Anaheim’s Shocking, Terrifying, Theory of Government, PART 1: The Big Donor’s Idea of Paradise

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This is probably the most important piece you will read about the current election.  What it describes affects far more than just Anaheim itself.  Part of the delay in its publication has been due to waiting to receive a trial transcript, and then due to some court deadlines.  But part of the delay has been that the responsibility of writing it to be as clear as possible has been daunting.  (Your author finally gave up and hit “publish” anyway.)

As regular readers know, your humble author tends to “write long.”  So this post will appear in multiple parts today, which will then be combined into one piece with an executive summary.

Anaheim's Power Grab 1

Diagram to be explained in Part 2! Or Part 3! Maybe Part 4. Eventually, anyway! (It’s very important!)

1. The Big Donor’s Idea of Paradise

Let’s say that you’re a big donor to the City Council majority of a large city from which you wanted public subsidies.  (We can use the example of saying that you’re The Walt Disney Company — which is currently dumping over $600,000 in direct contributions and independent expenditures, the latter channeled through PACs, to support the campaigns of Mayoral candidate Lucille Kring and City Council Candidates Kris Murray and Gail Eastman, and to oppose the campaigns of Mayor Tom Tait and City Council challengers James Vanderbilt and Jose F. Moreno “(1)” — but there are plenty of others like them.)  Let’s have you answer this question:

In an ideal world, how much authority would you want that City Council majority to have to approve your favored proposed projects?

This doesn’t count your wanting them to hire City Staff friendly to you and unfriendly to your critics on the Council.  That much goes without saying. This is just about who gives the final go-ahead for what sorts of spending.  Let’s ask some questions:

(1) Do you want the public to have to cast a 2/3 vote in favor of the proposal?

No, you do not.  A 2/3 vote is very difficult to get.  This is part of what Prop 13 was about, remember — protecting the public treasury by requiring a 2/3 for new taxes?

(2) Do you want the public to have to give a majority vote in favor of the proposal?

No, you do not.  Certainly, that sounds a lot more reasonable than a 2/3 vote, but having to win elections before you can start a project is very slow — and, when you’re dealing with politicians handing out public subsidies to their big donors, can be embarrassing.  So, ideally, you would not want to see a public vote.

(3) Do you want a requirement that a Council supermajority would have to approve a proposal?

No you do not.  For Councils of five, seven, or nine members, this usually means having to pick up one extra vote.  But while it’s possible to achieve a supermajority — Anaheim’s City Council has one right now — the odds tend to be against it.  So a simple majority requirement for City Council is best.

(4) Do you want there to be any limits on how much they can spend out of the current year’s budget?

Of course you do.  Don’t be ridiculous.  The City Council can’t spend more than they have available to spend in a given year.  Everyone knows that!

(5) Do you want there to be any limits on how much they can BORROW, using up money from future budgets?

No you do not.  You don’t want any limit on their ability to take out municipal bonds to finance your projects.  In particular, you want the current City Council candidates you favor to be able to ransack Anaheim’s future prosperity for their current political gain and your profit — especially if future Councils may be less slavishly devoted to you.

(6) So the ideal situation is that JUST THREE PEOPLE — who you’re spending almost A MILLION DOLLARS to elect — can vote to put the City on the hook for ANY amount of future spending?

Yes.  That would be ideal.

(7) Doesn’t there have to be A LAW AGAINST THAT somewhere?

 We’ll see.  People have thought that there is — but we just got a trail court judge to say that there isn’t.

It may be hard to imagine, but this fight really is happening right now in Anaheim.  Your humble author is the Trial Counsel — although he is not writing this piece in that capacity, but just as a public interest blogger — for one of two organizations that is suing the City to enforce a very simple proposition:

When future City funds will be on put the hook for a major expenditure, the law requires that the public should get to vote on it.

That’s it; that’s what the fighting is about.  Unless you truly twist and stretch the law, this has been true since at least the moment when the laws on Redevelopment were eliminated in 2011 and 2012.  Most people in the state, including informed people, likely think that it’s still true.

Anaheim believes that it has found a slippery legalistic way around it, one that will create the Big Donor’s Ideal Situation described above.  Whether that’s true is something that will be hashed out in court.  By the end of this series of posts, you will likely be rooting for the Plaintiffs.  But that’s not what this series is about.

This series of posts is about just letting you know what they are doing.  The City of Anaheim’s attorneys have spelled out what they want to do in court.  They’ve spelled out their theories — and the City’s Council majority’s utter contempt for any attempt to check its spending power.

But: the City Council majority probably doesn’t want you to know that this is what they’re arguing for in court.  How do you explain to citizens that your grand plan is to shut them out of the process entirely?  In the cases of Gail Eastman and Jordan Brandman, they may not understand all of this themselves.  (Lucille Kring probably understands it and Kris Murray, who is the most prone to lie about it, definitely understands it.)  In any event, there shouldn’t be any argument about the City’s position:  it’s all on paper; we have the transcript.

Now you’re going to know about it too.  You’d best read this series sitting down — or even lying down.  You will have a hard time believing what these people are doing.  But you really should know.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go 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.)