Yes, Anaheim DOES Subsidize Disney, Appeals Court rules.

So we weren’t taking crazy pills after all. That half-billion dollar bond that we Anaheim taxpayers took out in 1996 and are still paying off, which paid for the construction of Disneyland’s “Mickey & Friends” Parking Structure which was at the time the largest parking structure west of the Mississippi, with 10,000 spaces, which technically belongs to the city now while Disney leases it from us for a dollar a year while they make $70-80 million off it, and which we’ve agreed to sign over to them as soon as we’re done paying off the bond in a decade or so, IS IN FACT A SUBSIDY.

So ruled a three-judge panel of the 4th Appellate District Court on Thursday. I learned about this development in a Voice of OC story entitled “Disneyland Workers Could Get Nearly $20 an Hour Following Appeals Court Ruling.” I almost didn’t read the story because of its title – big deal, most Disneyland workers already get nearly $20 an hour. But… oh, it’s THAT appeal! You might say, the Voice “buried their lede” here.

This goes back to 2018’s Measure L, when Anaheim’s people by an 8% margin voted that employees of companies who enjoyed a subsidy from the city must pay their employees a “Living Wage” – $17 an hour at the time, and increasing yearly. Famously subsidized hoteliers GardenWalk’s Bill O’Connell and Wincome’s Paul Sanford “sucked it up” and followed the new ordinance. (And they’re doing fine.)

But DISNEY, the biggest subsidized employer most of us had in mind, unilaterally gave up their most recent subsidies at the time – a luxury hotel and a 45-year promise of No Gate Tax – and announced they were now exempt from Measure L. A lot of us said, “Hey, what about that huge Mickey & Friends Garage we built for them in ’96, that they’re still profiting off of? If that’s not a subsidy what is?” But they said no it’s not, and found a Judge William Claster to agree with them in 2021, and they remained blissfully unaffected by Measure L, and we all felt crazy as usual. (I wrote about it all here at the time, and included a hilarious video of Councilman Jose Moreno and disgraced Mayor Harry Sidhu nearly coming to blows over the issue.)

But Disney workers appealed … and now THIS good news! We were right! (I won’t get into the boring technical arguments here, different definitions of “tax rebate.”) Apart from the vindication of having the courts agree with us that this working-class town subsidizes a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation, what happens next? Two questions –

  1. Will Disney appeal? Things don’t usually get better climbing up the appellate ladder from here. But also –
  2. Aren’t they gonna owe a shitload of back wages at this point? A WINDFALL for a lot of employees who may not even still work there? I would think so!

Another question – how was it really worth it to Disney to give up their luxury hotel subsidy and the written-in-stone promise of no Gate Tax for 45 years, just to avoid the $17 an hour of Measure L? I’m no mathematician nor a business genius, but that was always a puzzler to me. A clue might be hidden in Disney Resort President Ken Potrock’s recent essay against Measure A, in which he states (among several other points that actually sound reasonable) “for Disneyland Resort the portion of the initiative [that raises wages] is not a matter of finances, it’s a matter of principle.” It sounds like Disney is THAT strongly, and ideologically, opposed to the government telling them what to pay. Or Anaheim government, anyway. Or, I should say, the people of Anaheim.

Once the COMPANY starts taking orders from THE COMPANY TOWN … I guess that would be the Beginning of the End, in their view. A “slippery slope” in their view. Can’t let that happen. What do YOU think?

But wait – there’s MORE!

Most people don’t know about THIS, but I ask you, how is THIS not another subsidy we gave to Disney in the 90’s?

As part of the ’96 agreement and Environmental Impact Report, which included the sweetheart deal in which we agreed to take out a bond to build Mickey & Friends (and Disney dropped their threat to build California Adventure in Long Beach, as if anyone believed that would happen), Disney agreed to build 500 affordable housing units nearby, theoretically for their workers. It is still there written in the EIR, and the name of then-Mayor Tom Daly – then and for the rest of his long political career funded by Disney – is on there big as John Hancock.

Well, Disney never did build those 500 affordable housing units, and nobody made them do it.

Instead, ANAHEIM – using $12 million of its own federal/state HUD dollars – did it FOR them! To be precise, we used our housing dollars – which we coulda used anywhere else – to renovate and modernize what were then the Jeffrey Lynn Apartments (now Hermosa Village.) The housing there was made more affordable but REDUCED, it became very over-crowded, and a lot of the folks from there moved up to the “Chevy Chase” barrio in North Anaheim.

Thus did the Daly-led, Disney-run Anaheim of the late 90’s relieve poor over-burdened Disney of their promised obligation to build new affordable housing, at the cost of OTHER affordable housing we coulda built elsewhere. How do you like THEM apples?

These are the kind of promises, the kind of WELCHING behavior, that the public and city “leaders” should keep in mind, when negotiating over Disneyland Forward, the corporation’s latest 30-year plan for Anaheim.

Teflon Nocella

Long-serving Disneyland “government relations executive” Carrie Nocella is an especially interesting case: of all the members of the “Cabal” running Anaheim who were identified by the FBI last year in their Sidhu/Ament investigations, she is the only one still out there doing her old job, unruffled. Sidhu and Flint disappeared, Ament is supposedly awaiting sentencing, but Carrie – well she seemed to keep a lower profile for a year or so, but now she’s out everywhere doing PR for Disneyland Forward.- She spoke with my wife Donna about it at one park event; when Jeanine Robbins said something critical in the press, Carrie immediately contacted her to try to straighten things out.

The FBI’s references to Carrie are colorful. If you’ll recall, when Mayor Sidhu gave a long speech in March of ’21 urging Council to take out a $210MM bond to help crawl out of our post-COVID debt, that speech was written by Flint, Ament and Nocella. (The memorable part was how when Harry read the speech very badly, stumbling on every other word, Carrie texted Flint “Harry reads your script so poorly,” and Flint replied “LOL he doesn’t practice.”)

But it was a little puzzling why a long speech which didn’t have anything apparent to do with Disney was co-written by Disney’s government flack. Thanks to the FBI, we know that one little change Carrie made in the speech was to remove any reference to a “Disney parking lot.” And sure enough there were no mentions of any Disney parking lot in Harry’s speech. I wonder, were they really referring to the Mickey & Friends Garage? Or some new lot they wanted help with? Who knows.

But I bet Disney’s main concern in overseeing this post-COVID bond speech was to to forestall anyone using our post-COVID economic slump as an excuse to bring back talk of a long-dreamed-of Gate Tax on Disney – which we really need. Not to worry, Carrie, we took out the $210 million bond on our own, putting up our City Hall and nine other city properties as collateral. (And yeah, Harry DID read your speech very poorly.)

The Trickle-Down Council Majority

Now Carrie, and a phalanx of other women who look a lot like her and talk exactly like her, have been out at Anaheim parks doing the (required) public relations for her company’s new 30-year plan, Disneyland Forward. So far it doesn’t appear they are asking for any subsidies per se, or trying to expand outside of their existing property lines, they just want to re-jigger what they do INSIDE those lines, to make room for a bunch more FUN EXCITING RIDES AND EXPERIENCES! If we have a concern at this point, it’s just that the park is expecting FIVE TO TEN MILLION MORE VISITORS PER YEAR, and so what does that mean for transportation, overcrowding, noise, etc? And what will they be demanding down the road, in those regards?

I told one of the Carrie doppelgangers, “Well I’m sure you guys will get whatever you want, since you spend millions every cycle to keep a perpetual Council majority.” And the Carrie doppelganger cheerily retorted, “Yes, we do support candidates we feel are PRO-BUSINESS.

Huh. I’m not sure “pro-business” exactly describes it. The candidates Disney (and all the city’s big special interests, in lockstep) fund, number one NEVER SAY NO to them. I’m not saying they’re paid off necessarily, maybe some of them believe they’re doing the right thing. But Disney and its allies know that they are backing politicians who BELIEVE or PRETEND TO BELIEVE in TRICKLE-DOWN ECONOMICS, that famous and discredited economic theory that went down with President Reagan – that if you just do anything possible to maximize the profits of the biggest businesses, it will inevitably “trickle down” to the people in the form of wages and taxes.

We have at least 5 out of 7 of these trickle-down politicians on the current council, as we usually do. Call me crazy, call me old-fashioned, but I think a government should be prioritizing the needs of the people who voted for them, over the profits of the corporations who funded them. Disney is looking to make BILLIONS with their Disneyland Forward plan. Fine. I think the least they can do is:

  • allow a 2% Gate Tax to go through;
  • stop buying our Council, and that means including through PACs like SOAR
  • and maybe, just maybe, if they decided not to take ownership of the Parking Garage that Mayor Tom Daly signed away to them, we could be getting that $70 million a year after all we paid on that bond. I’m sure nobody here would complain about that.

Or are we just crazy? Vern out.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.