mayor and Council have no choice but to continue the meeting previously interrupted, take as many precautions for security as possible, and we all hold our collective breath until it is over. (Perhaps if we keep Lorri Galloway in her seat where she belongs instead of out front cheering on protesters we can maintain some level of dignity.)
As far as anticipating votes tonight, division is the name of the game.
The TOT Initiative is not expected to pass. The signature gatherers did not collect enough signatures for the ballot, and there is no legal obligation to let them slip this in. Yes, I know there are plenty of reasons for the shortfall, ranging from the City Clerk’s miscommunication of the requirements (to be fair she is reported to have told the Take Back Anaheim group to hire a lawyer to advise them, not her fault they didn’t!) to an alleged “deal” cut between Nick Berardino’s OCEA and Carrie Nocella/Todd Ament somehow representing the City’s negotiating team. While I have heard from plenty of people claiming to be close to that negotiation who insist a deal was made, and the timing certainly appears about as suspect as an email from an African Prime Minister, nobody can provide proof that the private sector and labor unions cut a deal. Even if proven, the existence of a deal between Berardino and the business community would still only negate the funding for Galloway’s Take Back Anaheim Initiative, but would not impact whether the City had a legal obligation to place it on the ballot. One would have to assume that further funding might have gained the required additional signatures, but there is no way to prove the allegation. That the Council is willing to consider putting this on the ballot at all is a courtesy. Frankly, I do not see that Initiative being successful even if it did make it to the voters, Galloway seems unable to galvanize the public into any cohesive force for positive change. Look for that one to lose, by a 3-2 vote, if not 4-1.
The District issue has become the most divisive of them all, and with George Kalogridis taking an official position on behalf of Disney in favor of the Districts, we have a whole new ballgame. Kris Murray has been the most vocal Council opponent arguing against putting the issue on a ballot. Sidhu and Eastman have been rather quiet, Sidhu has no horse in this race as he is termed out, (and his political career is over) and Councilmember Eastman typically waits until the last minute when she has heard staff input and public comments before making up her mind, a style she developed while serving on Planning Commission. Galloway and Tait have come out in favor, which Tait’s political enemies claim is further proof of an unholy alliance between the two. In reality they are in favor of the issue for completely opposite reasons. Galloway appears to be pandering to the same groups she always plays to, claiming to give a voice to the disenfranchised in impoverished neighborhoods. While interviewing residents in some of those areas following the recent protests, many of those folks have Lorri’s number-some have accused her of exploiting them when the TV cameras are running, without fostering any real, lasting change for their lives.
Tait has made it clear that he wants to be sure that residents have a say in how they are to be governed, and the best way to do that is to put in on a ballot and let people vote. I think he may also be trying to avoid paying out on a messy lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, which Anaheim is pretty much guaranteed to lose. As Rod Pacheco points out in the California City News “Since California enacted the Voting Rights Act, lawsuits have been numerous and against all types of subdivisions. The plaintiffs have won every time, and costs have been significant.”
With $15 million dollars and legal fees on both sides paid by the loser, and a precedent of not a single school district or municipality ever winning against the ACLU in a battle over the California Voting Rights Act, I have to agree. While I detest the idea of Council Districts and the tit-for-tat deal making sure to come with fiefdoms, I detest even more the idea of being forced into them AND writing a check for tens of millions, payable to the ACLU. Should voters choose to reject Districts at the polls, then the City will have a mandate to fight, and we will take our chances with that. But the only way to really know what the people of Anaheim want is to put it on the ballot and let them vote.
Sadly, some leaders are convinced they know best, pushing instead for a citizens group to “study” the issue. But a focus group does not appear to stop the clock ticking on that ACLU lawsuit. It is a question I intend to ask the City Attorney tonight. The only benefit I can see to a focus group is stalling long enough for a few incumbents to be re-elected before the new rules take effect and force Anaheim Hills candidates to compete against each other for smaller slices of the same pie, rather than running roughshod over the entire City with copious amounts of Chamber-raised money. But then, that is just me.
The big “IF” in this debate is covered in today’s OC Register announcement of Disney taking an official position in support of Districts. This is rare in that while Disney likes to write checks to their favorite candidates (or at least the candidates most likely to win based on polling numbers) it is rare for Disney to take sides in a City-wide issue, in fact they have not done so since 2007-2008 when they sued over the SunCal development. That leaves the Disney-Chamber-SOAR “jobs team” leaders potentially working against the stated desires of Disney. I know a few staffers on both sides of the 5 freeway who are likely slugging bottles of Maalox at their desks today.
So tonight Anaheim will be hosting the circus, which is odd since Ringling Brothers left town last week. All we can do is sit back and watch the votes (and the personalities behind them) play out in an old historic theatre, where hopefully guests will be respectful of the 90-year-old environs, as well as the innocent nearby homeowners and small businesses that had nothing to do with the issues that activists are angry about.
I am off to pick an outfit that goes with a Kevlar vest. I think stiletto heels may not be my wisest choice for tonight.