James Vanderbilt Should Reconsider* the 2/3 Tax Vote Measure, Part 1: Transcripts

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Vanderbilt, Part 1 cover

1. Why This Is an Open Letter

James Vanderbilt takes government transparency more seriously than I think any other politician I know.  Maybe that applies only to people involved in litigation against the City, but I don’t think so.  I think that I’ve had exactly one email conversation with him (and that was by proxy) and, if memory serves, zero phone calls and maybe three conversations total.  I asked a mutual friend to email him an invitation to an event being held by the Anaheim non-profit serving mentally challenged adults.  His reply was to send any invitation to him to his City account; this would render a public record.  That’s really hard-core devotion to transparency!

All of that is by way of explaining why I’m writing him what is essentially an open letter about what happened at the Council meeting two weeks ago and the problems it creates.  I don’t know that he’d even read an email about a current issue that was sent only to him. But I do suspect that he might read this and its follow-ups, given that they are publicly available — especially if people email what I presume is his aide’s city account at sray@anaheim.net asking him to do so.  That’s up to you.  (Actually, Parts 2 and 3 will be more important than this Part 1.)

2. Part 2 Will Be About This Part of the April 7 Meeting Transcript

This was Vanderbilt’s statement to the Council regarding how he would vote on an amended version of the proposal that Councilwoman Kris Murray called the “Anaheim Taxpayers Protection Act” (“ATPA”) and which I’ve called “PATTOO” for “Protecting Anaheim Taxpayers from Their Own Opinions.”  This would add to the current requirement of a 2/3 vote for any new, extended, or increased tax measure an additional hurdle: a minority of the Council could veto any such measure from even reaching the ballot — even if it was extremely popular with voters.

Mayor Tom Tait and Councilmember Jordan Brandman had previously announced their opposition to such a proposal, which could hamstring any attempt by a future Anaheim City Council to deal with a fiscal crisis.  Councilmember Lucille Kring joined Murray in opposing it.  Vanderbilt was the swing vote; here’s how he spoke to the City.


Thank you Mr. Mayor, and thank you, Councilmembers and members of the audience for making valid points pro and con.  I listened to both and I’ve been struggling between the two sides because I think that there are valid points on both the pro and the con.

So what I try to do is fall back on three basic tenets that I think would help guide me (and hopefully anybody else), which is my thinking that, on these measures where we’ve had strong disagreements, to fall back on.

One is being honest, another is a matter of being fair, and then the third one: if there is disagreement, that the voters should decide – and let that be the final verdict when the Council is in an area of disagreement.

So: I’ve been intrigued by Councilwoman Murray’s proposal.  Fundamentally or philosophically, I am in agreement with the larger notion that you should be compliant with what was intended by the voters in the City back in the ‘80s.

And, just to do a little more research, when there was a proposition in I think 2010 where voters were asked if they wanted the Legislature to reduce their voting authority from 2/3 to pass a budget to a 50% simple majority, interestingly enough while it passed statewide in Anaheim specifically they voted against it.  I guess Anaheim voters have shown again this reluctance to hav less than a supermajority vote in place.

In terms of my three tenets, though, I did mention the “honesty” aspect.  In looking at the agenda, and I know that we are going to be talking about Item 33, … what concerns me about the other proposals is the titling.  This one’s called the “Anaheim Taxpayers Protection Act,” then … other measures are being proposed that also have sort of slogan-like titles which I think is contrary to my interest of having an honest dialogue with the voters.

I think I’m favorable in moving this forward for the voters to decide, but I would like to not package it in such a way that it has a bias.  I would rather have a more benign title that I think Proposition 62 had, and Proposition 25, where I think that the titles were more matter-of-fact than something that purports to be a “protection act.”  I think that that goes too far.

So what I’d like to suggest for tonight’s discussion is striking the title, as an amendment to the measure, and then voting on the measure.  So I’ll make a motion for an amendment that strikes the “Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act” from the title, with the understanding that I’ll be equally applying the same request for other measures either on tonight’s agenda or in the future.  [3:36:02]

[At this point, Murray repeatedly tried to wrangle the floor away from Vanderbilt while Tait, as the meeting’s Chair, tried to clarify Vanderbilt’s motion as to whether he intended to replace the stricken title with anything.  Vanderbilt asked for more neutral suggestions and the question went to the City Attorney.]

We’ll have more below, but let’s stop there for now.

It’s admirable that Vanderbilt was (rightly) concerned about the bias of the proposal, but the more serious problem is found in the irony that, having set up “the people should decide” as one of his central tenets, he was being asked to support a measure that would, pretty much forever (given the unlikelihood of later getting a 2/3 vote to overturn it), PREVENT the people from voting on issues over which the Council was deeply divided.  That alone might be a reason for him to regret his decision.

But there’s another reason, and it deals with honesty and fairness.  This next part is so arcane that I don’t know if anyone besides James Vanderbilt himself will want to read it.

3. What Michael Houston Left Out of His Explanation

When we left off, the ball was being tossed to City Attorney Michael Houston to address what might replace the biased ballot title if Vanderbilt’s amendment passed.  He never quite answered that question, but instead mostly provided information that could be used to argue against the amendment — and left out something critical.  See what impression you form about the importance of the ballot title being in the measure, then we’ll talk more once this is over.

HOUSTON [3:37:10]: I don’t want to interject while I understand that there is a motion and a second on the amendment.  The title that is commonly being referred to here, the “Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act,” is what has been asked for by the author, much as Mayor Tait’s titles have been asked for by Mayor Tait.  And really the only place that they will appear in ANY material is in the text of the measure itself that would go in the ballot packet that would go to the voters in … Section 1 of the document.

That title, if you will call it that, may be used in the political campaigns that ensure or otherwise, but in terms of the ballot question and what is presented to the voters in the ballot pamphlet, the measure would be titled under the heading, which if you have your agenda packet and looked at the resolution, says simply “Require 2/3 vote of the City Council to propose taxes.”  [Goes on regarding other issues and elaborations.]

VANDERBILT [3:39:24]: So in the same block at the end also says “aka” – “also known as”:

HOUSTON: That title will not appear in the ballot question itself.  That title has been put in the resolution heading and in the text in Section 1 of the actual text of the amendment, but otherwise would not appear on the ballot.  The ballot question that will appear before the voters does not include that.  It only includes “Require 2/3 vote of the City Council to propose taxes.”  [Goes on to other topic.  Tait asks a question about what language would appear where.]

The voter pamphlet would include the [unbiased] title as well but it would also include the text of the measure, which is the 1-1/2 page or so attachment.  And that includes a title, but it’s a self-title.  I hate to say it, but it doesn’t really mean anything more than it’s the self-title.  … It will be included in the ballot pamphlet but it would not be the ballot question.  [Tait repeats back his understanding.]

VANDERBILT [3:40:43]: So by striking it from the resolution, it in effect takes it out of the body of language that voters would consider when reading this in depth.

HOUSTON: Yes, it would take it out of the body of language that voters would consider when reading this in depth, but really nothing more.  It wouldn’t be included in the ballot question.  And that’s really the only place it would be included, in the depth of someone reading it saying “oh, this has been titled the ‘Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act.’  That’s the only place.  And potentially in any campaign.

VANDERBILT:  Well in a campaign anybody could use any –

HOUSTON:  And to tell you the truth that’s one of the reasons why some of these sometimes have self-titling to them.  It makes it an easy way for the party who’s proposed them to campaign with that title.  But that’s basically all.

 No, it doesn’t just make it easy for a proponent of a measure to campaign with that title.  It makes it easier for them to argue to voters that that is the correct name to use, because, look, it’s in the resolution that the Council passed to place it on the ballot! 

Yes, Kris Murray and Disney will call this the “Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act” no matter what.  And we opponents may call it the “Protect Disney from Ever Facing a Gate Tax Act” or whatever we want.  And we can fight over what to call it that in our ads and speeches and mailers (well, mostly their mailers) as much as we want.  It’s all fair game, and no one’s right or wrong.

Unless the Council has actually put that name on its “birth certificate”!

Then, when the proponents — the same entities who just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Vanderbilt off of the Council, not that that should matter — say that “THEY ARE MISLABELING THE BILL, THEY SHOULD HAVE TO USE OUR NAME FOR IT” they would be right.  That’s what this was about — trying to tilt the playing field just that much more in favor of the proponents.

Vanderbilt apparently caught it — and the Council stopped it.  But this was only after the City Attorney repeatedly assured him that the name of the measure’s birth certificate wouldn’t matter — when it wouldn’t matter “legally,” but it would certainly matter to its probability of passing!  That’s the sort of campaign you’re making possible with that vote, Councilmember: one that is not honest, not fair, and not beneficial to all.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)