The Two Faces of Disney: word vs. deed on Anaheim Districting.


Maybe I was a weird kid, but I never liked or trusted Disney.  Hated Disneyland and the gigantic, grinning, overbearing anthropomorphic animals, and didn’t like Disney’s films or cartoons.  They just gave me the feeling, even as a kid, that they were lying to me, covering up important things about life.  Much preferred Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Wizard of Oz, and the books of Lewis Carroll.

Years later, as a thirty-year old father, I came to appreciate… well, at least Mary Poppins and Dumbo.  And as a tolerant American I realize Disney brings joy to millions, employment to thousands, and contributes to Anaheim’s economy although not nearly as much as it could and should.

So maybe I was especially qualified, when Disney released its celebrated August 8 statement last year in support of district elections in Anaheim, to look at it a little skeptically.  The headlines in all the papers read “Disney Comes Out in Support of District Elections!”  But I read the statement closely, and several times.  Here it is, and I’ve taken the liberty of bolding the third paragraph:

Dear Honorable Mayor Tait and Members of the Anaheim City Council:

Anaheim has been the home of the Disneyland Resort for nearly six decades.  As the city’s largest employer and an active community partner, one of our primary areas of focus has always been what is best for the city and its residents.  As communities evolve, so should their policies and structures.  Such is the case in Anaheim, where it is time to consider a change in the way future city leaders are elected.

We believe that city leadership should reflect the diversity of its entire population.  We support a city council elected from districts and encourage the City of Anaheim to move from at-large elections to district voting.  This shift will allow each valued neighborhood to be represented by a local council member of their choosing.  Though there are many ways to accomplish this change, we believe the most responsive way would be to place a charter amendment switching to district elections on an upcoming ballot for the voters of Anaheim to consider.

At the same time, the city could begin an open and transparent, citywide dialogue with an independent, unbiased and equitably distributed group of Anaheim residents to determine the number of seats, district boundaries, and a new governance structure for the city – one that fairly represents residents in every Anaheim neighborhood.

Anaheim is a culturally rich and vibrantly diverse city.  We believe this change would be a step toward an even stronger and more prosperous Anaheim.

George M. Kalogridis
Disneyland Resort.

So.  That hit the world on the morning of August 8, the day that we all knew Mayor Tait was planning to  propose putting the matter on November’s ballot (just as Disney had suggested.)  All the media reported this uncritically as a straightforward endorsement for the reform, but I couldn’t help reading that third paragraph as a blueprint for procrastination and having it both ways:  Disney and its allies could appear to come out on the right, progressive side of history – in favor of democracy and diversity – while still putting off any change for as long as possible (since the status quo is serving them SO damn well) by the mechanism of endless endless study.


Disney’s loyal council team – Sidhu replaced by Brandman;  and Eastman and Murray.

And events since then suggest that interpretation was correct.  At that evening’s epic Council meeting at Anaheim High School (which I immortalized in this story) then-council candidate Jordan Brandman (who was to be a record recipient of Disney contributions) read, haltingly, a speech that basically said the same thing as the statement above but in slightly different words.  And then, when the Mayor moved to put districting on the ballot, the three-member Disney-supported majority all voted NO, and instead proceeded to form the new Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) as suggested by Disney above, but with a job description vastly expanded from what Kalogridis wrote.

This committee would be formed of ten members, two each appointed by the five councilmembers – that would be four appointees from districting advocates Mayor Tait and Lorri Galloway, vs. six appointees from the three-member Disney-backed majority who spoke ambiguously but had just rejected Tait’s districting motion.  After several months of study (which is still ongoing) they would present their recommendations to the Council, recommendations that could be FOR or AGAINST districting – and then the Council could follow their recommendations or NOT.  After which the question MIGHT get put onto the low-turnout June 2014 ballot, leaving very little time – assuming it passed – for voters to learn their districts and candidates to emerge.

Meanwhile, the Disney-supported majority continued and still continues to FIGHT AGAINST the districting lawsuit, at a cost so far to Anaheim taxpayers of $287,000.  (If you’ve been under a rock all this time, and I hope you haven’t been, you can get a quick refresher course on the issue and the lawsuit from the LA Times here, written by editors who see things somewhat like I do and are similarly leery of the council majority’s intentions.)

 So … is the Committee really just a “Stalling Tactic?”

A stalling tactic to put off districting until it’s actually forced on the city would certainly be a far cry from the mission Kalogridis first proposed:  “a dialogue … to determine the number of seats, district boundaries, and a new governance structure.”  But that’s more and more what it’s looking like.

For one thing, that’s practically how the City describes it themselves in their pleas to the Court to “let the political process play out.” In fact that’s essentially their only argument so far:  “Look, we’re DOING something about this, we have a COMMITTEE, give us more TIME!”  (Whether they do get more time will be determined at a hearing next Tuesday which I’ll report on.)

For another thing, the Disney-supported Majority gave the Committee a much more VAST and VAGUE mission than the simple, specific one Kalogridis sketched out, namely:

…to promote the full participation of all residents, neighborhoods, community groups and ethnic groups in studying the City’s electoral system. The Committee will provide advice to the City Council on promoting the full participation of all voters in city elections, including recommendations on:

  • Potential changes in the City’s election systems, including election by district;
  • How to encourage voter registration;
  • How to identify and engage community groups in elections and in local government decision making;
  • Language assistance programs; and
  • Other techniques to promote full participation in the electoral process.

And the longer this charade drags on, the less effort is put into keeping up the pretense that this is ANYTHING BUT a stalling tactic:  Exhibit 1 and 2 being the two appointees Kris Murray just appointed when her original two unexpectedly dropped out:  the wild-eyed Keith Oleson who’s already called “90% of the committee,” along with its chairwoman Vivian Pham, “incompetent;”  and Sandy Day who’s been an OUTSPOKEN OPPONENT of districting.  In this video former OJ blogger Steve Perez quotes their words back to them and they proudly own them:

For her part, the allegedly incompetent chairwoman Vivian Pham, a Tait appointee and district enthusiast, tells the Voice of OC that city staff have refused to provide relevant information, ignoring her requests for specific speakers.   Pham, who also agrees that the Committee she chairs has become nothing more than a delaying tactic, complains to Adam that “the presentations we have had are mere fluff. I feel like they’re distracting us from the real issue of districting… We can’t make an informed decision because they won’t give us the information.”

For your sake I hope you’ve missed it, but the OC blogosphere has grown a malignant tumor in recent months – a corporatist, explicitly anti-districting blog run by wordsmith-for-hire Matt Cunningham which claims that the mission of the CAC never was how to make districting happen, but to look at countless other alternatives including doing nothing – and, you know what, he has a point there, if you look at the bullet list above.

Well … but is this really Disney’s fault?

My title dings Disney for its “two faces,” for pretending to be for districting while meanwhile secretly plotting to delay it as many years as humanly possible.  But is that fair?  What if Disney really meant what they wrote, and the Council majority took it upon themselves to sabotage things?

What if Kris Murray’s clique, with its history of mammoth support from Disney and its corporate allies, with its long dependable record of giving Disney everything its voracious heart desires, simply went rogue?

Wow, in that case, my whole Disney-with-two-faces thesis falls right apart!  But, really, how credible is that scenario?

Last August I detailed, in my celebrated post “Disney’s Incest Problem,” the strong personal connections between Disney brass, uber-lobbyist Pringle, and the Council corporatists who give them everything they want.  Particularly touching is the intensely intimate relationship between Disney’s “government relations executive” Carrie Nocella and the Council’s Alpha Dog Kris Murray(Cue soft music…)

As reported in “Disney’s Incest Problem,” Nocella loves to boast of “the power of three votes” that Disney regularly ensures itself on the Anaheim Council, and she has threatened, on the occasions that Murray has been threatened with recall, that “Disney will fight with everything we have.”  Meanwhile the dapper (and now departed) Kalogridis, writer of the above districting-friendly words, when warned about Carrie’s rogue actions, expressed unconditional support for her and emphasized that his only job is “protecting Disney’s interests.”

And it only makes good business sense that Disney and its corporate allies would prefer not to take a chance on a new system which could conceivably spell an end to the gravy train they’ve been enjoying so long – in fact from a business point of view it would be reckless to risk such a dramatic change.  Look what they’ve been getting from their current crop of puppets – everything from a taxpayer-funded $319 million streetcar geared specifically toward Disney expansion, to a permanent kibbosh on any talk of a $1 gate tax to help fund community services!

So why would they want to take a chance changing to districting?  If that does happen, they’ll certainly try to work it to their advantage, but what business minds would risk losing the current batch of sweethearts?  Any thought of Disney’s “pro-districting” statement not being disingenuous and duplicitous seems hopelessly naive.

So … anyway … let’s see what happens next Tuesday in court.  Will the Judge continue to give the City endless time for dithering, or will his-or-her Honor move things along?  I’ll be there to report, and let’s hope for the best! 

Hakuna Matata!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.