Complex Anaheim, May 2017 Edition: Wincome Furniture, Rainbow Flagblocking.


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(Not Yesenia, but a grateful Anna Drive recipient of Wincome furniture)

Couple weeks ago, all I knew was Yesenia needed help, around the corner at St Anthony’s, “moving furniture for the neighborhood.”  And so, of course, Donna and I were there bright and early.

Turned out to be a very interesting, morally nuanced (textured? layered?) event.  The folks giving away nice-but-used beds and dressers to Anaheim’s squeakiest-wheel barrio of Anna Drive were none other than the Wincome Group, beneficiary of two of last July’s three controversial TOT giveaways.  They’re preparing to gut the old Annabella Hotel and rebuild it as a four-star wonder, for which trouble (along with building one other four-star hotel) they’ll be getting $430 MILLION of tax rebates over the next twenty years (rebates that voters may attempt to revoke next year.)  

And as part of the old place’s demolition they found themselves with dozens of rooms full of old furniture that they COULD have sold to a liquidation company, but decided to instead give away to needy neighborhoods as well as the homelessness-dependent nonprofit “Illumination Foundation” – with reporters and cameramen on hand to capture all the generosity and goodwill!

(Wincome’s red-headed Sanford at center; after this Register photo was shot he removed his jacket.)

So, we quickly grasped that, as surely as we were involved in a much-appreciated charitable gesture to a community many of whom really DID need furniture, we were also part of a public relations event.  And sure enough, the press release showed up like clockwork on Matt Cunningham’s Kleptoblog.  (And on that very day I started getting texts from the “Liberal” OC’s malevolent Dan Chmielewski accusing me of “hypocrisy” for having anything to do with the resort district, and claiming with typical creepiness, “I have photographs.”)

Wincome’s charming and urbane asset manager Paul Sanford was there, along with me, half an hour before the furniture got there, and the whole thing was worth it  just to talk to him.  He says he’s heard all of my and others’ public comments against the giveaways, claims to read this blog, and seemed almost sheepish about the subsidies:  “They weren’t our idea” … and what business would say no to such a deal?  Could you have built a four-star hotel without these subsidies?  Last year, Paul’s Hong Kong counterpart couldn’t answer that question with certainty when Mayor Tait posed it.  This year, Sanford definitively said no they couldn’t have gotten the requisite loans without it … but he admitted they could have built a fine new three-star hotel without any subsidy, and – do the math – how much better of a deal that would have been for Anaheim’s residents and taxpayers!

Several times he said, “Hopefully this will all work out for the best, for the people of Anaheim.”  And then we started a couple hours of moving furniture together with some other local volunteers – quite a workout!

The idea of giving this furniture away to Anna Drive and others was that of our 5th district councilman Stephen Faessel (right) who seems to sincerely believe in the wisdom and efficacy of corporate welfare, and also seems to have fallen in love with Anna Drive – we see him more often these days than our previously most-frequent political visitors, Mayor Tait, Lou Correa, and Lorri Galloway!

The art of balancing appreciation for much-needed beneficence, against the awareness of public relations and the stark contrast between nearly half a billion dollars of tax breaks versus a few thousand dollars worth of furniture, is a tricky one, and Yesenia didn’t quite manage it at the next council meeting.  In a three-minute speech full of gratitude and appreciation, she couldn’t help include the words, “But I also felt sort of used.”  Faessel’s face dropped.  Yesenia felt terrible later.  “I should have said that to him in person instead of in public.”  Well, it’s all good now though.  Everyone has made up, twenty families have furniture they needed, and we’ll see what we can do about putting the kibosh on those subsidies in Nov. 2018.  Anaheim can’t afford them.

Then along came THIS week, specifically this Monday, which was Harvey Milk Day, and everyone’s all like, Hey, aren’t they supposed to be raising the rainbow flag, the gay pride flag, on the flagpole in front of Anaheim’s City Hall?

Why, yes, the Rainbow Flag WAS supposed to be waving in front of City Hall from last Monday till the end of June, but apparently there was some legalistic problem getting in the way which nobody had bothered to deal with.  So Councilman José Moreno took it on himself to get with staff and temporarily do the best they legally could at the time:  “Display” the flag in a case in the dark walkway (right) where only folks with business to attend to at City Hall – NOT all passersby on Anaheim Blvd – could see the object and scratch their heads.  And far from communicating brave pride, it seemed more like a museum exhibit, sort of like saying in an undertone, “By the way, believe it or not, there ARE some gay folks in Anaheim.”

If you’ll remember, last year’s vote was hard-fought and dramatic, and driven by the terrible anti-gay terror attack in Orlando Florida.  Activists surrounded the hall with huge pictures of each of the 49 victims (left).  The motion to fly the flag annually was brought by newly out-of-the-closet Councilman Jordan Brandman and joined by his two usual allies Kris Murray and Lucille Kring whose sincerity and motivation I won’t question.  The hardest sell was actually Mayor Tom Tait, who fretted over the “precedent” that would be set and what oppressed groups could we possibly deny the same treatment to in the future?  Tom was eventually won over by activist Jeff LeTourneau’s argument that “The difference between LGBT and other oppressed groups is 49 dead bodies.”  And the vote was unanimous and widely celebrated.

And APPARENTLY at some point in those proceedings, then-City Attorney Michael Houston mumbled through the side of his mouth that this action COULD be interpreted as in contravention of part of the city’s Municipal Code, and this would have to be ironed out at some point before next May 22.  But nobody noticed, or remembered, or did anything.  And sure enough, the Code still forbids “any person” from flying a flag from the three flagpoles out front that is not the US, California, or Anaheim flag – last year’s council action was actually ILLEGAL.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kris Murray pulled the status-quo consent-calendar item #29 to express how dismayed she was that the promise of last year was so casually broken, and for once the vast majority of us shared in Kris’ dismayment.  Actually before she could say anything, City Manager Paul Emery blurted out a rare, sincere, pre-emptive apology on behalf of all staff for letting this matter fall through the cracks.  Moreno insisted that the blame should be shared by everybody, not just staff, but the council and public too – nobody had remembered that the Code still forbade the Council action – and he apologized for himself.  Kris was eager to amend the Code forthwith, but Interim City Attorney Kristin Peletier reminded her that that would take agendizing, a first and second reading – in short, at least a month, by which time Gay Pride Month would be long over.

Then Dr. José Moreno, as always fun to watch, began to suggest creative ways to skirt the problem and still fly the rainbow flag.  “How about if we voted to suspend that part of the Code until we have time to amend it?”  Attorney was all no, the Code supersedes any Council action.  Then José was, “Well, it says any PERSON can’t fly the flag – the City is not a PERSON.”  And attorney was all, there IS a legal definition of person.  And José was all, with all due respect, that is your legal opinion, but maybe WE have the opinion that “person” is different from “city.”  And attorney was all, No, seriously, there is a legal definition for person, and the city IS a “person.”

Mayor Tait (who ended up as usual being joined by Councilmembers James Vanderbilt and Denise Barnes) fretted repeatedly that flying the rainbow flag from the poles was “illegal,” that it made good sense to have those three poles be reserved for the “three branches of government” (I think he meant “levels” not branches), that the current location in the walkway was perfectly satisfactory, and that above all, if we allow LGBTQ people to fly their flag, how could we ever say no to any OTHER oppressed group that might want to fly their flag, where would we draw the line?  As though there’s a big line of increasingly petty or barbarous causes out there just WAITING to make that demand, and as though there was no such thing as “cross that bridge if we ever come to it.”

Where Ducks hold sway, let there be Gay!

It was Stephen Faessel, whom we met above (as well as a couple of commenters including Mark Daniels) who suggested what I think will end up being the solution – instead of flying the rainbow flag from the flagpole (I guess last year it flew UNDER the city flag which sounds a little lame) it could be hanging high on the beautiful reflective City Hall building itself, as currently the banner for some hockey team called the Ducks is.  

Think of all the good points to that solution – it will be even MORE visible than it would be on one of the flagpoles.  As Vanderbilt pointed out it would be 100 feet high instead of 50 feet.  It would not require any change to the City Code or be “illegal”, it leaves the three flagpoles to the three levels of government as the mayor likes, and it could be done in a day, as soon as the Council directs – which I think will be June 6 when Lucille gets back.  

I expect Tom, James and Denise to still bellyache about the “precedent” set, and all the countless groups they fear will demand the same thing, but I hope they’ll join the other four in another unanimous vote, and get the rainbow flag up on the building itself – it’s the closest the Council can come to keeping the promise they made last year.

COMPARE, flying under one of these flags, versus hanging where the Ducks are:

How it looked last year.

(Mark Daniels photoshop)

 


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.