Vanderbilt withdraws compromise measure! (And other Living Wage desmadre…)




The above picture was more suited to the piece I ORIGINALLY thought I was going to have to write, which was gonna be called, “SABOTAGE: Will Vanderbilt PLEASE withdraw his ‘compromise’ living wage measure?” 

Good news, I don’t have to write that story, because Vanderbilt HAS withdrawn it (he withdrew it Monday the 2nd, told me on Tuesday, asked me not to BLOG about it for a couple of days, so now here’s the story!) 

Let’s back up a bit, since nobody’s been writing about this and you may have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.


As far as I can tell, my colleague Greg Diamond was the only person to even mention this in print:  AFTER 1 AM, at the close of the last (June 19) Anaheim Council meeting, after the Council had voted to put the $15 Living Wage initiative on November’s ballot (something they had to do anyway), Councilman James Vanderbilt surprised anybody who was still present and awake by announcing his intention to explore putting an alternative measure onto the ballot along with the union’s measure.  As he phrased it, he would:

“…ask the City Manager to reach out and meet with the hoteliers that have been impacted by this initiative [Disney, Wincome, Gardenwalk] to see if there is any sort of pathway to an alternate measure that:

  • does not include language that impacts adjacent businesses, 
  • removes the role of the City Manager to act as the arbitrator in this process, 
  • will also have a minimum wage increase, something perhaps closer to the Los Angeles hotel agreements
  • and finally has a component that would accept offers by the hoteliers to create a community benefit fund with the goal of collecting something in the range of 9 figures directed at addressing homelessness, affordable housing and neighborhood improvements.”

Well, the first thing I and many think when we hear something like this (and maybe James didn’t intend since he’s still relatively new to politics) is “A couple of these ideas may have some merit, but at bottom this is a sneaky-ass way to defeat the Living Wage.”  Because there’s no more sure-fire and time-tested way to defeat a measure than to put a competing, “compromise” one next to it, confusing the voters and ensuring that NEITHER measure gets 50%.  And the status quo of Disney poverty continues.

And the more cynical among us were all, “Who got to James, whose idea was this?  And right when he’s running for re-election too?”  

Well, no journalists may have picked up on Vanderbilt’s move, but the resort unions sure did.  Labeling his proposal (with a little presumption) as “an alternative, LOWER living wage,” they encouraged their supporters to call James and let him know it was “an insult to 22,000 Anaheim voters who signed to put the real Anaheim Living Wage on the November ballot.”  True enough, but I thought it was more to the point to let him know his proposal would kill both measures, and is that what YOU INTEND, James, and was it your idea?   And to please withdraw it.

Which, as I’ve intimated, he already did on Monday.  But why?  It sounds like the main reason is because, as our new City Attorney Robert Fabela explained to James, the various components of his proposal could not be combined as one initiative – especially the “agreement” with an unnamed hotelier to donate $100 million to the “community benefit fund” which has no place on a ballot at all.  (And it sounds like this was an actual offer – was it from Disney?  Was this whole Vanderbilt proposal a Disney idea?  Do we have four Disney councilmembers now?)  SECOND UPDATE July 7 – see bottom of story.

James did salvage something out of this exercise:  with the help of Fabela he is going to forestall ADJACENCY CREEP.  (“Adjacency Creep” is my coinage, I call dibs on it.)  The Living Wage measure is worded to apply to the three highly subsidized hoteliers AND BUSINESSES ADJACENT.  Naysayers tried to rile up worries that, since the word “adjacent” hadn’t been “defined” in the measure, it could loosely grow to include the ENTIRE RESORT DISTRICT – even including – heaven forfend! – THE HOLY PACKING HOUSE!  (Hence, with this scare story, hoping to increase the pool of resort business owners frightened of having to pay a living wage, and ready to join the fight against it.)  Well, no longer to worry, Mr. Fabela will weigh in with a very STRICT definition of what “adjacent” means.  Kind of, what it means in the dictionary.  TOUCHING.

Let’s see, what other craziness is going on?

Building Trades Uncle Toms, Bluffs and Hobgoblins

One of the most disgusting spectacles in this drama is that of “building trades” leaders and (mostly misinformed) workers, happy and protective of their well-paying sweetheart deal to construct these subsidized hotels, and fighting hard against the underpaid hotel & Disneyland workers trying to get THEIR fair share of the wealth.  “I got MINE, Jack,” is their cry, or rather “I got mine JILL” – as Reggie Mundekis points out the sexism of the mostly male building trades workers holding their interests infinitely higher than those of their (largely) sisters in the service sector.

But bolstering all that ugliness is a LIE coming from the hoteliers, a lie that’s a BLUFF, which we’ve already discredited a bit, the BLUFF that if they’re forced to pay a living wage, they just won’t build those four lucrative, subsidized, 4-diamond hotels (and hence supposedly kill 4000 building trades jobs.)  For one thing, the economics of that threat make no sense; and the brilliant Daniel Robbins has more to say about this on Facebook:

“They’re bluffing, and voters have to decide whether or not they will fall for the bluff.

“Consider the resources that Disney has already put into the project – design (engineering, concepts, public policy, financing, etc), closing down other established businesses in potential breach of contract (Rainforest, AMC, etc), and the media attention willingly put on the project (constant press releases, project unveilings, etc). That hotel isn’t going anywhere, and there would be real signs if it was truly at risk – an adjustment of business closure schedules, an end to press releases, etc.

“It’s all one giant bluff, as are the majority of their threats… the ‘We won’t build Star Wars Land unless you forever agree that you won’t take even a single extra dollar from OUR guests!’  And Anaheim as a whole seems to blink. Every. Single. Time.”

Don’t blink this time, Anaheim!

Lastly … I bring you song.

I don’t believe I’ve shared this on the blog yet.  On Facebook and at Council meetings, yes, but not here.  Walt Disney himself has been visiting me in my dreams (by the way he apologizes to the world’s Jews for his anti-semitism while amongst the living.)  And of course he wants his workers to be well-compensated, and he’s been encouraging me to re-write many of his popular songs for the cause.  I’ve done four so far (including “The Bare Necessities,” “It’s A Small (Interdependent) Town After All,” and “Let it Go (Mickey’s Epiphany)”  But for today I’ll put up the first one I did, thrown together at the last minute for a Council singalong back in April:

Update 2, Sunday July 7

I ran into James today at the Faith Community Forum on the Living Wage, at St Justin Martyr Church – he was sitting in the very front, next to a union worker.  He assured me (in front of a lot of people) that he will not be bringing forward any more “compromise measures,” nor will he be the swing vote to pass anything that Kris, Lucille, or Steve might bring forth.  Sounds like all our pressure paid off, along with the unworkability of his plan. 

Which by the way – it does turn out that the 100 million for the community benefit fund was supposed to come from DISNEY – although that woulda been spread out over 20 years (and $5 million a year doesn’t really sound like all that much.)  Also, it was neither James’ idea NOR Disney’s, but the idea of … somebody I actually guessed when I thought about it, but I’m not at liberty to say yet, because it is going to be an OC Weekly scoop. 

Vern out.

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, or 714-235-VERN.