ANA-HEIST 2013: Hold onto your wallets, it’s the GardenWalk on Steroids!!!

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“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

– George W. Bush, August 2004.

Bush almost certainly didn’t mean to say that … and yet to many of us, it seemed darkly truthful, almost like a Freudian slip.  Similarly, in the OC’s largest town of Anaheim, it really does seem like the 4-member corporatist Council majority of Kring, Brandman, Eastman and Murray never stop thinking of ways to harm the city and her taxpayers.

I’m here to alert you to their latest scheme to re-sneak through the $158 million GardenWalk Giveaway in a way that they think you won’t notice.  Listen to me.  This is Anaheim’s Paul Revere speaking.

A Quick Recap of the Past 13 months.

Just, briefly.  Skip this section if you already know all this:

On January 24, 2012, without sufficient public notice in what was later judged a Brown Act violation and voided, the Anaheim council majority rushed through a giveaway of $158 million dollars in TOT (transient occupancy tax) to ONE well-connected developer, Bill O’Connell, for his GardenWalk four-star hotel and mall project, in what became known as the “GardenWalk Giveaway.”

As the Mayor, Tom Tait, recently explained to me, if it took effect, or does take effect, O’Connell will STILL have to pay his TOT – since that is a tax approved by the people and it wasn’t possible for the council to simply void it – but each month the city would have to write him a check for 80% of the money back – nearly a million a month, from the cash-strapped city – for a total of an estimated $158 million over 15 years.  And old Bill will never have to pay it back.  What a deal!

The imperious Murray.

This giveaway was opposed by the Mayor and Councilwoman Galloway, as well as the City Manager – the recently fired City Attorney Cristina Talley (REPORTEDLY) warned the majority off the Brown Act violation, but in vain.  There was no stopping what came to be known as “The Giveaway Three” – the imperious Kris Murray, the fanatic Gail Eastman, and the assclown Harry Sidhu (now termed out.)  These three councilmembers are all backed by, and very close to, former Mayor and current lobbyist Curt Pringle who  represents Mr. O’Connell.  This is why you will usually hear Mr. O’Connell described as “well-connected,” and why most of us consider this GardenWalk Giveaway to be something akin to CORRUPTION.

Making the Giveaway even more offensive is the fact that nothing was bargained for in return for the huge subsidy – no guarantee of local jobs, nothing else for the community that could have been (and generally would be) demanded.  Defenders of the deal claim, implausibly, that the project would somehow inject $4 billion into Anaheim’s economy, and, equally implausibly, that the project would be impossible without that $158 million giveaway.

Popular rage over the Giveaway found expression in a grass-roots group, “Take Back Anaheim,” which aimed (among other things) to qualify a ballot initiative for last November, “Let The People Vote,” which would have put any future such TOT giveaways to a vote of the people (i.e., probably killed them – or maybe at least got a lot back in return for the community.)  Due to a couple of unforeseen body blows, which have been amply discussed elsewhere, the signature drive fell short of its goal despite the popularity of the cause.  Still, 15,000 signatures were wheeled in on a dolly, and the Council was requested to do the right thing – as they could have – and put the question on the ballot, as unlikely as that would have been.

I tell this story to help demonstrate how sensitive and terrified the Giveaway Three are of popular outrage:  The July 24 vote on whether to put “Let The People Vote” on the November ballot was prevented by the well-known riot of that night (which was due to other causes) but the reaction of the Giveaway Three was huge relief that they didn’t have to kill “Let the People Vote” in public, as Gail Eastman, with true Carrie’s-mother religious-freakishness, called the riots “God’s will” for allowing the Giveaway to proceed more smoothly and secretly.  (The Mayor called a special meeting anyway for August 8, so they still had to crush the measure with their bare hands in public after all.)

“Feed me,” growled the developer.

A couple months ago, in response to a lawsuit brought by some citizen activists, a Judge ruled that the January 2012 vote was indeed a Brown Act violation, and voided it, meaning that if the Giveaway is to go into effect, it will need to be voted on again, this time with proper public notice.

And it would certainly pass, with corporatist “Democrat” Jordan Brandman taking Sidhu’s place, and (apparent) turncoat Lucille Kring swelling their ranks to four.  Far from giving up, the insatiable O’Connell is clamoring for his giveaway.

But what of the popular outrage, and probable rebirth of Take Back Anaheim and Let the Poeple Vote – especially now that two new THREE-STAR hotels are being built with no TOT subsidies at all

How can they still make this happen for Curt’s client, without risking the mother of all backlashes?

Okay, they’ve got it figured out (but don’t tell anyone!)

THIS is how they’re planning to re-do the GardenWalk Giveaway – and actually make it even worse – without YOU noticing!

Those two hotels that are being built now without any subsidies at all?  Those are THREE-Star Hotels.

But what Anaheim needs is more FOUR-Star Hotels, they will claim, and they will also claim that four-star hotels can not be built without huge subsidies.

So their plan now is to CHANGE THE CITY’S OFFICIAL POLICY regarding hotel development in general – without so much as mentioning “Bill O’Connell” or “GardenWalk,” but in a way that is obviously targeted just for him.  That is, if this policy change goes through the way they will be proposing, Any developer who wants to build a new 4-star hotel will get 80% of his TOT refunded.  This seems to them like such a great idea, such a surefire way to get what they want without the public noticing anything, that, according to my sources on the 7th floor, the Imperious Kris Murray has been stomping around up there, barking at all the staff bureaucrats, “Just get it done!”

Talk about the original GardenWalk Giveaway being a slippery slope, which it was – this scheme is like HALFWAY DOWN that slippery slope.  There would be nothing now preventing other developers from coming along and taking advantage of the policy, until every last parcel of remaining Anaheim land is covered by Four-Star Hotels that pay the city no only negligible Transient Occupancy Tax!  Already-existing three-star, and three-and-a-half-star hotels,who currently do shell out sorely-needed TOT for the city, would be fiscally remiss not to remodel themselves into four-stars so as to reduce their TOT to a negligible level.  To paraphrase Che Guevara, “Create two, three, MANY GardenWalk Giveaways!”

Now, this will still have to be voted on in an open council session, but if past behavior is any prologue, watch for it to be publicly noticed at the last possible moment – generally meaning, on the Friday afternoon before the following Tuesday’s meeting.   I’m telling you to keep your eyes open for that.  And what’ll happen is it’ll probably be put on “consent” calendar;  if you want to object it’ll have to be in public comments;  and then the Mayor – the people’s only remaining ally on the dais – will probably call to remove it from “consent” so it’ll at least have to be discussed, and voted on separately, later in the meeting.  And then, with shit-eating grins, the four corporatists will ram it down our throats.  But at least they’ll know we know what they’re doing.

Still, let’s at least ask the question:

Does Anaheim really need more 4-star hotels?

And also, do Four-Star Hotels uniquely need subsidies that three-star hotels don’t, as the Giveaway Four would have us believe?

I decided to ask my friend Cynthia Ward, who pays close attention to such Anaheim matters, from a responsible fiscally conservative point of view.  And, as expected, her answer was nuanced.

Turns out Anaheim conducted a study back in 2008 which determined that Anaheim DOES lose some very profitable convention business to other towns because our only four-star hotels are Disney properties – the Disney Hotel and the Grand Californian.  (Some sites list the Marriot as four-star but that seems debatable.)  And groups of professionals, like dentists or attorneys,  aren’t necessarily drawn to a hotel swarming with sugar-crazed little urchins.

The prescription suggested by this study was to encourage the creation of new four-star hotels in Anaheim – as a sort of “loss leader” to draw profitable tourism – by refunding to four-star hotels the DIFFERENCE in TOT between the large amount they pay and the smaller amount a three-star hotel pays – essentially charging them the same, lower TOT as a three-star hotel, in return for drawing in those deep-pocketed big spenders to our happy metropolis.

And from what I understand, that prescription – a partial TOT refund – DID become Anaheim policy.  But it still has not resulted in any new four-star establishments being created … basically because building a four-star hotel just doesn’t “pencil out” at this time in history, doesn’t match market needs.

Cynthia points out two things, two little points in regards to that 2008 study: ONE, it was done in 2008.  A lot has changed since then in our economy.  A lot has changed technologically.  These days many groups who WOULD once have had a convention in a four-star hotel save buku time and money by teleconferencing or “Webinarring” instead.  So it’s not at all certain that a new four-star hotel, subsidized by the city, would even draw much business.  Might be a good idea to do a similar study again, opines the Cynth.

And then, most obviously:  The modest, sensible, TOT reduction proposed by the 2008 is NOTHING like the 80% giveaway the council majority is hellbent on giving O’Connell, and now apparently unlimited others.  Let alone with no giveback to the community, and no guarantee of local quality jobs.  So, NO.  In the moral and fiscal arena, this new scam FLOUNDERS.

Oh.. did I say we’ve lost Kring?  Yes, apparently we have.  I suppose that deserves its own subtitle…

Yes, We Seem to Have Lost Kring.

Actually that deserves its own article.  Once I give Lucille a chance to explain exactly why she’s suddenly changed her mind about SO MANY things, including things she ran on a mere three months ago, including promises she made to the Mayor, which led to his endorsement of her, which in turn probably led to her endorsement by the OC GOP and The OC Register.  This should be good…

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for ANA-HEIST 2013 – coming to City Hall some time in March I hear!

La luta continua…

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.