Mayor Sidhu: Anaheim Open For Business!® Also: Emergency Winter Shelter-palooza!


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It was clear that new Mayor Harry Sidhu (or his writers) intended that to be the memorable catch-phrase of his maiden speechANAHEIM IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!®  He repeated the slogan twice, at the beginning and near the middle of the speech, setting down his prepared text, grinning, and stretching his arms wide, as though inviting the advances of a lover.  But, what could it mean – “open for business®”?  How were we not open for business already?

I mean, one of the hallmarks of Tom Tait‘s eight-year mayorship was his systematic regulatory relief which encouraged the filing of over 180,000 new small businesses, the approval and creation of twelve new hotels WITHOUT public subsidies, and a decrease in Anaheim’s unemployment even better than the national decrease.  No reasonable person would claim Tait’s Anaheim was “closed to business.”

But Anaheim’s large well-connected corporations – Disney, Angels, the big resort and Chamber players – became unhappy these past two years (when Tait finally had a majority) that the council didn’t give them exactly everything they wanted, as they’d become accustomed to.  They didn’t like that we suddenly had a council that bargained on behalf of Anaheim’s 350,000 people, that realized transient occupancy taxes are the lifeblood of a tourism-dependent town, that believed Anaheim actually has some needs and some value.  And they called all this, with manipulative dishonesty, “an unfriendly business climate.”

What Mayor Sidhu and his crowd mean by “open for business” is a return to the pre-2017 attitude, that Anaheim is unspeakably lucky to have the Resort District, Convention Center, Angels, Ducks and Disneyland, and that we had better show our appreciation and gratitude by unquestioningly giving those forces anything they demand, at the risk of losing it all!  Just think of everything pre-2017 councils and Mayors gave away or tried to:

  • The 1996 California Adventure “partnership agreement” in which we issued $510 million in bonds to finance an expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center and the construction of a $108.2 million parking structure from which Disney receives all profits;
  • The 2015 moratorium on collecting any entertainment tax for 45 years;
  • The bizarre attempted scheme (2013-14) to rent the Angels Stadium parking lot to Arte Moreno for 60 years for a dollar a year to profit off as he saw fit;
  • $800 million in rebated transient occupancy taxes over 20 years to Disney, Wincome Group, and O’Connell Hotels, in return for them building 4-star hotels that didn’t really need any subsidy;
  • The $300 million bond for expanding the Convention Center that should have gone to a vote of the people but was pushed through by Council instead.

THAT’s what the Chamber crowd considered normal, considered a “good business climate,” and expects again now that we’re “open for business®.” The frightening thing is, that’s what they got back when they spent only about one million dollars per election (2012, 14, 16) to get the councils they wanted. It beggars the imagination to envision what they might be demanding now that they’ve spent $3 to 4 million electing the Sidhu Council! Fasten your seatbelts everybody…

Winter Emergency Shelter-palooza

Well… none of us were expecting THIS!  Talk about a deus ex machina: first thing we know, there’s an EMERGENCY MEETING two days later, to approve an emergency temporary homeless shelter to get us through the cold couple of months until the two (also temporary) shelters the Tait council already has planned go online (late Jan/Feb.)  And who could be against this – just look outside at the cold, the rain, and the hundreds and hundreds of homeless people we still have on Anaheim streets and in our parks!

Naturally the reaction among Sidhu supporters was “Well, look at that – Harry could do with a SNAP of his fingers what Tom Tait couldn’t do in eight years – plus this shows he’s a big-hearted caring guy and pretty soon he’ll be able to get all those dirty criminals out of our parks!”  But a little poking around showed that this emergency shelter was the brainchild of celebrated, mercurial businessman-philanthropist Bill Taormina, who convinced LT Global to let the city use their long-vacant 2040-50 South State College buildings for free, and arranged for Anaheim’s largest businesses (including Disney, the Angels and the Ducks) to pony up about $300K to help with the costs.

Well … if this was not (among other things) a political stunt, and given the fact that our Anaheim homeless have been dying at the rate of 2-3 a week… why did this end up happening right now, at the changing of the guard, why couldn’t it have happened a week ago, a month ago, months ago?  And would it even have happened at all, if anti-subsidy Ashleigh Aitken had overtaken Harry in the late vote counts, as seemed possible?  I asked Mr. Taormina, and he took some time before texting me a very discreet answer:  “Yes, it would not be possible without the total generosity of the building owner and the business community.”

2040-50 South State College

I read that as a tacit admission that, as much as Taormina would have liked to make this happen sooner, the business partners he was working with were waiting to see if they were going to have the Mayor and council they liked, that they had paid so much for.  Once it was clear about a week ago that Harry was going to be their Mayor after all, these businesses experienced a sudden rush of heartfelt generosity, and expectations of the bounty to come from the Sidhu Council motivated them to make the new Mayor look like a big, caring, can-do guy!

Council Chambers Thursday was a curious menagerie of Chamber bigwigs and homeless advocates slapping each other’s backs in congratulations – because who can be against getting emergency shelter for the homeless six weeks earlier than expected – just look outside at the rain, wind and cold!  Thankfully there is still one adult left on the Council, Dr Jose Moreno, who made sure that 1) we are indemnified (by Taormina of course) against any legal trouble we have for doing this damn thing so hastily, and 2) if this thing ain’t done TIMELY – by Dec 20, which is the WHOLE POINT – Anaheim gets our money back, whether it’s $600K or $1.4 million, which wasn’t clear yet. Thanks for thinking of those little details, Jose!  

Next, some time very soon, watch these companies who gave 25K to 50K line up and ask for the usual 9-figure giveaways, while reminding us of their winter 2018 homeless beneficence.  I hope they don’t.  We’ll have to create some kind of visual aids reminding the public of the difference between 5 figures and 9 figures.  Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride – ANAHEIM IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS®!


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 vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.