Showdown over Mickey & Friends Parking Structure!

There’ll be a great video down below that’ll be well worth your time, but first, let me get folks who may not be regular OJ readers up to speed. In 2018 Anaheim voters passed Measure L by a pretty healthy margin, requiring any resort businesses enjoying city subsidies to pay their workers a “Living Wage” ($18 an hour by this coming January, and thenceforth pegged to cost of living.) Most voters were thinking of Disney, the largest of those companies, which is accustomed to getting subsidies and funding Council elections, and stingy with their pay.

Well, Disney’s bean-counters sat down, did their math, and determined that the multi-billion-dollar international corporation would rather give up their subsidies than have to pay all their Anaheim workers a Living Wage. So Disney gave up two things they’d determined to be “subsidies” – a tax rebate to build a luxury hotel, and the 45-year promise of NO GATE TAX the Disney-run City Council had made. And Disney washed its hands of Meaure L and a Living Wage.

“But wait!” many of us Anaheim folks cried out, “Isn’t Mickey & Friends a subsidy as well?” And what we were referring to was the 10,000-space parking structure, completed in 2001 with funds from a half-billion-dollar bond THE PEOPLE OF ANAHEIM TOOK OUT in 1996, a bond we are still paying off and will be till the mid-2030’s, and a structure that at the time was the LARGEST PARKING STRUCTURE WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI.

Oh, you want to hear MORE about this, you say. Well, I got you. This was back when Disney was expanding in Anaheim by building California Adventure, Disney Grand Hotel, etc., and they demanded the city provide “infrastructure improvements,” or else. Or else what? Or else, they darkly threatened, they would build all this in Long Beach instead (a trick noticed and imitated by Angels’ owner Arte Moreno recently to get his way with the Stadium land.)

And it was by this means (blackmail) that Disney got Anaheim to take out this gigantic bond, and build them this gigantic structure. The Mayor at the time was Tom Daly (now Assemblyman and still funded by Disney.) The bond was sold to Anaheim voters as going to “police, parks, bla bla bla,” all the things people love, but it really went to building Disney a giant parking structure.

Well, the silver lining was … wait, sorry, there are no silver linings. For Disney maybe, but not for the people of Anaheim. This garage technically BELONGS to the people of Anaheim, and Disney leases it from us for ONE DOLLAR A YEAR. (Arte must have learned from that too.) And it’s estimated that, at $30 a car, Disney makes $90 million a year gross, maybe $70 million when you subtract their expenses such as maintenance. That SHOULD be OUR money, don’t you think? THEN MAYBE it could actually go to “police, parks, bla bla bla.”

Well, when we’re done paying off that big bond some time next decade, Mickey and Friends will at least still belong to us, right? I’m sorry, dude, you REALLY seem to underestimate the subservience and corruption of Anaheim’s leaders. On payoff of the bonds, ownership of the structure passes TO DISNEY (and we miss out on that dollar-a-year lease!) SOME DARE CALL ALL THAT A SUBSIDY.

Let’s Launch a Lawsuit!

So Disney workers sued. Actually they sued two years ago, but a little thing called Covid slowed the case down. And just this week, Superior Court Judge William Claster ruled in favor of Disney. Using a very narrow (even CRAMPED) definition of “subsidy” that limits it to literal “tax rebates,” Claster held that the parking structure is NOT one, so Disney is NOT covered by Measure L and does NOT have to pay a Living Wage. Sorry “cast members!” The Anaheim government, characteristically equating their interests with Disney’s, released a celebratory statement pissing off most readers (but will they remember at election time?)

Funny. My dictionary defines a subsidy as “a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.” (Yeah, those last few words are hilarious given Disney’s constant ticket price hikes, and lack of competition, but that’s not the issue.) And 2018 voters said yes to a measure “requiring hospitality industry businesses that receive city subsidies to incrementally increase pay for minimum wage employees to $18 an hour by 2022.” Where’s the mention of “tax rebates?” In some fine print no voter perused? Or in Claster’s and Disney’s heads? [UPDATE: Yes, it was in the small print no voter read; see comments and here.]

In any case, Disney workers are going to appeal this ruling, and our “thoughts and prayers” are with them, along with our voices, votes, and pocketbooks.

The Amazing Spectacle of November 2, 2021

I’m still working my way toward preparing you-all to appreciate the video below, which I assure you you’ll love. At last Tuesday’s Council meeting (day after Claster’s ruling) Dr. Jose Moreno – the only Anaheim Council member elected without Disney money – took the opportunity during a Disney-related item to ask questions about this whole Garage deal. What he was asking was “clarifying questions” about the deal, since most folks watching at home don’t know how bad it was.

A nice female Disney lawyer voluntarily came up to answer his questions, and soon came to regret it. At one point she claimed that “Disney built the Garage,” before admitting that the City paid for it. That’s funny! Was she claiming, I wondered, that the Seven Dwarfs did the actual construction work, but that you and I paid them for it? A thought occurred to me:

After some difficulty answering Jose’s questions in a way that wouldn’t piss off her employer, the Disney lady (as you’ll see) looks helplessly at Mayor Sidhu for assistance. And HERE is where it becomes an amazing spectacle. Sounding like he’s breathing fire, Sidhu lashes out at Moreno for DARING to question Disney and the wisdumb of former Disney-loyal Councils. Harry TELLS THE DISNEY LADY TO SIT DOWN. These old matters CAN NOT BE AIRED in public Council meetings (even if we’ll still be paying for them for another decade. YOU are not of her CASTE, sir!)

And at the end of the meeting/video, Jose’s nemesis Trevor O’Neil, the Toady Councilman from the Hills, APOLOGIZES TO THE DISNEY LADY for having to undergo Jose’s questions. Watch and Cringe, Anaheim!

By the way, what Trevor doesn’t know would totally not fit in the ARTIC station, but for one thing all the taxes we get from the Disneyland Resort go NOT to “police, parks, bla bla bla” but directly to paying off that $510 million bond we took out for them. So it’s complicated, but we sure don’t get much from Disney, and Mickey and Friends is a subsidy.

While writing this story, I just heard that Disney may have finally made an offer to their workers that could be acceptable.

That would be good. But meanwhile, WE NEED A GATE TAX. Like Orlando has. Especially now after Covid and so much Anaheim government irresponsibility. This Council will never help, so it’ll have to be a popular referendum, to go on the Nov. 2022 ballot. LET’S DO IT, ANAHEIM!

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 vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.