Anaheim: The Mishegas and the Desmadre. Your January 2013 edition.


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“FEED ME,” grumbled the developer.

1. What Could (Theoretically) Make the GardenWalk Giveaway Worth it?

Affirmatively answering Cynthia Ward’s question of whether or not multi-millionaire developer Bill O’Connell still has his “mystery investor,” the obese and insatiable bon vivant has demanded the re-consideration of the $158 million tax giveaway to his GardenWalk project, which a judge voided last month on purely technical grounds.  So, sure enough, it’ll be up for public discussion and a re-vote at the next Anaheim Council meeting – sure to be a packed and contentious one – January 29 [see update*]

The Giveaway’s many critics frequently point out that, for the price tag of $158 million, at least SOME sorts of concessions for the community should have been pried out of the developer.  So let’s ask, what could the Council, theoretically, demand from O’Connell, in return for this mammoth chunk of corporate welfare, that COULD make it worth it for Anaheim?

I emphasize the word “theoretically” because it still seems highly unlikely, knowing the three members of the Council majority – Kris Murray with her “Masters of the Universe” arrogance, Gail Eastman with her devout belief that God wills this scheme, and Jordan Brandman who was November’s top vote-getter without concealing his enthusiasm for the giveaway – that they’d do anything differently this time, aside from properly notifying the public of the item.  And it seems equally unlikely that the ill-tempered and very entitled O’Connell (whose lobbyist Curt Pringle is of course the friend and patron of those three councilcritters) would agree to anything more than the “nothing” he agreed to last time.

But still.  If the developer AND the Council majority did want to take some wind out of the sails out of this year’s “Take Back Anaheim” renewal, and silence at least SOME of their critics, what might that look like?  Well, speaking to some of the deal’s more prominent detractors (who don’t want to speak on the record, except to say that nobody’s bothered contacting them yet let alone negotiating) we hear:

  1. A guarantee of LOCAL JOBS – job training, good living-wage union jobs, and permanent ones too, not just construction.  Believe it or not, the Council never asked O’Connell to agree to that very basic demand.  Nope, even though, through God-knows-what crooked backroom deal, Kris Murray can snap her fingers and get a hall full of lunkheaded Teamsters in their hardhats bellowing “JOBS,” it’s much more likely Mr. O’Connell would choose to save himself lots of labor expenses by hiring cheap scabs from Arizona and New Mexico instead.  Because he can.
  2. At that huge cost, a portion of Mr. O’Connell’s profits should be re-invested back into community parks, centers and neighborhoods programs to support youth and families.  The Güinida neighborhood adjoining the development has been asking for a community center for years.  Not far from there is the Anna Drive neighborhood and others that are crying out for investment from those who make so much in the area.
  3. And there’s as desperate a need for affordable housing as there ever was, despite the faltering economy of the last few years.

(Brandman.  I’m looking at you, pal.  Do you want to single-handedly surprise everybody, show your independence, behave like a good Democrat, and fluster the insurgents who oppose you?  The list is above.  Come on, I’m betting you won’t do anything because Curt will tell you not to  – make me wrong!)

Then of course, SOME critics of the deal (not all) insist that NOTHING is worth letting one developer have that amount of Anaheim taxpayer money – 100% of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) for fifteen years, for an estimated $158 million.  Hotels can and do get built with no such giveaways, and other hoteliers and developers are going to look at this scheme and rightfully demand something similar for themselves.  (This is where we get into true conservatives’ refrain that government shouldn’t be “picking winners and losers.”)  And the “$4 billion” the development will supposedly pour into Anaheim’s economy is horse shit and fairy dust concocted by hacks on the take like Matt Cunningham.

*Sigh*  It’s really a shame that a city like Anaheim might have to put all its deals with developers to a popular vote.  What an awkward way to have to do business.  But, in a world where politicians considered the interests of the citizens they supposedly represent instead of the special interests who pay them and cavort with them, in a town where a common citizen could afford to run for office without pledging fealty to the local plutocracy, that wouldn’t be necessary.

[Update - as it turns out, we won't know for sure until next Friday if they're gonna agendize this for the 29th - are they wisely backing off, having perhaps seen some scary polling, or are they just being as sneaky as possible yet again?  Stay tuned...]

2. The Police Review Board and the Welter Tantrum

The main item on the agenda at the Jan. 15 meeting was Mayor Tait’s proposal for a civilian review commission to combat police abuse.   First we sat through an interminable report from the City Manager on the different sorts of police review models they have in some other towns, and the “four layers of internal and external oversight” that the Anaheim Police Department already has.  The very patient Adam E explains it all here.  Apparently one of the existing oversight layers is something called the “Office of Independent Review,” which turns out to be a private firm contracted by several different police departments including the LAPD, which Anaheim has used for the past four years.

The direction Mayor Tait seems to want to move is to have civilian oversight over THAT, to oversee the OIR, to make sure THEY’RE doing their job investigating rogue cops.  His direction to the City Manager to “assemble a police oversight proposal” was vague and inconclusive enough that it passed unanimously.  We’ll see later if this gets any teeth, and if the Mayor can keep a majority in favor of it.  As he repeatedly pointed out, no agency is really capable of investigating itself credibly.

The increasingly familiar contingent of the bereaved – that is, Mothers, Siblings and Friends of Young Latino Men Shot in the Back By Anaheim Cops – showed up in force again, naming cops’ names and making accusations of murder during public comments while Chief John Welter sat glowering and grimacing in the front row.   Several of them, having watched the excellent Al Jazeera video below, expressed incredulity at Welter’s claim (at 20:45) to have been surprised and shocked to learn of the militarization of his own police force during the August protests…through pictures in the paper the next day!

Toward the end of public comments, on a sudden impulse, our own firebrand Duane Roberts went to the podium, echoing the other speakers’ skepticism, and claiming that he’s “pretty sure, but not 100% positive” that he saw Chief Welter in plain clothes on a motorcycle supervising the militarized response to the protests on one of those early August Sundays.

Welter, Roberts. This Council Chambers ain’t big enough for both of ‘em.

The confrontation later between Duane and the Chief after the meeting was this week’s talk of the OC blogosphere.  I didn’t witness it – I strolled by a few minutes later – but Adam E and West Anaheim activist Art Castillo were right there.  In short, Welter furiously accused Duane of telling “bullshit lies” about him that Duane should have first run past the Chief to verify.   The trembling Welter had to be pulled away from Duane by his deputy Raul Quezada.

When I got there Duane, who we all know is big, tough and aggressive, seemed rattled and confused by the Chief’s out-of-proportion reaction.  Racking his brain, he theorized that part of Welter’s rage could be explained by an article Duane had written for this blog last August, “Containing a Rebellion,” which reproduced an embarrassing secret APD document and has been seen by 2,273 people so far – one of our biggest stories of last year.

On reflection I think the dozen or so bereaved speakers calling Welter’s officers murderers really got to the Chief, but he wasn’t going to take it out on them – taking it out on the big smartass white guy would be much more acceptable.  My theory and I’m sticking with it.

But, in any case…

WHAT “Bullshit Lies”???

First off, when you say you think you saw something but admit you’re not sure, you may be wrong, but it is by definition NOT a bullshit lie.  Okay, okay, maybe that WASN’T Chief Welter in plain clothes on a motorcycle that Duane saw that day.

But conversely – check this out.  The lamentable Cunningham theorizes about “left-wing agitator” Duane that “I gather – I may be wrong – [that he] has a habit of making such accusations.”  Yes, you are wrong Matt.  The last time Duane mentioned the Chief publicly was at the August 8 meeting where he correctly excoriated him for blaming the July 24 riot on “Occupiers” and “outside agitators,” and called for an apology and/or resignation.  If there was any bullshit lies there, it was sure not on Duane’s part.

Okay, let’s keep things straight, white people.  There was a RIOT, regrettable but understandable, on the night of July 24, when crowds of locals infuriated by the recent police shootings and not being able to get into the Council chambers stormed around breaking windows for a while.  Occupy had nothing to do with that, nor did any “outside agitators.”  After that, for some time, there were weekly, peaceful, Sunday PROTESTS in front of the police station – Occupy WAS part of that, as were nutjobs from across the Southland, from the Communists to the Brown Berets, but WE didn’t break ANYTHING.  And at these peaceful daytime protests millions of dollars were wasted by the Anaheim PD and other local police forces putting on an absurd show of military force.

Welter’s blaming of the July 24 riot on “outside agitators” particularly infuriated Duane, a student of the civil rights era, because that’s what the Southern sheriffs used to say any time blacks rose up against their oppression – that they were put up to it by troublemakers from out of state – denying the oppressed any agency of their own, while casting doubt on the legitimacy of their grievances.

Even Mayor Tait agreed with me last year when I complained to him about Welter’s statement.  “Yes, obviously the Chief was wrong, since nearly everyone who got arrested that night was a local resident.”  Tait excused the Chief for “probably just passing along bad information he was given,” and agreed that at the least Welter should publicly retract the statement.  This has still not happened.

So who tells the “bullshit lies,” Duane Roberts or Chief Welter?

Old deputy Hunter, new deputy Quezada.

There’s that, and then there’s his incredible statement we heard in the video above, that he had no idea his own officers were spending August Sundays driving armored vehicles through the poor neighborhoods dressed in SWAT gear and toting fully automatic weapons.   I’m sorry, it strains belief that a police force could launch such a huge, expensive, and embarrassing operation, and the Chief only find out the next day in the papers.  If he’s not bullshit lying, then what kind of Chief has he been?  It’s a little convenient now to blame EVERYTHING on his now-retired Deputy Craig Hunter (with his decades-long record of brutality against Latino youth, and hopefully-forgotten dreams of becoming Orange County’s next Caesar Sheriff.)

And full circle:  If Welter, assuming he’s not a “bullshit liar,” just blandly passes along reports his subordinates hand him about who caused a riot, and learns about his own force’s theatrical escapades in the next day’s paper, how can we really believe his assurances about investigating abuses, keeping his rogue officers in line, and secretly disciplining those who deserve it?   He just seems absent.  At most, a front man, an apologist attempting damage control.

Hence, again, the need for civilian oversight of the APD, and maybe a new, hands-on chief.

I’m told that Chief Welter has done a lot of good things in the years he’s led the Anaheim Police Department, and he seems to still have the trust of Mayor Tait and the Council.  But damn, he looks exhausted and miserable.  Perhaps it’s time for him to take his well-earned pension and retire, possibly leaving the job to his capable deputy Quezada – a younger, Latino Chief for a young Latino town.

3. The Committee to Kill District Elections

Then there’s the third leg of me and the Mayor’s three-point plan for reform:  switching Anaheim to a system of district elections for Council, while getting out of the expensive and unwinnable districting lawsuit.  I can’t say if there’s any progress behind the scenes settling the suit, but what I CAN give is Exhibit 293 of the Council majority’s shamelessness.

Remember all the headlines on the morning of August 8, telling us that Disney had dramatically come out in favor of districting?  Here’s the second paragraph of Disney’s statement:

“We believe that city leadership should reflect the diversity of its entire population.  We support a city council elected from districts and encourage the City of Anaheim to move from at-large elections to district voting.  This shift will allow each valued neighborhood to be represented by a local council member of their choosing.  Though there are many ways to accomplish this change, we believe the most responsive way would be to place a charter amendment switching to district elections on an upcoming ballot for the voters of Anaheim to consider.”

Nice stuff, and exactly what Mayor Tait was attempting to accomplish that very night.  Sounds really supportive, doesn’t it?  But Disney wasn’t done with their prescriptions for Anaheim.  Their statement continued:

“At the same time, the city could begin an open and transparent, citywide dialogue with an independent, unbiased and equitably distributed group of Anaheim residents and employers to determine the number of seats, district boundaries, and a new governance structure for the city – one that fairly represents residents in every Anaheim neighborhood.”

Ha!  When I saw that paragraph, I cynically and correctly guessed what was up – “Districting, democracy and diversity are beautiful things … but before we do anything rash we need to study and discuss it for a long time.”  (Who knows when “an upcoming ballot” could be – 2016?  2020?)  And sure enough, that night Disney’s three loyal councilmembers shot down Tait’s proposal to put districting on the November 2012 ballot, while setting up a committee to be stacked with their appointees, to decide WHETHER OR NOT to eventually put the question to the voters.

And why are we not surprised at how that committee’s deliberations are turning out?  The four appointees of reformers Mayor Tait and Lorri Galloway are pushing for districting, while the SIX appointees the council corporatists chose … are hemming and hawing, finding reasons that Anaheim DOESN’T need the reform.  Naturally these appointees are behaving as their patrons wish them to, which is in turn what Disney, SOAR and Pringle want – which, despite all their nice liberal language of diversity and democracy, is to hang on to their power as long as possible.

My friend Bill Dalati, one of Tait’s appointees on the committee and a districting enthusiast, is optimistic.  “It’s clear – something will get done.  It’s necessary.  We can’t win that lawsuit.  I know the committee will come around to backing districting.”  Really?  Just because it’s necessary?  Even though you’ve got a majority stacked against you?  Action on climate change is necessary too.  Single payer healthcare is really necessary.  Stronger gun control is really necessary.  But still none of those things happen because the people who are making so much money off them not happening are a little smarter than the rest of us.

If we leave things up to the Council and its committee, Anaheim will never have district elections.  This needs to be put on the ballot by a grassroots Take Back Anaheim-like coalition, possibly along with “Let the People Vote.”  It seems like it should happen as soon as possible, I would move up there to help.  But then some say it’s too dangerous to put such important measures onto a low-turnout special election ballot.  Meaning, we’d have to wait till … November 2013?  14? 16?  And keep things the corrupt way they are now for four more years?  Don’t you sometimes feel like Jesus when he said “I have come to light a fire on this world – how I wish it were already burning!”  (Luke 12:49)


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.