Disney Gate Tax Dialogues, Part 2: Why We Played Along With the Mouse in the Early 90s

Scrooge McDuck -- the happiest guy on Earth.

Scrooge McDuck — the happiest guy on Earth!

[Editor’s note: There’s a lot for us to cover here before the Anaheim City Council votes next Tuesday on Disney’s “Gate Tax” proposal — so to make it go down more smoothly we’re presenting it as a play involving Orange Juice characters.  Substantive dialogue from Cynthia Ward.]

[In the first part of our story, Cynthia Ward interrupted a dart game between Vern Nelson and Greg Diamond in the secret Orange Juice Blog Headquarters overlooking the GardenWalk complex to explain how Disney was not always a company bent on sucking as much money as possible out of taxpayers.]

VERN NELSON: Cynth, how do you think that Disney and the City are going to try to sell the public on eliminating any possibility of taxing Disney’s admission fees until 2060?

CYNTHIA WARD: Well, I happen to have an advance draft of the City’s Staff Report in my purse, so I can tell you.

GREG DIAMOND: Hey, Cynth. I’ve been wondering – how is it that you just happen to have in your purse whatever it is that we need at that moment to advance the story?

(Cynthia pulls a small bag of taffy out of her purse and gives a piece to Greg, who sheepishly puts it into his mouth and starts slowly chewing.)

CW: Vern, why don’t you read this one?

VN (looks over at Greg and smirks): OK.

“While the City of Anaheim boasts one of Southern California’s most vibrant and diverse economies, the presence of the Anaheim Resort is a significant feature which sets our economy apart from those of our neighbors.”

CW: Aren’t we tired of being told that we are so much better off than our neighbors who lack the “economic engine” of the Resort? Kris Murray loves to mention other local communities looking to their residents for additional taxes –

>GD: Sah-um.

CW: What, Greg?


CW: Yes, she always mentions Stanton. She and staff fail to notice that across America, communities somehow manage to fix pothole and seed the parks, using property taxes, sales taxes, and maybe the bed tax from the local Ramada Inn down by the freeway exit. With the money coming into Anaheim, there shouldn’t be a pothole in town. We should have public swimming pools for our kids. So why are so many sections of Anaheim so squalid?

(Greg tries to speak, but can’t, and glares at Cynthia while working furiously on his taffy.)

CW: Vern, keep reading.

VN: Ahem:

Over the more than fifty years that have followed, Disney has continued to make investments in our City with theme park expansions, additional attractions and development of hotel properties.”


CW: What Disney has done is to continue to invest in its own highly profitable properties, which happen to be in Anaheim. This becomes an investment in Anaheim only when benefits extend beyond the Resort and into our neighborhoods.


CW: Well, we don’t know that these benefits don’t extend outside of Disneyland at all – but the available data on this has been shockingly slim given how much Anaheim is gambling on the permanent profitability of Disney and tourism in general (especially as adjacent and nearby cities profit without paying.) We can be pretty sure, though, that the “benefit” claimed as a return on public investment in Disney is laughably small compared to what Disney makes! Vern? Please read on.

VN: Let me find it.

Most recently, in the late 1990’s, Disney and the City of Anaheim entered into an unprecedented partnership that resulted in a complete revitalization of the resort area, a new theme park, expansion of the Convention Center and development of Downtown Disney. This collaboration secured the Resort’s long-term competitiveness and economic vitality while protecting the general fund from risk.”

(Greg’s eyes start to bug out at this.)


(On his third attempt to say “partnership,” Greg swallows his taffy. Vern performs the Heimlich maneuver on him. The wad of taffy shoots out of his mouth. Cynthia catches it one-handed, on the fly, in a wrapper she had had concealed in one hand. After verifying that no one was watching, she furtively slips it back into her purse.)

CW: I agree with your sentiments, Greg. Disney’s relationship with the City is not a “partnership,” defined as “a contractual relationship between two or more persons (or entities) carrying on a joint business venture with a view to profit, each incurring liability for losses and the right to share in the profits.” Disney’s idea of “partnership” for the last 30 years has been to extract all of the money they can from the taxpayers, while refusing to provide reciprocal benefits back the other direction. Let’s look at the history.

VN: OK. Let’s start with the early ’90s.

CW: Good choice. Anaheim was in huge trouble then, with a deficit in the tens of millions, and public safety staff were about to be laid off. We had truly hit the bottom of the barrel. The area surrounding Disney was in bad shape. The ticky-tacky stucco-box cheap motels hastily constructed around Walt’s dream were showing their age, as was the infrastructure of hastily laid pipes and phone poles.

Visitors did not want to come to Anaheim, where the residents in the next hotel room were as likely to be crack heads and prostitutes as fellow tourists. Investors did not want to put money into Anaheim motels for fear that others would drag down their investment, or that Anaheim would cave to the demands of Disney to take their property by eminent domain.

VN: That’s what they did to the “strawberry field” guy, right?

CW: Yep. They threatened to condemn part of his property. The pressure finally led the owner to commit suicide. Other businesses did not fail to notice. It’s now the site of Toy Story parking lot.

If it was a true “partnership,” Disney would have been concerned about maintaining service levels for all of Anaheim in true “partnership.” But Disney turned its back on the pleas of the Police union, and let already cash strapped residents tax their own utilities to try to cling to the basics of public safety coverage.

VN: Why did the public put up with it?

CW: At that time, Disney was waffling between pushing Anaheim for a 2nd gate or building a new park in Long Beach. Its threat to not invest in Anaheim was real; the City’s need to make a deal was legitimate. How Disney acted in threatening its “partner” is not a topic for today, but it got its way. Disney decided to invest further in Anaheim – and the former strawberry field.

GD (weakly): But today things are different….

CW: Yes and no. Disney again insists that its investment in its own profitable property will somehow benefit Anaheim. But unlike in the 1990s, Disney is not going anywhere.

GD (weakly): Not even Tustin?

CW: No. Like Angels Baseball, Disney is not going anywhere, despite their huffing and puffing and blowing the house in. As with Angels Baseball, 3 of our civic “leaders” may concoct justifications that only profoundly stupid could people could believe, in an excuse to give our public funds to their friends and campaign contributors. But there’s a big difference between the Angels and Disney – beyond even the technical difficulties of moving Space Mountain, It’s a Small World, the Haunted Mansion and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

GD: What’s that?

CW: The Angels really do want more people to come through their gates. Disney doesn’t. Disney is a victim of its own success. They desperately need to deal with the problem that too many people want to visit an area too small to accommodate those that many bodies pressed into that square footage.

GD: But then why not raise the ticket prices? Oh yeah – they did. Every year.

CW: Right. Disney’s tripling the cost of tickets since the 1996 deal has been not so much raw greed – though it certainly plays a role – as trying to discourage visitors so they don’t get even more inundated than they already are! Disney execs do not want the PR nightmare of telling a family who saved for 3 years to travel from Omaha that the park is filled to capacity. Yes Disney can give them a free pass for tomorrow, this does them no good if they have to grab a flight home the next day.

VN: Sounds like a great reason to put in a gate tax!

CW: Yeah, it is. That’s what terrifies them. It makes too much sense for it not to happen. That’s why they have to stop it right now – and in a way that stops it for the rest of our lives.


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Identity suspected but unsure, Anaheim Insider is SOME slavish devotee of Curt Pringle and the Disney/Chamber kleptocracy in the OC's biggest city, and can always be counted on to spout their official line. [OK, he's a satirical character based on the anonymous "Anaheim Insider" who posts on Matt Cunningham's "AnaheimBlog.net", and is known for his tagline "Anaheim Insider here" and referring to Mr. Pringle as "The Great Man."] Oh, and of late, the editors have been using "Anaheim Insider" for non-satirical Anaheim-related pieces which are either collaborative or simple announcements.