ANAHEIM – Following months of debate over the back-room deal resulting in the handover of $158 million in future Transient Occupancy Tax revenue to spur the development of two luxury hotels, a group of residents has filed a charter amendment initiative to Let the People Vote on such deals in the future.
Yesterday the group, Take Back Anaheim, unveiled the initiative signed by proponents Anaheim resident and small business owner Larry Larsen and Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem Lorri Galloway. The measure requires all future development incentives using TOT funds be approved by the vote of the people.
“If the city is going to give away tax money to corporate developers, all we want is the right to vote on it,” resident and coalition member Larry Larsen said at a news conference outside City Hall.
In January, Anaheim Council members Harry Sidhu, Gail Eastman, and Kris Murray surprised residents by approving a deal with a well-connected corporate hotel developer to divert 15-years worth of future TOT revenues to fund half the costs of building two luxury hotels in the Garden Walk district. The proposal was opposed by city staff. The giveaway of funds had no community benefit provisions, no guarantees that local construction workers would be hired, and no guarantee that prevailing wages would be paid.
Proponents assert that the council majority “made this unprecedented giveaway at a time when the city has cut funding for police and fire services, parks and libraries. These subsidies give away tax dollars that would in the future otherwise fund public safety, infrastructure and public services, such as parks and libraries.”
The giveaway prompted significant community objection that was ignored by the council majority. Mayor Pro Tem Galloway said yesterday; “As a council member, I understand the value of a representative government but when it goes this far wrong, against the will of the people, something needs to be done.”
The Orange County Register in its coverage of yesterday’s press conference quoted Councilwoman Kris Murray who opposes the initiative.
“Elections are expensive, and if every time we need to go before the voters, it could severely limit growth in this city,” Murray said. “It is very competitive (among developers), and this could have them looking elsewhere.”
Voice of OC reported yesterday that after the January 24thvote former mayor Curt Pringle was seen with Councilwoman Murray and one of the hotel developers receiving the TOT giveaway Bill O’Connell at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim the night of the Council vote, celebrating the subsidy deal with dinner and drinks.
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Councilwoman Murray, in what appears to be direct retribution for placing her name on the proposed initiative, placed consideration of appointing a new Mayor Pro Tem to replace Galloway.
The OC Register reports that Jill Kanzler, executive director of Support Our Anaheim Resort, said her organization has more than 10,000 members and will strongly fight the initiative.
“SOAR’s mission is to protect the Anaheim Resort, which generates more than 50 percent of the city’s revenues and helps pay for a majority of its police, fire and other vital services,” she said in a statement. “We oppose this potential initiative, because it negatively impacts Anaheim, by stifling future growth, killing jobs and pushing tax revenues to other cities.”
It’s unclear how giving away future tax revenues to developers is any different than pushing those revenues to other cities.
The initiative proponents have until July 24th to gather approximately 15,000 signatures—10% of Anaheim voters—to place the initiative on the November general election ballot.