“Anaheim First” Was Always a Lie; “I’m First” Was Not

For more than a decade now, it’s been clear that Anaheim City officials were essentially representing both sides of the bargains with both the Angels and with Disney. They were ostensibly there to represent the interests of the public — that you know, being the whole point of serving as an “elected official.” But in practice, they were also representing the persons on the other side of the agreement — those asking for money, favors, and abject solicitude from the City Council. They could justify this (at least to themselves) by saying that “what’s good for {Disney, the Angels, big hotel interests, the owner of the Gardenwalk, and all the way down to the developers wanting to raze Sunkist Plaza} is good for Anaheim!” But it wasn’t. The people of Anaheim essentially lacked anyone at the bargaining table in such matters — except for the short time when Mayor Tom Tait had a narrow City Council majority — because the interests of the people representing the city has been to give away as much as possible to the interests who would later recycle some of that wealth into campaign contributions and (more often) independent expenditures to keep their de facto agents in office. Where regulation is concerned, this is known as “regulatory capture,” but this goes well beyond that. This has been called legalized bribery — except when it is illegal bribery — but that again fails to capture the perversity of the situation.

“Bribery” happens when — as Harry Sidhu was caught doing — a city official says “if you want to get X action, you will have to give me Y benefits.” But what if no demand has to be made? What if the politicians put in place by massive attacks of glossy flyers into voters’ mailboxes simply will automatically take the side of the interest in question without even being asked for a specific favor? That’s what seemed to happen in the mid-2010s when the City Council started acting in such aggressively pro-donor ways that I suspect that even the donors may have been listening with rictus grins while thinking “PLEASE, be a little more subtle about it!” Thus, over Mayor Tait’s increasingly frantic objections, the Council decided to give Angels Stadium to Arte Moreno’s ersatz company for $1 per year (probably paid in pennies) and demanded that an appraisal of the property NOT be performed, or if performed, and least not reported publicly. Did Arte Moreno’s lawyers (who, I know from going up against them at the time, are smart cookies) want this to happen, as when an owner keeps a cat so that it will bring back rats that it has killed? Or was this a situation where the cat, ignorant of worldly ways, comes back with the shredded remains the neighbors prize cockateel in its teeth? It’s hard to say — but the lunatic fervor with which the Disney-funded Council majority sought to please its benefactors during last decade was at times comic.

Our back pages document some of the more spectacular acts of Kris Murray, Jordan Brandman, Lucille Kring, Gail Eastman, and others over time. They sounded crazy because what they were saying was not intended to impress the public or the (mostly somnolent) media; it was all meant for the eyes and ears (mostly ears) of the Emperor, “Mickey the Great.”

It’s telling to me that so far, the relationship with the Angels has played a large role in the indictment and affidavit, but the Angels — whom I expect will have a new owner soon, by order of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and to the secret or open relief of most other owners who resent the, um “business of baseball” being laid bare like this — are nothing compared to the actual political engine running Anaheim: the Disney Corporation. I don’t know if the FBI will really have the guts (or be given enough slack on its leash) to take on the owner of one of the three main broadcast television networks, owner of the rights to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars, which lives inside the heads of any child under 13 whose parents have Disney+ or buy toys — but if this investigation doesn’t go on to address City Officials’ relationships with Disney then it will be little more than a pleasant diversion. Disney will continue to choose its Council, and — after all of the public gnashing of teeth and ritual sacrifice of Harry Sidhu on the same altar used for the snuffing and disappearance of Jordan Brandman — nothing fundamental will change.

Here’s the reality of Anaheim politics. The Chamber of Commerce is essentially there to please Disney (and to a lesser extent the Angels.) The path of the streetcar down Harbor Blvd.? Offered to please Disney. The multi-billion-dollar bond for expansion of the Convention Center — contrary to City Charter, even if successfully offered to be authorized by a weird California Supreme Court decision that allows the City Council, in partnership with its own members wearing a different set of hats — without a popular vote? Done at Disney’s behest. (Note: I was the losing Counsel in that case, and I was told at one point that the city spent a half million dollars to beat me as a solo practitioner.) And on and on.

To get elected pretty much anywhere except District 3 (once districting came to be, over Disney’s objection), there was only one route to power, and that was through the support of these Resort District interests — Disney’s in particular. Those interests could and did put up enough money to determine almost perfectly (a large exception being when Dr. Jose Moreno edged out Jordan Brandman in the first post-districting election) who would be voting on their agenda. The brute force of the Angels-Disney Axis was almost entirely overwhelming — although it has been helped by Democratic auto-immune disorder Lorri Galloway keeping a rational and unbought Tait-style reformer out of the Mayoral seat.

The people hardly matter in city elections. Their actual interests notwithstanding, their votes will be controlled by the carpet bombing of public relations and independent expenditures. The ACTUAL ELECTION in Anaheim occurs when Disney decides who best — meaning most cravenly — will be willing to serve its interests.

Where this ends — and where it still may end even if reformers sweep Anaheim elections for the next decade, given how much of Anaheim’s rightful wealth has been foregone or given away — is in municipal bankruptcy. The actual jewel in the crown to be sold off, potentially to these same wealthy interests or their agents, is NOT Angels Stadium –which is simply the city’s biggest real estate asset — but the city’s biggest asset of ANY kind: its Water and Power Authorities. And when that happens, ratepayers are going to suffer in ways that may dwarf even Poseidon.

(Do you want to know why — as I’ve heard complained — cities like my tiny hometown of Brea can win competition for top employees with a giant city like Anaheim? It’s because Brea is not on a track to go bankrupt and take its municipal pensions with it, while Anaheim is, barring a massive turnaround on the looting-of-the-treasury front.)

The name of the corrupt Anaheim Chamber of Commerce’s tourism agency — “Anaheim First,” with “I’m First” graphically embedded within it — has been a cruel joke. (In fact, I can imagine the Cabal snorting with glee over its brazenness when it was first proposed.) The interests of ANAHEIM — the City and its current and future residents — has not been “first” in its negotiations with its major properties. (And if you’re not first in a two party negotiation, you’re last.) It has been the people in the Cabal, profiting by the diversion of public wealth for their own gain, which it’s more than fair to call a long and intermittent “heist” — that have been able to proclaim loudly and proudly, at least among themselves, “I’M first!” And so they have been.

You don’t even have to read between the lines of the graphic above: it’s right there in front of your eyes. Whether the “Anaheist” will continue will depend on whether the largest root of corruption in Anaheim — not just the second-largest — will be severed by the actions of the FBI, California AG, perhaps OCDA, and a press that should now be more aggressive then ever. Parts of the Anaheist have been exposed, but far too much remains to be uprooted.

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.)