ANAHEIM — Last night the Anaheim City Council chamber was packed with opponents and supporters of the $158 million Bed-Tax giveaway to see if the Council would place the deal on the ballot for voters to accept or reject. City Attorney Christina Talley advised the Council that such a referendum could be legally challenged, if it specifically sought to overturn the agreement that had been executed. Talley cited the fact that opponents had the opportunity to challenge the decision by referendum within 30 days of the contract approval, and that for the city to place the matter on the ballot would do an end-run around that process. Mayor Tom Tait then proposed an alternative.
Tait proposed directing the City Attorney to prepare for Council consideration a Charter Amendment preventing the city from using bed taxes as incentives for future development projects and making it retroactive to any developments that have not begun construction.
The proposal followed more than two hours of public comment for and against giving the residents of Anaheim the opportunity to vote on the massive and unprecedented development incentive to hotel developers in the Anaheim Garden Walk district. Supporters argued that the incentive was necessary to compete with development projects in neighboring Garden Grove, that have received development incentives using primarily redevelopment funds. Supporters also pointed to projected future economic benefits and construction jobs.
Opponents pointed out that such agreements in other cities like Los Angeles provided for prevailing wage requirements, and other community benefits negotiated as part of the agreements. No such agreements are included in the Anaheim agreement approved by the city council on January 24th. They argued that the council gave away the store to campaign contributors rather than negotiate a fair deal for the residents.
Council members Eastman and Sidhu took issue with the resident comments criticizing their failure to show up for the special meeting to reconsider their action after community members expressed outrage over the deal in January. Eastman told the audience that she had a personal life outside her life as a council member and she was unwilling to cancel previous plans to hear the residents concerns and reconsider her vote. She added that if voters didn’t like it they could vote her off the council. For Councilman Sidhu’s part, in addition to complaining that he also had other plans, he objected to Mayor Tait and Mayor Pro Tem Galloway utilizing city resources to open up the Council Chambers to hear resident concerns after the special meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum.
Council members Murray, Sidhu, and Eastman argued that the future economic benefits would offset the incentives and the alternative of to vacant lots producing zero economic benefit was a less desirable option for the city.
Councilwoman Kris Murray focused on the possibility that the city could face the risk of litigation if the initiative were placed on the ballot and approved by the voters. She remained unconvinced by assurances from the City Attorney that the direction proposed was to come back with legally defensible language for the initiative.
In the end, the council cabal of Eastman, Sidhu, and Murray voted down Mayor Tait’s proposal to prevent future similar giveaways. If the voters want that opportunity, they will need to gather the signatures and place a Charter amendment proposal on the ballot independent of the City Council.