Bad as Covid: Sidhu Council won’t LET ANAHEIM VOTE on a GATE TAX to prevent Bankruptcy!


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Okay, okay, the Sidhu majority of the Anaheim Council doesn’t (directly) kill anybody like CoVid-19 does – so they’re not as bad in that way.  But as far as ruining our economy, driving our town further into debt and closer to bankruptcy, CoVid-19 is just a dumb virus that doesn’t know what it’s doing, while our Mayor and Council majority not only irresponsibly put us INTO debt before this virus even came around and found us in our already weakened state, but they are actively and knowingly preventing YOU AND ME from doing what we all know we need to do to pull ourselves out of this – PASS A GATE TAX.

It’s like the Council along with the virus knocked us down, and now the Council, singlehandedly, is HOLDING us down. 

Shall we back up?

I mentioned the virus finding Anaheim “in a weakened state” economically when it dropped in on us this spring.  The current Council, under Mayor Sidhu, had been throwing our money around like drunken sailors since late 2018, and not on things the public wants but, generally, just what their cronies and campaign contributors want.  Early on they found far-fetched excuses to fling hundreds of thousands at their Chamber of Commerce and Anaheim First allies, and Curt Pringle’s vanity Muzeo never went wanting.  This January, they happily renewed another luxury hotel subsidy of $180 million in expected TOT taxes to Hong Kong’s Wincome Group.  This was right after our crown jewel the Anaheim Stadium was notoriously sold to a billionaire supporter for a bargain basement price – hundreds of millions below value, and still being negotiated down. 

At that point, the Register reported that Anaheim was already in debt to the tune of $6200 per taxpayer – much of it due to unfunded pension liability.  But did this stop the Sidhu Council (Moreno and Barnes dissenting as usual) from approving a jawdroppingly extravagant 6-year contract with Anaheim Police and Fire, as a reward for their unions’ political support?  Oh, hell no!  Now the public is actually paying the Police Union boss Edgar Hampton, DIRECTLY, what will soon be a $400K salary.  Councilmembers even admitted that “We will have to dip into our reserves” to cover this contract, but not to worry, if we clap our hands hard enough new revenue will come in.

A few weeks later Coronavirus hit.  And believe it or not, the Sidhu Council (Moreno and Barnes dissenting as usual) took this opportunity to funnel an “emergency” $6.5 MILLION out of our shriveling reserves to the PR entity “Visit Anaheim,” to ADVERTISE DISNEYLAND AND THE RESORT DISTRICT, which still wouldn’t be open for months (not to mention that Disney themselves could afford that a lot easier than us.)

That night, the City Manager, the decent and competent Chris Zapata, was asked by Councilman Moreno what he thought of that $6.5 million giveaway, and he responded politely but honestly that he didn’t think it should be that high, and should have more strings attached.  So the Sidhu Council fired Zapata, which, in order to make him go away quietly, cost us another half million dollars.  On top of the fact that we LOST A CITY MANAGER, WHO WAS JUGGLING COUNTLESS IMPORTANT PROJECTS, IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC, a loss we are still suffering from.

At this point, between the pandemic and this Council’s malfeasance, we are looking at a $75 million to $100 million shortfall in our budget, which is going to result in severe, 20% cuts to all Anaheim’s services.  How to pull us out of this?  First, let’s skip that cannabis dispensary farce, which wouldn’t have resulted in new revenue for another year, and for which the Chamber couldn’t even get more than three votes (Sidhu, Brandman, Kring.)

The obvious and reasonable solution was proposed by Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno at the June 23 meeting – bring back the popular idea of a 1-to-2-dollar “Gate Tax” on visitors to Disneyland, the Angels, and the Honda Center, a TEMPORARY Gate Tax just to pull us out of our fiscal straits and prevent service cuts of 20%.  But, like nearly everything Jose and Denise propose, the motion died for lack of a “third,” so it won’t even be discussed, let alone voted on, let alone sent to us voters in November.

Something you should know, if you don’t:  A tax like this in Anaheim must be approved by us voters,  but in order to get it on the ballot it either has to first get five votes on the Council, or be introduced as a Citizens’ Initiative.  Looks like if we want to SAVE ANAHEIM, we’re going to have to do the latter, as the Sidhu Council is perfectly happy to let this town GO TO HELL.

Multisyllabic euphemisms proliferate, but most of us say just “Gate Tax.”  The Anaheim public has always thought it was a great idea, while our elected officials – funded as they are by Disney and the Chamber – have always done whatever they could to make it impossible (a lot like the story of District Elections!)  I can attest that, having called hundreds of Anaheim Republicans and Democrats in regards to the Sidhu Recall, a Gate Tax wins hands down across Party lines.

Gene Autry

Oldtimers inform us that Anaheim did have a Gate Tax on Disney and the Angels back in the ’70’s when Bill Thom was Mayor, and the Angels at least didn’t mind.  Their easygoing owner Gene Autry said, “Just let me know before I print the tickets, please.”  But Disney felt differently, had hundreds of their employees mob a City Council meeting to tell them the Gate Tax was going to kill their jobs, and secretly hired our City Manager to sabotage the whole thing – you could look it up.  (Of course though, that was a FIVE DOLLAR Gate Tax, much larger than what we’re considering now.)

Then twenty years later, as Barnes and Moreno remind us in their Voice column:  

In the early 1990s an admissions tax of $1 per person was considered, to prevent cutting core services during a $20MM budget shortfall. Instead, City leaders imposed a tax on utility bills, burdening Anaheim residents through an essential service rather than ask a minimal contribution based on a luxury expenditure. That choice cost leaders their seats in elected office.

It appears Disney has been irrationally hostile to the popular idea for decades, claiming absurdly that adding a dollar or two to their expensive tickets, to help out their generous host city, would drive away customers.  They say that and then in the same breath they’ll raise their prices another ten bucks because they CAN, because the “Happiest Place on Earth” is that addictive to millions of people.  I see that right now a 1-day pass ranges from $150 to $200 – and (before the virus) they were turning folks away!

And Disney has nearly always funded and commanded our City Councils:

  • When they were building California Adventure they demanded, and got, a 15-year promise of no Gate Tax beginning 2001, otherwise they wouldn’t feel comfortable building it! 
  • As the end of that 15 years approached, in 2015, it was STAR WARS they wouldn’t be able to build if they weren’t promised FORTY-FIVE MORE YEARS of no Gate Tax.  Which again they got.
  • What did it take to change that, what could possibly terrify them more than a Gate Tax?  2018’s popularly passed Measure L, which would have compelled Disney to pay a Living Wage of $15 AN HOUR to their workers if Disney continued to receive SUBSIDIES – and the 45-year Gate Tax Moratorium was considered a subsidy, so they gave THAT up rather than pay their workers more.
  • Now that the Gate Tax IS possible, AND necessary, to avoid service cuts of 20% and potential bankruptcy, the Disney-funded Sidhu, Faessel, Brandman, Kring and O’Neil sit stubbornly and silently on their hands while the people’s councilmembers Barnes and Moreno try to get it onto November’s ballot, for us to have a choice.

So now it’s up to US, you and me, to get 22,000 signatures for a Gate Tax, at the same time as we’re trying to get 22,000 signatures to change our Mayor.  We hope for and expect the support of Anaheim’s municipal employee unions, whose members are going to be laid off in hordes if we don’t pass this.

Watch this space!


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.