Theories of Anaheim, Part 1: Theories of Cause





Anaheim - the Happiest Occupied Territory on Earth, or Something Better?

Anaheim’s various political players have various incompatible theories about what Anaheim is — and can be.

[part two of this essay is here]

1. The Wonderful World of Disney

Let’s start with Disneyland.  In discussing contemporary Anaheim, we barely have a choice about that.

Anaheim is Disneyland.  Disney, whatever else it also may be, is Anaheim.  Anaheim is where the fairy tales, so to speak, began.  Anaheim could lose the “Los Angeles” Angels and the once-“Mighty” Ducks and — while it would be a terrible blow to income and prestige — Anaheim would still be Anaheim.  (After all, Anaheim has previously lost both the Clippers and the Rams.)

Anaheim without Disneyland is simply difficult to conceive.  What would Anaheim be without its largest employer, the County’s largest tourist attraction, the tie that put it on the global map as a tourist destination even before white flight from Los Angeles engorged the county’s population?

It’s hard to tell.  Anaheim Hills would continue to be part of the chain of wealthy foothill communities running from incorporated and unincorporated Tustin and Orange through Villa Park to Yorba Linda and beyond the county line into Diamond Bar.  Most of the rest of Anaheim would probably be poor.

But, one might point out, much of the rest of the city is already poor, at least by OC standards.  (It’s also underserved compared to the Hills.)

Disney gets to throw its weight around Anaheim — and, let’s face it, elsewhere — in part because of the horror people have of what life in Orange County would be like without it.  Luckily for Anaheim and Orange County, Disneyland itself is nailed down to the ground.  It’s not going anywhere.  Disney World in Orlando — literally in Florida’s “Orange County” — may be bigger and newer and closer to more of the U.S. population, but Disneyland is the home of Disneyness — its mother ship.  And Disneyland is in Anaheim.

Yes, Disneyland could theoretically pull up roots, cart off the floor plan and rides to some new Disneyland Brazil.  The land (perhaps with its fixtures?) could be used for a new amusement park — Time Warner might want to bring out its far-superior stable of Warner Brothers characters, for example, or perhaps the City Council would sell it to local private developers to create a called destination called “Pringleland.”  (Oh, who are we kidding?  Disneyland Park would, of course, be remade as the Biggest Prison Complex on Earth.  California Adventure would of course become the World’s Biggest Immigration Detention Center — to honor the real “California Adventure” more common these days than the Gold Rush.) 

This sort of speculation is pointless, though — as a practical matter, Disney can’t leave.  It would be ignominious.  It would piss off a lot of rich people — OC would still be wealthy without Disneyland — who, combined, are richer than Disney Inc.  So, the Match Made in Cartoon Heaven by Grandfather Walt is not likely to end anytime in the foreseeable future.

So yes, Anaheim has a huge stake in Disneyland.  But Disneyland has a huge stake  — a real financial stake — in Anaheim as well.  Disney doesn’t need to worry much over whether Santa Ana is crime-ridden and decrepit; if tourists know about Santa Ana at all, they don’t consider it and its “dangerous brownness” to be so close to Disneyland to be threatening.  But Anaheim matters.  Anaheim is, whether Disney likes it or not, part of the Disney brand.

And Disney — abetting by a lapdog and lickspittle City Council — is letting its brand be tarnished.  It is, once one takes a step back and considers what is going on — truly amazing.  And it’s even more amazing that Disney — with smart people at the top — doesn’t seem to see what’s going on.  It doesn’t see that it is on exactly the wrong track if it wants to protect a major part of its brand: “Anaheim.”

2. Tarnishing the Brand

Last July, the nation and the world saw something hard to process — hard to believe, hard to swallow.  They saw the shootings and the demonstrations and the riots and the hyper-militarized police over-response.  Newscasters were practically giggling at the incongruity of Anaheim — Anaheim —  being featured in the news in a way generally reserved for Detroit, Oakland, South Chicago, the Bronx … South Central LA.

Anaheim?  Anaheim!  And when the people of the nation and the world saw the news, they didn’t think of the Angels or the Ducks — they thought of Disneyland.

It dawned upon the world that a large part of Anaheim — Disney’s home — appears to be … well, how does one put this kindly? — sort of … well, a slum.  A ghetto.

Now I know what you, Dear Reader, are probably thinking as your anger rises at my use of that term: Anaheim is not a slum!  Yes, its flatlands have a problem with gangs and poverty, but the Anaheim flatlands are by and large a wonderful place, vibrant and multicultural and interesting, with many lovely and safe communities!  How dare I say call them a “slum”?

Relax — I agree with you.  I really enjoy Anaheim — and I rarely go to the Hills.  That’s not the point.

I said that Anaheim appeared to be a slum — and, in the “Man bites Mouse” media portrayals in the wake of the killing of Manuel Diaz, so it did.  (The killing of Joel Acevedo, as I recall, led to less of a stir at the time — largely because of the assertion that he had been pointing a gun at police, which would be a pretty good basis for a shooting.  As Vern has been reporting, though, there’s good reason to think that that may not be true.  For one, the police are acting guilty.)

Last summer, I had relatives and friends from all over the country calling and writing me, asking: Anaheim?  “What’s up with Anaheim?  Isn’t that in Orange County?  How could this be?”  Maybe you had a similar experience.The important thing is what the world saw on TV — though less so, as I recall,  on Disney-owned ABC.  As Disney should know better than almost any other corporation, what people see on depicted TV is their reality.  And that, to the outside world, makes Anaheim a slum.  And that is a very big problem for Disneyland.  USC students notwithstanding, people don’t tend to vacation in slums.  

It is ironic — or maybe it’s just natural — that Disneyland as a “citizen” of Orange County adopted a view of this threat to its brand so well associated with our own Richard Nixon and with countless John-Birchified thinkers before him: achieve victory through unrelenting force.  After all, it worked in Vietnam, it worked in Iraq, it worked in — well, you get the picture — so why not Anaheim?

Or maybe I’m wrong here.  Maybe the leadership of Disney, as a major corporation, is as sophisticated as I would hope it would be.  Maybe the problem is middle management, straining to prove to upper management that they have this “tarnishment” problem under control.  Or maybe the problem is that they’re getting some bad advice from the city’s self-serving political and commercial leaders.

It doesn’t much matter — for whatever reason, Disney decided, in the immediate aftermath of the Anna Drive uprising, to act like a Disney villain.  It has been breathtakingly stupid and perverse to observe.  It is as if Disneyland, through the city leaders it controls, is doing everything it possibly can to make things worse.

Again, I don’t presume that this is a conscious plan designed at the highest corporate levels.  This smacks to me of insufficiently monitored managers wrongly assuring the Board that they have the situation well in hand — if only they’re allowed to clamp down even tighter.  The Anaheim City Council is so jingoistic in its supposed defense of Disney (which is just coincidentally making a lot of its associates rich) that it doesn’t much matter what the more intelligent corporate leaders might think.  For Disney to call off its dogs would take enormous effort.  Increasingly, that effort would be worthwhile.

3. Disney’s Wild Ride

What Disney — or, let’s be fair, people purporting to serve Disney’s interests, although Disney has certainly had the opportunity to set them straight — has done in the wake of the threat to order is to clamp down hard on disorder and dissent.  There was the immediate, militarized, hugely expensive (although it could probably be written off as a “training exercise”) response to non-violent marchers who headed from the Anaheim Police Department down Harbor Blvd. to … “OMG, they’re going to Disneyland!”  (This is why protesters were originally diverted east on Ball Road and then “kettled” in a nearby tract.  In a later march, protesters were allowed to go to Disney’s front gate and — naturally — nothing particularly bad happened.)

I and others at the time wrote open letters to Disney, calling for them to call off their dogs, begging them to take an interest in raising the status of the community around them so that it could be proud of its Anaheim home — so that it could use its involvement in Anaheim as an example of good and beneficent corporate citizenship.  We asked Disney to use its power and influence to make Anaheim  the sort of harmonious and fair multicultural place that Disney likes to tell the world that it is, with its new rainbow of princesses and princess-equivalents.

That’s not what Disney did.

Here I have to make an admission: I am ascribing to Disney much of the behavior of a group called SOAR, which stands for “Save Our Anaheim Resorts.”  (You’d think that with an inflammatory verb like “SAVE!” they would be focusing on something like global climate change.  No, they mostly want Disney to get more public money.)  One reason that I feel comfortable ascribing SOAR’s actions to Disney is that Disney IS “Anaheim’s Resort” — and it knows very well that it doesn’t need “saving.”  If Disney wanted to do so, it could call the leaders of SOAR into its office and say: “You know what?  You’re tarnishing our brand.  You can do what you want to do, but you had better choose a name that doesn’t allow bloggers to tie you to us quite so convincingly.”

That’s not what Disney did either.

Instead, Disney became associated with a drive to install the most Disney-thralled of all Orange County Democrats, Jordan Brandman, onto the Anaheim City Council — pretty much paralyzing most of the local Democratic Party for a time as a result.  It became associated with the recently re-completed $158 million GardenWalk Giveaway to the developer of an unnecessary and ill-conceived four-star hotel, along with an additional Giveaway to the owners of the property on which the hotel sits, just because.

The natives became restless.  Already, the call had gone forth to try to move Anaheim towards district elections so that the less wealthy (and more minority-intensive) areas of the city could be assured of at least some decent measure of representation on the City Council.  Disney’s agents delayed it, derided it, have tried to block it.  Even the traditional Republican Mayor favors such political reforms.  Not Disney.

This raises the question — what exactly does Disney think that it’s doing?  Put otherwise, what is Disney’s “Theory of Anaheim”?

 4. Can One Really Say ‘It Is Better to Be Feared Than Loved’ When One Runs a Freaking CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY?

Disney presumably believes that it is not good for the Anaheim flatlands to be a slum or a ghetto.  Yes, cheap labor; yes, lowered expectations; but still — this is part of Disney’s brand, remember?  They want it to be as nice and presentable as its park employees.

So how is Disney going to arrange this?  What’s its theory?

Its theory is: clamp down.

Anaheim under Disney is not the first city to decide that the way to solve the problem of drugs and gangs is to clamp down on young people — but given its high stakes it may be among the stupidest.  First, drug use (and the gang violence that it engenders, when drugs are illegal) is demand driven.  People with money are coming into Anaheim to buy drugs.  If one person goes to jail, another steps forward to supply the demand.  (The lack of decent job opportunities for youth elsewhere makes this all the more likely.)

These clampdowns don’t work — and they especially don’t work when the youth of the city (who are not as dumb as the corporate and political leaders may think, as if that were even possible) can see that the city leadership itself is corrupt and discriminatory in how it serves its citizens.  That means that, in their own eyes, they are no longer gang members (or parents of, or friends of people who are, etc.), but people involved in a struggle for civil rights and civil liberties.  Because they are.

People who believe that about themselves just don’t surrender easily.

So meanwhile, the City Council prevents political reform, shovels money to the already wealthy, hires people to control the media and political process, fires a City Attorney who is not completely subservient to them, hires a City Attorney (today) who is expected to be more so (and, if I’m right about who it will be, who has written on the arch-conservative topic of birthright citizenship, sure to go over well in a heavily Latino city), and defends police practices that should be indefensible while many of its public servants leave.  And it somehow imagines that the city’s residents won’t notice or care about all of this.

How does turning Anaheim into something closer to a police state, with rule by fear — where military vehicles carrying officers armed with paramilitary gear rumble down the streets, where police officers accused of wrongdoing can harass the witnesses who accuse them, where public money is squandered with much of it ending up going to political cronies of the former Mayor — how does this path, rather than a path of beneficent community building, help the image and interests of Disney?

What is Disney’s theory of Anaheim?

The answer, of a sort, should be pretty clear: it’s half-baked.

Read Part Two:  Theories of Solutions.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr 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. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)