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APD patchI haven’t posted anything in many, many months. Blogging wasn’t really in my wheelhouse.

However, a friend sent me this op-ed published by Mayor Tom Tait several days ago in the Orange County Register. It struck a nerve with me. Angered me, truth be told; and I feel it is an issue worth discussing.

Mayor Tom Tait write an opinion column touting public safety as his number one priority. However, it appeared his real purpose was re-packaging personal initiatives like “Hi Neighbor” as public safety programs. The mayor said relatively little about actual law enforcement and taking criminals off the street other than a boilerplate “I have been tremendously proud of our Anaheim Police Department in their efforts to meet the public safety needs of our growing, diverse and complex city,” offered in an almost check-the-box way.

The gap between those words and his actions as mayor disturbs me. How can Mayor Tait say he is proud of Anaheim police officers and at the same time embrace activists who routinely stand in front of him at council meetings to denounce those officers as thugs, racists and murderers? Tait doesn’t respond by telling these speakers of his pride in the Anaheim police department. On the contrary, at a recent council meeting marked by protesters saying “f— the police,”  Mayor Tait went out of his way to personally assure them the Anaheim police would not seek them out in retaliation for their hateful rants. How can Tom Tait tell Anaheim residents he’s proud of their police if he thinks it’s necessary to promise those same police won’t search out critics for pay-back? If I were one of the Anaheim police officers in the council chamber, I’d feel as though my mayor is tacitly agreeing with the protesters that I’m dangerous. 

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Talking to neighbors and other Anaheimers gives me an idea of how informed and misinformed people are about the negotiations between the Angels and Anaheim. I think this is in large part due to how Mayor Tait and his allies have worked to drive a message that it is a bad deal for Anaheim taxpayers, a message that has made its way into local media coverage (the Voice of OC is probably the worst). That’s a strange message since there is no deal yet.

I have found that through fact-based conversation with others that they tend to come around to the view that the principles of the negotiation MOU are fair and should result in a good deal for the city.

One factoid being put forward by reactionary critics is that the city is “giving away” land that is worth “billions.”

if this land if so valuable, then why has it sat there unused and undeveloped, under the eyes of City Hall, for nearly twenty years (Mayor Tom Tait was on the City Council for ten of those years).  At hand are, I believe, 120 acres. The bulk of this land is encumbered by parking agreements with Angels, office buildings, Amtrak, and the City National Grove.  Let’s factor out the existing stadium, which leaves probably 100 acres and value it at approximately $1.5 million an acre.

Granted, that is ballpark (pardon the pun) since a more exact valuation is difficult given the encumbrances (which are ignored by critics who talk as if development could begin tomorrow).  Even so, that puts the value at around $150 million.  If the city ultimately transfers developments rights to Arte Moreno in a lease agreement, that releases the city from its annual $600,000 stadium maintenance obligation. If Mr Moreno agrees to put $150 million into the stadium, the city comes out ahead just in that respect.

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: For reasons I don’t understand, when a reader clicks on the title of a post to read the full post, the byline disappears, which often leaves readers confused as to the authorship of the post. To allieviate that confusion, going forward I will insert an editor’s note at the beginning of posts not written by yours truly to clarify the authorship. In this case, it is Anaheimocrat.]

Something seemed off when I read yesterday’s OC Register editorial on the GardenWalk project (which the editorial writer mistakenly believed to be on tomorrow’s council agenda), so I searched out last year’s OCR editorial opposing the agreement and compared the two.

In the February 7, 2012 editorial, the Register blasted the TOT rebate as “an outright subsidy;” that criticism was nowhere to be seen yesterday, but instead commends the Anaheim City Council for seeking a policy “growth and economic development for the city.”

The editorial up-dated its call for applying this tax incentive evenly. I say updated because last year the OCR’s proposed alternative was lowering the TOT tax for all Anaheim hotels, which also showed the writer didn’t really understand the policy he was criticizing. The writer said the GardenWalk TOT rebate agreement was unfair to existing Anaheim hotels.

A year later, the OCR editorial page is instead recommending the City Council adopt a uniform tax rebate policy for new developments, not just hotels. Of course, this would exclude existing hotels, which an about-face from last year when the OCR denounced the GardenWalk agreement partly on those grounds that existing hotels didn’t get the same subsidy.

The OC Register’s claim that the GardenWalk deal is favoritism is still doesn’t reconcile with the facts.

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Some of my Republican friends argue with me over my support for the GardenWalk project TOT rebate, pointing out that it isn’t free market economics and that government shouldn’t subsidize a business enterprise.

My response is that they’re right, but Anaheim isn’t working in a free market. I recognize that state government has gone too far on the regulation and taxation of business activity, and Anaheim itself is bordered by a city that has no compunctions about luring four-star hotels with not only TOT rebates, but free land.

Last week, the Garden Grove City Council unanimously voted to give a luxury hotel developer five-acres of city-owned land on Harbor Boulevard , adjacent to the Resort District. The council also voted to rebate back to the developer millions in TOT generated by the project for up to 20 years.

At the same meeting, the council unanimously approved a water park resort-and-hotel project, with the city putting up the land and issuing $42 million in revenue bonds to finance it.

Where was the outrage from Adam Elmahrek of the Voice of OC, or the OC Register editorial writers?

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In January, I wrote of my disappointment with Voice of OC reporting on Anaheim. I had high hopes for the Voice when is started. However, I have reluctantly concluded reporter Adam Elmahrek has a definite agenda that colors his decisions about what stories to cover and how those stories are slanted. Some players in Anaheim politics are subjected to intense and often unfair scrutiny, the actions of others are ignored, and context is often lacking.

Last month, he wrote a story about an e-mail he hadn’t seen, and impugned the integrity of two prominent public servants with sterling reputations. Elmahrek all but accused them of defrauding the federal government, but has yet to provide any evidence other than one basically innocuous e-mail. His allegations float out there on the Internet, uncorrected.

Elmahrek’s latest article is another story about nothing. He reports on a contract Jordan Brandman had to perform a facility needs assessment for the Orange County Clerk-Recorder’s office, after he had left that office but prior to being elected to the Anaheim City Council.

I’ve noticed a pattern to Elmahrek’s reporting: he includes a lot of extraneous and irrelevant information about the subject of his story, which has the cumulative effect of making him or her seem sinister or not-above-board. The story on Jordan is true to that pattern, and after clearing away all that editorial underbrush, here is what Elmahrek has: he isn’t sure as to the status of the needs assessment, or whether Jordan was even paid.

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oc-register-logoI’d like to share some more thoughts about last week’s OC Register editorial, especially the worrying about “hastily” putting the GardenWalk agreement on the agenda and concern that “other interested parties deserve more notice.”

The GardenWalk agreement isn’t exactly being rushed back to the City Council. The judge’s decision voiding the council’s January 2012 approval came out on December 10. One month later, developer Bill O’Connell, Sr. notified the city he would the agreement to be placed on the January 29 council agenda. The agreement is not on tomorrow’s agenda, as it turns out.

The Register’s concern is misplaced. Anyone tuned into to Anaheim politics knows the anti-GardenWalk forces like OCCORD and Los Amigos have been busy organizing for some time now in anticipation of another council vote on the agreement. It’s well-known among insiders that Mayor Tait has on several occasions said the anti-GardenWalk people will be out in force.  The Register’s worrying about project opponents having a chance to speak shows how out of touch the editorial writers are with Anaheim politics.

And it is hard not to notice the editorial board only seems concerned that opponents of the agreement have the opportunity to have their say. The convention wisdom in Anaheim political circles is that Brian Calle, the editorial page director, is good friends with Mayor Tait and is using the Register editorial page to support the mayor’s political agenda. That would at least explains why the libertarian paper went all-in in support the support the OCEA’s candidate for city council, John Leos.

Rendering of GardenWalk hotels.

Rendering of GardenWalk hotels.

I read a little editorial on the GardenWalk hotel project in this morning, which was interesting in several ways.

The paper re-stated its opposition to the subsidy agreement, which the paper says local developer Bill O’Connell would like to have on the January 29 council agenda. The editorial even urges pushing back the hearing date to give opponents more time to organize!

In case any Register editorial writers read this blog, I’d like to remind them of their own criteria from their their December 16 editorial:

  • Business incentives are permissible if the economic return exceeds the cost to taxpayers
  • The public is fully informed of these incentives and has ample opportunity express their opinions on them.

I re-phrased these criteria somewhat, but they are practically word-for-word from the editorial. They are the OC Register’s criteria, not mine.

I have supported this agreement from the beginning as something that will generate job, economic growth and increased city revenues in the long-run. Even those who oppose subsidies or “picking winners and losers”  on principle can admit that the economic return of the GardenWalk agreement exceeds the cost to taxpayers. I’d go further and argue there is no cost to taxpayers because if this agreement isn’t approved, the GardenWalk project dies and there won’t be any TOT revenue to share. If it is approved, the GardenWalk TOT being shared is revenue that hadn’t been going into city coffers and so nothing is being “taken.” Furthermore, a permanent, long-term stream of additional TOT revenue will be established.

So, the GardenWalk agreement satisfies the OC Register’s first criterion. As for the second, so serious person can say the public hasn’t been fully informed about the agreement. It has been heavily covered in the media for a year. The county employee union funded an anti-GardenWalk referendum led by Councilmember Lorri Galloway and Mayor Tom Tait, and it was one of the leading issues in the city council election. Any Anaheim resident who hasn’t paid attention to GardenWalk issue yet, never will.

The OC Register laid down clear criteria for what makes for permissible city business incentives. Objectively speaking, the Garden Walk agreement meets those criteria. It remains to be seen whether the OC Register editorial board will adhere to its own criteria.

Another part of the editorial caught my eye:

Mr. O’Connell would like the matter considered again at the Council’s Jan. 29 meeting, Mayor Tom Tait told us.

It’s disappointing that the Mayor is leaking to media about an applicant before his project is even agendized and the public notified about it. Mayor Tait has been a strong opponent of the project, but what kind of message does this send to anyone seeking city approval of a project? If the mayor or a councilmember don’t like you project, he or she will leak it to the media in order to poison the well and kill your project before you’ve had the opportunity for a fair public hearing? I’m sure that wasn’t Mayor Tait’s intent, but intended or not, that is the effect.

Intelligent people can and should be able to disagree on this issue in a spirit of good will, and if the City Council does approve the GardenWalk agreement (again), I hope opponents will allow the city to move and not continue dividing us.

I had high hopes for the Voice of OC when it launched a couple of years ago, but its coverage of Anaheim in general and GardenWalk in particular has been very biased. The Voice is almost a surrogate for the agenda of people and organizations like Dr. Jose Moreno, OCCORD and Los Amigos.

Take, for example, this paragraph from today’s Voice story on GardenWalk:

“The City Council first granted the subsidy to O’Connell’s partnership, GardenWalk Hotel I, in January 2012. The 3-2 vote revealed a spit on both the City Council and in the community, with neighborhood activists and good-government advocates pitted against a group of construction trade unions and influential business lobbyists closely linked to O’Connell.”

So if anyone who opposes this project is a benevolent “neighborhood activist” and a “good-government advocate,” but supporters are “construction trade unionists” and “influential business lobbyists.”

How incredibly biased and inaccurate. How unfair to individuals like myself who support this project, and aren’t unionists or “iinfluential business lobbyists,” but think the facts show GardenWalk to be a good deal for Anaheim.

The agreement with GardeWalk is good government. It is sound, forward-thinking economic development policy. It will make possible the development of a four-star hotel that will create thousands of jobs, strengthen the Resort Area’s competitive position as a tourist and convention destination, and will increase the city’s long-term TOT revenues.

The city is putting no cash into this deal. The 80% share comes from TOT revenues that don’t currently exist and will only come into existence if the project is built. There is no “giveaway.”

It is particularly disappointing to watch the vilification of Bill O’Connell, a wonderful man who has been a pillar of the Anaheim community for many years. This man, who has given back to the community for many years, is being publicly attacked and torn don by people and groups who are takers and constantly trying to extract “community benefits” from business and government.

There are many of us in the city who have no direct stake in this project but want the City Council to re-affirm its support and move the city forward on a path of continued economic growth and development.

I’d like to provide a counter-point to Matt Cunningham’s criticism of the new garage sale ordinance. Local governments have a great deal of leeway in dealing with public nuisances and upholding community standards. Enacting a limitation on outdoor neighborhood activities like garage sales, the Anaheim City Council acted within its legitimate powers.

The purpose of the ordinance isn’t to limit the freedom of residents. It doesn’t,  in my opinion, limit anyone’s freedom in a meaningful way. It is a response to concerns expressed by residents over those who are running thrift stores on their lawns. They are eyesores and can impact property values. It’s a case of their rights colliding with the rights of their neighbors, and finding a middle ground that accommodates both. The fact that this divided council approved it unanimously says a lot.

This council or future councils are free to make adjustments in the ordinance as experience and circumstances, informed by feedback from residents and enforcement officers, dictate. Let’s save the homilies on liberty for issues where that is really what is at stake.

I’ve been informed that Mayor Tait, at last night’s City Selection Committee meeting, nominated his council colleague Gail Eastman to the OCTA Board of Directors, and that she was handily elected.

Those of us who very much want to see an end to the destructive divisions on the Anaheim City Council are relieved and encouraged by Mayor Tait’s extending this big olive branch. It is a signal that the councilmembers who have been at loggerheads, often bitterly, can work together in the common interest of the city. This  is good for the council and the city.

Hopefully, this will become more typical of how the councilmembers operate in the future.

[Editor’s note: for some reason, WordPress.com – which powers this blog — isn’t displaying author’s names on their posts. So we’ll do it the old-fashioned way here with Anaheim Blog’s new contributor, “Anaheimocrat,” and have him insert a byline until this wrinkle is smoothed out. – MC]

By Anaheimocrat.

I’m pleased to be a contributor to this blog, which is a new experience for me. My politics are middle-of the-road, but have been leaning more to the right in recent years. I’m using the name “Anaheimocrat” because I look at the candidate, rather than the party he or she belongs to, and what they will do for Anaheim. Anaheim is a wonderful place to live. I feel like Anaheim arrived at some cross-roads, and the choices we make will really shape what kind of city this is, and not necessarily for the best. I believe this election is one of those cross-roads.

I’ve learned that Supervisor Shawn Nelson has endorsed John Leos for city council. For me, that is not a reassuring endorsement. Nelson represents the Anaheim flatlands as the 4th District Supervisor, but he has not been a friend to the city. Since taking office, he has done everything he can to kill the city’s top infrastructure project, the ARTIC project. ARTIC is a long-term investment in the future of Anaheim that will support economic and population expansion for years to come, and will help maintain Anaheim as Orange County’s center of gravity.

From what I have learned, Supervisor Nelson has done everything in his power as a member of the OCTA Board of Directors to pull the plug on ARTIC and shift those resources to his home town of Fullerton.

And since Leos is so closely entwined with the county and Anaheim employees unions, endorsing him must have been a real political leap for Nelson, who has been a vocal critic of public employee unions.

When an Anaheim council candidate is endorsed by someone who has been so adversarial to Anaheim, it is cause to be suspicious of the council candidate’s suitability to govern Anaheim. That goes double when Nelson has to risk undermining the anti-public employee union credentials he’s worked hard to build up, by backing someone who has been as involved in OCEA politics as Leos.

John Leos comes off as a sincere man, if a bit opportunistic and too union-oriented for my tastes. But if Leos is able to attract the endorsement of our anti-Anaheim supervisor, it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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