I was there more than ten years ago to have lunch with The Walt Disney Company’s vice president of government relations and a senior executive to discuss cable negotiations. Would the cable provider drop Disney’s channel, or would it accept its increase in charges? The leverage game is serious stuff, and they figured the county supervisor, the position I held at the time, needed to know their side of the story.
It would start a relationship with the Burbank-headquartered Disney government relations executive. She would write me in December of 2016, congratulating me on my re-election to the State Senate, providing mostly information of the Disneyland Resort’s economic impact on Orange County. It would include the customary “please feel free to contact us if we can ever be of service to you” closer. So, I did.
I let her know that I was not amused with what occurred in Anaheim during the 2016 city council race and the attacks that were made on Mayor Tom Tait and his successful re-election effort. It made no sense to me that Mayor Tait, a brilliant financial and structural asset to the council, would be treated in such a manner, and now they would have to work with him for the next two years. I gave the same message of concern to Todd Ament, then-CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, when he visited my Capitol office around the same time. It would be safe to assume that I did not endear myself to these two powerful forces.
Mayor Tait and I served on the Orange County Transportation Authority Board together. He and I voted against the trolley proposal that would have gone from the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (Artic) to Disneyland. It would be ancient rail technology interrupting existing lanes of traffic and would most likely include eminent domain of existing nearby hotels. If memory serves me correctly, we were the only two votes against this inappropriate use of taxpayer funds. A trolley? Really? How’s that working for the city of Santa Ana?
In my mind, it was a land grab by the Disney Resort to utilize the train station’s parking lot. And Tait’s opposition to it had to be repaid. Besides, it was not Tait’s only fiscally reasonable discretion. He rightfully opposed the expansion of the Convention Center, as its financing was dubious. He also spoke out against tax credits for hotels in the resort district, another inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, but pushed by the powers that be. And in 2015, he opposed a moratorium on a ticket tax for Disneyland for 45 years, something a fiscally distressed city should never rule out.
Anaheim dropped to 33rd place in 2021. It would be in last place, but that position has been held by the ineptly run city of Costa Mesa for years.
Why do I bring this up? When I had the opportunity some seven years ago to meet with the new incoming CFO for the Disney Resort, after his being recently reassigned from the Disney Cruise division, as a trained Certified Public Accountant, I asked him if he had a chance to read the financial statements of his host city. He had not.
I gave him counsel on making sure that Disney did not always brag about its prominence in the city of Anaheim while it had turned it into a corporate town that was slowly strangling the community with its overbearing political involvement. Instead of being a great guest, it was becoming a devouring parasite. A massive PR effort by the resort began not too long after that discussion.
The FBI investigation is not providing very much in the way of new information for this old, seasoned politician that has seen too many players mess up our cities and county. The old nemesis from generations past were the “developers.” Now the dirty rats behind the scenes are public employee unions and, for Anaheim, the Disney Resort. Instead of heeding my warnings, the FBI investigation seems to indicate they only doubled down.
It mystifies me that Disneyland is located in a city that is now against the fiscal ropes. The same for Costa Mesa. How could the South Coast Plaza be in a city that is the bottom dweller when reviewing balance sheets? These two cities should be at the top of the rankings. Consequently, its voters have got to wake up. It’s the residents who vote in supposed leaders to their city councils. They should become better aware as to whether the candidates are legitimate leaders or bought and paid for lackeys.
When Orange County filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on December 6, 1994, the first response was to put Measure R on the ballot in a special election in order to raise the sales tax for ten years. It failed. Although voters had put financially inept individuals into office, they were in no mood to bail them out with a tax increase. The mood was very tense during the first half of 1995, and the public was more than irate.
Once the reverberations of the alleged misconduct of Mayor Sidhu, and all of his cohorts, becomes a household topic, perhaps residents will pay closer attention to the dreaded topic of “politics.” It’s just too bad that we have to endure bad players every generation to be reminded of how critical it is to get good, ethical, honest and fiscally literate individuals into public office.
Anaheim and Costa Mesa need leaders like Tom Tait, professionals who run businesses and do their communities a favor by their public service. We need leaders willing to stand up to the powers that be and do what is right for their citizens and not the furtherance of their political careers.